Blood Diamonds

From a Guardian article on Jared Diamond, whose lifetime enmeshed in the barbarisms of places like New Guinea nonetheless don’t seem to have made a dent in his liberal pieties:

The Kaulong people of New Britain used to have an extreme way of dealing with families in mourning. Until the 1950s, newly widowed women on the island off New Guinea were strangled by their husband’s brothers or, in their absence, by one of their own sons. Custom dictated no other course of action. Failure to comply meant dishonour, and widows would make a point of demanding strangulation as soon as their husbands had expired.

The impact on families was emotionally shattering, as Jared Diamond makes clear in his latest book, The World Until Yesterday. “In one case, a widow – whose brothers-in-law were absent – ordered her own son to strangle her,” he says. “But he could not bring himself to do it. It was too horrible. So, in order to shame him into killing her, the widow marched through her village shouting that her son did not want to strangle her because he wanted to have sex with her instead.” Humiliated, the son eventually killed his mother.

Widow-strangling occurred because the Kaulong believed male spirits needed the company of females to survive the after-life. It is a grotesque notion but certainly not the only fantastic idea to have gripped traditional societies, says Diamond. Other habits have included infanticide and outbreaks of war between neighbours, though these are balanced with many cases of care and compassion, particularly for the elderly, and a concern for the environment that shames the west.

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