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Guns, Germs, and Steel

by Jared Diamond

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What is the significance of the differing outcomes of Austronesian expansion in Indonesia and New Guinea?

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The answer has to do with superior agricultural techniques. Diamond identifies a few key factors that determine the success of the Austronesians: these include superior tools and weapons, better boats and maritime capabilities, and higher population densities, made possible by improved food production. In the case of western Indonesia and the Philippines, the Austronesians replaced a hunter-gathering population because of their skill at producing food. In other areas, notably the southeast Asian mainland, they did not spread, because they possessed no technological advantage over the peoples already living there.

In the case of New Guinea, the native population had already developed agriculture, and native population densities were far greater. The Austronesians could not displace the native people, and were relegated to settling on coastal islands instead.

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According to Diamond, the major significance of the different outcomes is that they show the importance of food production.  One of Diamond's major themes in the whole book is the idea that cultures that develop agriculture early have a huge advantage over those that do not.  Diamond argues that the experiences of the Austronesians in Indonesia and New Guinea show this.

In Indonesia, the natives never developed agriculture and were still hunter-gatherers when the Austronesians came.  Natives of New Guinea, by contrast, had agriculture and settled together in densely populated areas.  Because of this, the New Guineans had technology that was as good as that of the Austronesians.  They were resistant to epidemic diseases.  These things helped them to resist the Austronesian incursions.

So, the different outcomes were significant because they show how important it is to develop agriculture sooner rather than later.

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According to Guns, Germs, and Steel, what is the significance of the differing outcomes of Austronesian expansion in Indonesia and New Guinea?

The answer to this can be found in Chapter 17, beginning on p. 350 in the paperback edition of the book.  The different outcomes of this expansion show us how important farming is to the fate of societies.

Diamond says that the Austronesian expansion essentially conquered all of the Philippines and Indonesia but was unable to dominate New Guinea.  The major reason for this was that people in New Guinea were farmers while those in Indonesia were still hunter-gatherers.  The Austronesians were farmers.  When they expanded, their more advanced civilization allowed them to defeat the hunter-gatherers, but they could not defeat the equally advanced New Guineans.

This is important to Diamond because he argues that farming makes societies strong and this can be seen as evidence for his thesis.

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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?

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

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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