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One of the editorial reviews has this summary: orenz presents his findings on the mechanism of aggression and how animals control destructive drives in the interest of the species.? From what I can glean from other review comments there, this control of the destructive drive in animals is contrasted with the apparent lack of same among humans.

While we are on the subject of good books, and the matter of behaviour and culture and how these things evolved, I was reminded of another very thought provoking and enjoyable book by Geoffery Miller, titled The Mating Mind?

Chinese calligraphy is an abstract art form. Chinese calligraphy is unique in term of the tools, materials and the spirit inside the art works. Chinese calligraphy is the soul of Chinese culture.

Does a great artist have to graduate from art school? The answer is no. There might be some great artist indeed studied an art school. But it does not mean that people have to study in an art school to become great artists. There  are a lot of great painters and calligraphers in Chinese history. But almost none of them ever studied in an art school.

The possibility of drowning is also viewed as unlikely in the minds of many people, first because apparently Rockefeller was acknowledged as a very strong swimmer, and secondly because two local guides that had been on the boat when it capsized did successfully swim to shore, and many feel Rockefeller was certainly capable of doing the same.

Human behavior, it seems to me, has obviously innate components. We are certainly hard-wired not to try to fly off buildings, and the fear of stepping off a cliff when we can see that there's no place near to land arises pretty early.

But most cultural activities and ethical consciousness are learned behavior (in my judgment). Children learn to not be cruel, they aren't born empathetic.

The argument is that such individuals are more desirable to the opposite sex and hence are more likely to pass their skills and aesthetic tendencies on to progeny? Reinforcing the creative/artistic tendencies of the species in the following generations.

Of course there are critics of these ideas, as there always are with anything of this sort, especially when ideas like Miller manage to exceed the boundaries of the specialized scientific community and generate interest among aymen but critiques aside, Miller perspective makes a lot of sense to me in general.

Yet it struck me that headhunting quite often, though not always, occurs in the context of inter-tribal or inter-village warfare. So, would placing headhunting in the context of war mitigate the abhorrence some of us might feel toward the institution of headhunting? Interestingly, it strikes me that for natives of, as Steve P. aptly designated it ?

That particular event is extremely well documented, and despite happening over 100 years ago, seems to be an occurrence that left quite an impression - and one that remains on the minds of missionaries and their ilk to some extent if the frequency of references to the incident are any indication.

However, what is probably the most well known incident of this sort in the greater Papuan region, was not directly related to missionary activities. I am referring of course to the disappearance in November, 1961 of Michael Rockefeller while on a collecting expedition for the Museum of Primitive Art (when the museum was closed in 1976 the bulk of the collection went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

How sexual choice shaped the development of human nature. He addresses the matter of art and its role in human development, so I imagine it would be of interest to many forms.

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.

Boas was on to something, and Millerís ideas strike me as complimentary and mutually reinforcing. While Boas only mentions the personal creative satisfaction of the artisan him or herself, the idea that creative virtuosity could serve as an appeal to prospective mates, seems like a fairly reasonable extension of his conclusions on art motives? and one that could reinforce the artisans own pleasure in the aesthetically creative act.

A final comment or two on head hunting? for the majority of us who will read this discussion, I think it is safe to say that if this phenomenon is of interest at all, then at most we may possibly gain an intellectual understanding of why various societies might indulge in headhunting, but our own deeply ingrained cultural praxis will prevent us from ever looking at headhunting the way someone who is an autochthonous member of a headhunting society might.

While the Chalmer incident left a powerful impression on the mind of missionaries, the Rockefeller incident is the one that tends to linger most in the thoughts of those of us who are interested in the art and culture of this area. This latter event happened in the Asmat region, which is West through the Torres Straight and up along the coast of West Papua (Indonesian side) in relation to Goaribari Island where the Gope board that started this thread originated.


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Last modified: Tuesday October 18, 2005.