Why did the Arab kill his cousin?

The Arab killed his cousin because of a family argument over grain. In the altercation, the Arab slit his cousin's throat and then successfully hid from the authorities for a month.

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When Balducci brings the prisoner to Daru's schoolhouse and asks Daru to transport him to Tinguit, Daru wants to know exactly what crime this prisoner has committed. The details are sketchy, but Balducci tells him that the prisoner has killed his cousin in a "family squabble." It seems that one of the cousins owed the other some grain. During an altercation, the prisoner had slit his cousin's throat with a billhook, which is a curved blade ending in a hook and widely used in pruning. Balducci drags his own finger across his throat to imitate the murder of the cousin, comparing him to a "sheep." After successfully hiding for a month following the murder, the prisoner was found and must now face the penalties for his crime.

Later, Daru asks the prisoner directly why he had killed his cousin. The prisoner answers vaguely, "He ran away. I ran after him." He doesn't deny the murder or make excuses for his actions. When Daru inquires about the prisoner's feelings of guilt, the prisoner doesn't "understand" the question.

These sketchy details contribute to Daru's feelings of unease in agreeing to transport the prisoner to face the authorities in Tinguit. He doesn't want to be part of this man's sentencing, partly because he wants to know the entire context of the murder and has no clear answers. This contributes to his internal conflict, which is key to the story's themes.

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