How does the role of germs figure in answering Yali's question?Yali's question is" Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people have...

How does the role of germs figure in answering Yali's question?

Yali's question is" Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people have little cargo of our own?"

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beardian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond tries to answer Yali's question about why some people developed faster than others with a biological argument.  Diamond uses several examples about how germs have worked in Europeans' favor.

Diamond argues that when we shifted from hunting and gathering to agriculture, populations living in close proximity shared and spread diseases to one another.  Within Afroeurasia (Africa, Europe, and Asia), populations came into contact with each other frequently, and diseases often wiped out large chunks of the population (the most famous example being the bubonic plague outbreak in China from 1333 that spread to Europe and killed a third of the population of Europe from 1347-1351).  However, this constant contact also enabled Afroeurasians to build up immunity to disease.  When Europeans started to explore the Americas and Pacific island communities, those communities lacked the immunity that Europeans had built up and passed on through many generations, leaving them vulnerable.  The spread of smallpox in Central and South America is one of the largest contributing factors to the decline of the Aztec and Inca Empires, as well as many other smaller groups and kingdoms throughout the continent.  

Diamond uses this to try to answer Yali's question—why the Europeans ("white people", as Yali says) and not others?   Diamond uses his argument about immunity and carrying disease to explain why smaller groups who did not have to transition to agriculture (think Pacific islanders who rely on the oceans for the majority of their diet) or groups who were not in contact with Afroeurasians were overcome by the Europeans.

ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Diamond presents the argument that once societies began to evolve from hunters and gathers to food producers and farmers the paradigm shifted.  People began to build homes to live in that were permanent.  The areas were food production was cultivated became more dense in population.  The societies then began to domesticate animals to be used in moving their cargo, plowing their fields and doing the heavy work. 

The animals carried bacteria and germs which were passed on to people.  The people became ill from these germs and the weaker people died while the stronger people developed an immunity to the germs.  This concept of germs is what directly affected the development of stronger societies and wiped out weaker societies.  Thus, the Natives were completely decimated by the Spanish explorers bringing their germs (Small Pox)to the Americas when they landed in Panama and Colombia. 

"This (Small Pox) had killed the Inca emperor Huaqyna Capac and most of his court around 1526, and then immediately killed his designated heir, Ninan Cuyuchi.  Those deaths precipitated a contest for the throne between Atahuallpa and his half brother Huascar.  If it had not been for the epidemic, the Spaniards would have faced a united empire."

The Eurasians became the stronger race and colonized more land and gained more "cargo" partly because of the role of germs in our world history.

Read the study guide:
Guns, Germs, and Steel

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