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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).

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.

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.

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.

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?

Technologically developed areas", the socio-cultural outlook does seem to allow much of the populace to dissociate causing deaths in a war context from urder? This relativity of perception is noteworthy.

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.


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Last modified: Tuesday October 18, 2005.