Yali's Question

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Yali's question is very short and does not really need to be summarized.  In the Prologue, Diamond gives us Yali's question in its entirety.  It goes as follows:

Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?

What Yali is asking here is about the origins of inequality between countries and societies in the world.  He wants to know why people of European descent are rich and powerful while those like his people tend to lack wealth and power.  What his question implies is that he curious about issues of race and technology.  He wants to know whether there is something "wrong" with non-white people like him that make them unable to be as technologically advanced as white people.

Diamond devotes his whole book to explaining why race and culture and other such traits have nothing to do with the disadvantages suffered by non-whites.

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thetall | (Level 3) Educator

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Yali, who is Jared’s friend, asked him a question that formed the basis of Jared’s research and development of the book Guns, Germs and Steel. As captured in the prologue, Yali, who is from New Guinea, raised a question as to why Europeans advanced economically while people belonging to his race remained stagnant. Jared then sought to come up with an explanation as to what caused this disparity within the human race.

Jared established that the geographical locations where different people settled coupled with environmental conditions led to gaps in economic advancement within the different groups. He asserts that some groups settled in areas with harsh climates and insufficient animals to domesticate. These groups were then forced into nomadic lifestyles characterized by hunting and gathering with no opportunities for technological advancements. He suggested that those who settled in better geographical areas with better climates lived on agriculture. This settlement presented an opportunity for population growth, established political structures and technological advancement, which explains the differences among the people as asked by Yali.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Yali's question was Jared Diamond's inspiration for writing Guns, Germs, and Steel. Diamond, as an anthropologist, had been working in Papua New Guinea, studying members of a culture who were still in the Stone Age, having invented only stone tools, rather than more complex technologies. As Diamond became acquainted with members of these cultures as individuals, he recognized that as individuals they were as smart, hard-working, creative, and talented as the members of western civilization. This prompted him to wonder about the origins of the differences between Papua New Guinea culture and western culture, and why western cultures seemed so much more successful on a material level. What crystallized the issue for Diamond was when his friend Yali asked him:

[Yali's Question:]  “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?” 

The term "cargo" in this context means a variety of goods from packaged flour to metal tools to cell phones. Diamond's book responds to this question by locating the difference not in the nature of the people of the different cultures but in geography and environment.


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