Rebutting Jared Diamond's savage portrait: What tribal societies can really tell us about justice and liberty

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Handa Moses Akol (white beard & shirt with necktie in the middle) marching a "holy march" in 2003 with Ps. Henep Soap Lungil (in white shirt, on right) - two former enemies walking together united in the "holy march" leading their Christian flock at Punim near Nipa. As far as the eye could see, Christians are marching behind the banner. (Photo: MJ Kuwimb)

How do tribal communities in developing countries without functioning police, judges, law courts and prisons ensure social stability?  This question is of perennial interest to anyone familiar with tribal societies.  It is difficult for those of us familiar with such state institutions of law enforcement to imagine how people in tribal environments create order, particularly in dense populations like that of the New Guinea Highlands which also prizes individual political autonomy.

The popular image – traceable to Renaissance times, when Europeans first encountered tribal peoples – is of savages condemned to disorderly, even anarchic lives of constant violence and frequent bloodletting.  A recent example of this image is portrayed and promulgated by Jared Diamond in “Vengeance Is Ours: What can tribal societies tell us about our need to get even?” published in the The New Yorker, April 21, 2008.

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Rebutting Jared Diamond’s Savage Portrait

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4 Responses

  1. Michael Smith says:

    This is a brilliant analysis of law, justice, and the social order in a tribal society, and it deserves to be read by a far wider audience. Many political scientists and other scholars have erroneous views about this topic (paralleling Diamond’s views), and papers like this could help combat such ideas if published in a more public venue.

  2. Rhonda Roland Shearer, editor says:

    There is always a trade off between free and accesible Web sites ( is ranked by Alexa in the top 20 most traficked news media watchdogs) and journals with less circulation that live behind pay-walls. We plan to re-publish all the The Pig in a Garden series essays in a book.

  3. Peter Nigos says:

    Jan 2013 .In The Guardian 6 Jan 2013, Jared Diamond (lauded as a “distinguished anthropologist”) reports that the lawsuit launched against him and the New Yorker over the April 2008 publication has been dismissed. Could iMediaEthics bring its readership up to date on this matter ?

  4. Sydney says:

    Thanks for reading, Peter! iMediaEthics’ publisher and editor-in-chief Rhonda Roland Shearer has responded to the Observer review. See her open letter:

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