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Today we will go over Chapter 2; we are reading one chapter a week.

I encourage this to be slow blogging - the very opposite of "breaking".  I will leave this on my hot list for a week, so comment any time during the week.

When we get near the end of GGS, I'll start a poll for the next book

Ground rules: I expect vigorous discussion.  But I expect civil discussion.  A sign I saw in a restaurant said

Be nice or leave

If you want to have a flame war, go elsewhere, please.

In Chapter 2, Diamond surveys the history of Polynesia in general, and of the Chatham Islands in particular.

Polynesia stretches New Zealand to Hawaii.  It encompasses an incredible diversity of island, in terms of pretty much any characteristic you'd care to name: The islands vary in size (1/6 sq. mile to 103,000 sq mi), topography (atolls, volcanic islands, etc), climate (subantarctic to tropical, extremely dry to the wettest places on Earth), type of soil and everything else.  The societies on the islands range from very egalitarian to very hierarchical.  The density of population ranges from 5 per sq mile on the Chathams to 300 on Hawaii and to over 1,000 on tiny Anuta (that's almost the density in Bangladesh).

The Chathams are among the least favorable islands in Polynesia; located 500 miles east-southeast of New Zealand, they are too cold for the tropical crops the settlers brought with them around 1,000 AD, too far from other islands for regular contact, and they have relatively poor soil.  After the initial settlement, they were isolated for several hundred years, until the Maori, on New Zealand wer told about them again.  The name of the tribe changed from Maori to Moriori, they became hunter gatherers, with a very egalitarian and peaceful society.

The north island of New Zealand, on the other hand, is much more favorable to human habitation, and the Maori on that island developed a complex civilization, and also a very warlike one.  Tribes fought each other, and they raided other islands as well.

When the Maori rediscovered the Moriori, they enslaved and killed them all.

Diamond poses this Maori-Moriori interaction, and Polynesian history more generally, as a "natural experiment" in history.  Polynesia offers a large diversity of habitats in a relatively small space; as such, it offers a sort of 'trial run' of Diamond's larger hypotheses about the history of the world.  

Originally posted to plf515 on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 03:35 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I have a hard time believing that... (7+ / 0-)

    Polynesian culture didn't reach all the way to South America. If it got all the way to Easter Island, it just defies reason that they stopped there.

    I wonder if any genetic studies have been done among the Indian tribes of deep South America that confirm or deny that hypothesis.

    What legacy do you want to leave?

    by Jimdotz on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 03:41:43 AM PDT

  •  About 40,000 years ago (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pithy Cherub, plf515, myrealname, ER Doc

    all the large land animals of Australia and New Zealand died off. So many amazing species in a very short time. Evolution is such a tragedy.

    "Everybody does better, when everybody does better" - Paul Wellstone 1997

    by yuriwho on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 03:43:16 AM PDT

  •  Ah, a reminder... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TexMex, the fan man, plf515, myrealname, ER Doc

    I never did pick this book up a couple weeks ago (at least not again, my original copy from years ago is somewhere in a box in my mother's NJ attic...), and now I remember your series here.  Thanks for the reminder, I'll try to find it this week sometime and catch up with youze all by next weekend or the weekend after.  Appreciate the discussion until then, I'll be following...

  •  A brief side note - interesting (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pithy Cherub, yuriwho, Halcyon, plf515

    discussion of the book on the website of Brad DeLong - economist.

    The remarks by R. J. Barendse, University of Leiden at the bottom of the page are an interesting critique.

    "If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition" Bernice Johnson Reagon

    by Denise Oliver Velez on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:08:01 AM PDT

    •  I would argue that Equatorial vegetation (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      plf515, Deoliver47

      out-competed crops for that region. You cant grow a shrub without nurse watering. Thats how we got GWB!

      "Everybody does better, when everybody does better" - Paul Wellstone 1997

      by yuriwho on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:19:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This remark was fascinating, insightful. (6+ / 0-)

      I knew Jared's Dad, Louis K. Diamond, M.D. very well. He is recognized as the father of pediatric hematology, my specialty in medicine. Lou used to tell me about his son, Jared, and how proud he was of him.

      As you probably know, Jared went off to college to follow in his Dad's footsteps, but got side tracked because of his interest in physiology. He was also an avid bird-watcher, hobby that he had pursued from early childhood. The hobby became an avocation that often took him to remote parts of the world, especially the most primitive areas. Those expeditions brought him close to the primitive people, perhaps closer than anyone else from "our side of the tracks" ever got.

      He produced a lot of articles for nature magazines, like National Geographic because of these wanderings.

      I think it is because of his hobby and avocation that we read such a long beginning about the intelligence of the New Guinea Aboriginals. I believe he truly loves these people and wanted others to share in that love.

      Jared never made it to medical school, for that I am happy. He would have been a great doctor, just like his Dad was, but then we wouldn't have Guns, Germs and Steel, the best book I have read in at least a decade.

         Contributed by Harold M. Koenig, M.D.

  •  When I read about the Maori genocide (9+ / 0-)

    of the Moriori I couldn't help but analogize to the Republicans' attitude towards Democrats, and generally the pugnacious, eliminationist attitude of those on the right towards liberals in general.

    Here I am harping again on the psychopath theme. But I can't help but wonder whether the competition among the Maori groups on the N. Island selected for the most aggressive and acquisitive personalities.

    The Morioris' inability to assess the Maoris' threat, assuming that they could reason their way to an accord is so sadly similar to how the healthcare debate is being worn down by those who don't want egalitarianism, but just want to maintain the status quo. Why would any Dems believe they can 'work out' an improved healthcare plan without removing the profit motive? There is no middle ground. Thus, Ch. 2 was very enlightening for me in this regard.
    The implication that the different environments helped shape the different societies/population densities/modes of sustenance is fascinating.

    This is a very readable, exciting book.

    •  I got a different idea from JD discussion of the (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pithy Cherub, plf515

      Maori/Moriori genocide.

      In the 1830s the slave trade was well established and specialized in Africa.  Could it be that a entrepreneural sailor trader was trying to establish the Polynesian side.  How interested would the Maori been in natural resources in the far away island?  How much more interested would the Maori have been in the sailor's "cargo" and a share in the slaves to work the Maori farms.

      The Moriori read like the mythical Allmuseri tribe from Middle Passage.
      The Allmuseri "brought twice the price...sweeping the ground so as not to inadvertently step on creatures...eating no meat...disliking to heal themselves...seldom fought...could not steal...felt sick...if they wronged anyone"

      I wonder if the ship owners, the "inducers", saw a little of the Allmuseri in the Moriori.  I wonder if the ship owners were trying to establish a Polynesian arm to the slave trade.  The African slave trade was thoroughly mechanized and specialized by 1835.  Was there a temptation to eliminate the middleman?  Could it be that the tragedy of the Moriori suprised even the ship owners with its ferocious brutality?  Could it be that the ship owners failed to control the chaos and lost the Moriori as a slave resource?  JD said the Maori were "induced" not that they decided.  I wonder if the genocide meant the slave trade never got a foothold in Polynesia.

      Republicans are walking the socio Path.

      by 88kathy on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:56:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Except that the Maori seem to have (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        88kathy, Halcyon, ER Doc

        killed almost all the Moriori, rather than enslaving them.  Since the Moriori offered little resistance, if the Maori wanted to sell them, they probably could have.

        It seems much more like the Maori wanted uncontested access to the resources on the Chatham Islands.

        •  yeah the whole thing collapsed (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          In Africa there were experienced professionals handling larger groups of people.  

          The Maori went crazy.  I wonder what the sailors thought when bringing them back.

          Whose ship was it?  Dutch?  English?

          Republicans are walking the socio Path.

          by 88kathy on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 06:10:10 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  From the description JD gives, (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            88kathy, ER Doc

            it was the Aussies' description of the Chatham's natural resources - "abundance of sea and shellfish; the lakes swim with eels; and it is a land of the karaka berry" - that instigated the Maori expedition. I'd assume that the warring among Maori groups in NZ was for resources, so clearly they already had developed a penchant for 'gathering' whatever they could access. So it seems more likely they had no use for slaves, but rather were in hunter/gatherer mode.

            I don't think the Maori had 'farms'. The grew Kumara (sweet potato) and Taro, but not much else, mostly relying on the wildlife and bounty of the sea. I believe they brought dogs and rats with them, which they ate.

          •  I found a list of their foods (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            88kathy, plf515, ER Doc


            Native foods of the Maori

            Kumara (sweet potato), taro and yam, hue (gourds), aruhe (fernroot), raupo (bullrush), hinau, karaka, tawa, tutu, other berries (mataik totara, kahikatera, rimu), ti (cabbage tree), mamaku (tree fern), nikau palm, puha (sow thistle), poikpiko (fern buds), kowhitiwhiti (watercress), orchids, fungus (haswai, wairuru, tiki-tehetehe, maiheru, tawaka, hakeka), seaweed, chewing gum (puha mostly), birds (pigeon, tui, bellbird, kaka (parrot), kakariki (parakeet), weka, pukeko, duck--never huia or kinfisher), rats, dogs, insects & lizards, mango marokie (dried shark),tuna, koura (crayfish), shellfish (kina poha, kina kotero, paua tahu, kotoretore (sea anemone jelly), and (sometimes) cannibalism. Bread (wheat gained popularity mid 19th century forwards): paroaoa parai (fried bread), cured corn.
            ---Two Hundred Years of New Zealand Food and Cookery, David Burton [Reed:Wellington] 1982 (p. 3-15)

            It looks to me like most on the list were of the gathering variety. [I'm pleased to note that my memory from visiting NZ 25 years ago was so well-preserved.]

  •  I'm way behind. Meant to buy a copy last Sunday.. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    plf515, myrealname

    on our usual Sunday outing to Clarksville, TN but Borders didn't have it. Only had newer book, Collapse. Shoulda checked Books-a-million but didn't. Assumed I would be able to get a copy from our local library in Russellville, KY. They didn't have it either. Only had collapse. Checked that one out. Wife checked Woodward Library at Austin Peay State University online this week. They have several copies so I will check one out today and try to catch up.

  •  Speculations about prehistory can go wild.. (6+ / 0-)

    I got sidetracked the other day on an Internet search of copper mining. Isle Royale Michigan has huge copper deposits. Vast quanities were quarried and removed in ancient times to who knows where. The writer of 1421: the year the Chinese discovered America thinks the Chinese mined this site, just like he thinks the Chinese did just about everything that happened in America in precolumbian times. Certain Mormons think King David of Isreal mined this site. I didn't stay on that website long enough to even see the story of how the sea travel challenged Hebrews worked a mine across an ocean. Other websites think the Toltecs mined this copper and shipped it down the Mississippi River. Yet another site speculated that Europeans hauled it out via the Great Lakes. I like these vague accounts. Such things give license to an unpublished, aspiring fiction writer such as me to make up my own account of where this copper was shipped and by whom.

  •  I enjoyed this chapter (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    88kathy, plf515, ER Doc, etbnc

    It was an interesting assessment of the way that different geography influences culture. The previous chapter had Diamond tying himself in knots somewhat to set the scene for an unbiased assessment, so it was good to see him get back onto his strengths.

    This is not a sig-line.

    by Joffan on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 09:09:48 AM PDT

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