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What is Yali’s question to Jared Diamond?

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What is Yali’s question to Jared Diamond?

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billdelaney's profile pic

Posted (Answer #2)

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World War II made a tremendous impression on the peoples of the South Pacific, including the natives of New Guinea. The Americans brought a prodigious amount of equipment and supplies in ships that seemed to cover the entire ocean. The New Guinea natives referred to this spectacular influx of material goods as "cargo." Yali's question to Jared Diamond when they met in 1972 was:

"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?" 

Diamond says in the prologue to Guns, Germs and Steel (1997) that the book was inspired by that question. He did not publish it until twenty-five years later, at which time it became a best-seller.

"Cargo cults" are still common in the South Pacific. According to Wikipedia,

The name derives from the belief that various ritualistic acts will lead to a bestowing of material wealth ("cargo").

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caledon's profile pic

Posted (Answer #3)

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The title of Diamond's book refers to some of the factors which are traditionally considered critical in explaining European dominance in world affairs; essentially, that the Europeans had superior technology and, by coincidence, far more deadly diseases than many of the non-European cultures they encountered, which led to an easy subjugation. This evolved into the modern prevalence of European culture, if not direct political rule.

Yali is introduced in a prologue set in the 1970s, when Diamond was doing research in New Guinea. At the time, part of the island was attempting to establish political independence from Australia, essentially a microcosm of the global question that the book investigates. Yali was a local politician who, in Diamond's view, was still far less well-off than his white counterparts despite being the equivalent of a political celebrity among his own people. Yali and Diamond had a discussion about their respective cultures, culminating in 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?" 

Cargo referred generally to the manufactured goods developed by whites which broadly defined the "before" and "after" contact changes in New Guinean culture. Diamond's book is an attempt to answer Yali's question; however, it should also be taken into consideration that Yali had a view of material goods that was nearly religious, and his reasonings and motivations behind the question were probably not, in my opinion, aligned with Diamond's interpretation of it.

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rrteacher's profile pic

Posted (Answer #1)

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In the introduction to Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond claims that Yali's question was the inspiration for the book. Yali, a local politician in New Guinea (where Diamond was doing field work studying birds) asks Diamond the following question: "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo [meaning material goods and technology] and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" The book goes on to investigate the answer to this question, attempting to provide explanations for why Eurasian peoples developed the agriculture, technology, and pathogens that enabled them to project their influence around the world.

Source: Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, 13.

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