Guns, Germs, and Steel Questions and Answers
by Jared Diamond

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In Guns, Germs, and Steel, what was the significance of the different outcomes of Austronesian expansion in Indonesia and New Guinea?

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In Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond argues that environmental circumstances rather than biological differences are responsible for the more rapid development and subsequent domination of some civilizations rather than others. An early stage of this development is the evolution of groups of people from nomadic hunter-gatherers to more stable agrarian societies. Once societies advance to crop production and domestication of animals, they are able to become complex enough to protect themselves from outside threats.

The Austronesian expansion into Indonesia and New Guinea provides examples of this principle. When Austronesian people expanded into the islands of Indonesia, they encountered an indigenous population of primitive hunter-gatherers. These people had not developed even basic stone tools, and they were easily killed off, driven away, infected with diseases, or assimilated by the Austronesian invaders.

On the other hand, the New Guineans had already formed agrarian societies and were involved in food production with its accompanying increase in population, resistance to diseases, and development of advanced technologies. For these reasons, although the New Guineans assimilated food sources brought from outside such as pigs and chickens into their economies, they were able to better resist the encroachment of Austronesian expansion and for the most part kept their own unique genetic backgrounds and cultures. These observations are significant as illustrations of the principles that Diamond explains throughout Guns, Germs, and Steel.

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The answer to this can be found in Chapter 17.  A good statement of it begins on p. 350 in the paperback edition of the book.

These different outcomes are important because they prove (in Diamond's eyes) one of the major arguments of his book.  This is the idea that farming makes societies powerful.  The Austronesians were farmers and therefore relatively powerful.  As they expanded, they were able to completely overwhelm the native Indonesians who were hunter-gatherers.  However, the native New Guineans (at least in some parts of New Guinea) were farmers too.  The Austronesians were not able to displace them.

This shows that farming allows people to become more powerful, thus proving a major point in Diamond's argument.

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