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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.

Taking heads isn't my cup of tea, but I have less difficulty understanding the cultural bases of doing so than I do of the apparent inhumanity of, say, the Yanamano or (closer to home) of the Nazi movement of the middle third of the 20th century in what might arguably have been the most culturally advanced society in Europe at the end of the 19th century.

One point: mortal combat among animals of the same species is not common. The more usual pattern is stylized or ritualized combat over resources (usually territory), in which one member concedes without being killed or injured.

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.

When considering headhunting in isolation and without any context, and given our own backgrounds, most of us would be hard pressed to ever genuinely and completely dissociate the practice of headhunting from urder?in some sense.

My aim in making the comment was actually just to provide an example that could give voice to other potential points of view, which is to say that of those who are more inclined to cite actor more instinctual urges, which might be construed as the impetus for headhunting activity in some cultures, and how I could see why people might reasonably draw that conclusion as well.

Some people feel he may have drowned or been attacked by sharks or crocodiles while trying to swim to shore from their capsized canoe. With regard to that scenario, some people say the threat of aquatic predators is possible but not really that likely.

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.

Anyway, the general theme of the book is that breeding without adequate resources leads to starvation, so females inherently select males that control adequate territory with which to support the offspring. He documents a large number of examples of territorial competition among males, with death of one of the competitors being extremely rare.

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.

This gradually resulted in the Homo sapien brain developing with these unique capacities that would foster creativity and the resultant sexual allure was on par, in terms of developmental importance, with those processes that are emblematic of natural selection responses to environmental factors such as geography, climate, predators, etc.

Art can not be learned. Actually, art techniques can be learned. Art talent can not. People can only learn techniques and knowledge in art school. They can not learn art talent there. Without talent, one can not become a great artist.

So I am very sorry for that, but I will go away with very very happy memories of Papua, New Guinea." Conversely, I should also note that in this same documentary the local headman expresses great reverence and esteem for the Rev. Chalmers and went so far as to say, because of his coming we are civilized."

In any case, one can see that Goaribari is a place with a colorful history, no matter what one interpretation of some of those events might be.

As for the Gope boards, they are displayed in the long houses and are the representation of ancestral spirits. They may be understood to represent what are essentially tutelary entities whose power and wisdom guide successive generations.

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.


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