As Jared Diamond explains in the prologue to his famous book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Yali, a local politician, asks his question while they are strolling on a beach in New Guinea together in 1972. Yali asks, "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 writes that the entire book is an answer to Yali's question.
In the years since Yali and I had that conversation, I have studied and written about other aspects of human evolution, history, and language. This book, written twenty-five years later, attempts to answer Yali.
To New Guineans, the word "cargo" represents the material goods that Western people developed and brought into their country. Many Westerners considered themselves genetically superior to New Guineans and believed that the answer to Yali's question had to do with race. Diamond found this explanation absurd, as he had lived and traveled with New...
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