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It was then that the famous missionary Rev. James Chalmers and a party of 12 lost their heads and were eaten by Goaribari headhunters. Another missionary reported witnessing over 10,000 skulls in the long houses of Goaribari.

The sort of most dramatic of the other plausible scenarios is that he became the victim of Asmat headhunters and all that implies. If that was how it happened, the bitter irony naturally is that the young Rockefeller was passionate about the area and had a great interest and respect for a smart people and culture.

In any case, as you say, tales of headhunting and cannibalism can be quite jarring. The really astonishing part of it in my opinion however, is just how relatively common such practices were around the planet.

Suffice to say that headhunting was a robust tradition here. In 2001, on the centenary of Rev. Chalmers' demise, the BBC aired a documentary in which Charlotte Sainsbury, a direct descendant of Rev. Chalmers visited Goaribari.

To many of us, it doesn't matter a bit whether the victim is "us" (by this, I guess you mean people from the more technologically developed part of the world) or not. Killing others is disturbing and difficult to accept, even when it is for cultural reasons.

I also think that describing the death penalty as "Killing people for reasons the government is actually forbidding..." is a description that misses the mark, especially in democratic societies in which the government serves at the pleasure of the governed.

It's actually difficult to tell what is art. No one can deny that some sports are also art. Or people will argue some plays are art works of sports.

It is rather just to point out what I see as the striking malleability and cultural specificity of moral boundaries and how in cases like the one just mentioned, a few moments can totally change the acceptability of certain actions. While listening to military briefings in the news, often it is explicitly stated that an objective of some operations will be to "capture or kill" the enemy.

The lawful or unlawful context is socially determined and the implication is that while murder is always killing, killing is not always murder. This is in no way a revelation, but it seems few ever pause to consider it all.

Regarding other recent comments in this thread, my own interpretation of some of Udo remarks was that he may have meant to draw attention to this sort of cultural/moral disparity across cultures.

I had several friends in various effected areas and they are all safely accounted for to my relief. But, sadly so many and so much has been lost, and while everyone I know directly has turned up safe, there are family and friends of friends who are missing, and at this point Im afraid that hope of good news at this late date is fading.

Yes Steve P, Id agree with your final comments on animal behavior. It is a point well taken and indeed my choice of terminology was imprecise.


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