ADELAIDE - In his reflection, ‘The Ways of Our Ancestors’, Robert Forster raises an important issue for Papua New Guinea..
Tribal fighting was the bane and curse of pre-colonial PNG. It was an affliction that the kiaps strove to suppress as they undertook their pacification and then nation-building tasks.
The kiaps sometimes met violence with violence, but mostly adopted non harmful means to promote conciliation and arbitration in lieu of what would be invariably futile conflict.
Even during the early colonial period, PNG's traditional leaders were quick to understand the benefits that flowed from the creation of a civil society in which warfare was minimised if not entirely eradicated.
Wisely, they chose to mostly work with the kiaps to raise their voices against tribal warfare.
I would argue that the wisdom and cooperation of tribal and clan leaders was critical in allowing nation-building to even begin let alone brought to the point where independence became feasible.
No modern civilisation is possible unless the nation state has both the will and the means to control the apparently natural propensity of humans to fight.
Our history shows that we will fight each other to the death over even the most absurd ideas, complaints or ambitions.
Robert Forster has pointed to one example of this tendency. The Scottish borders were for centuries the site of sometimes unspeakable savagery and cruelty.
And as he points out, the memory of that era remains to this day.
Truly, humans are a most aggressive species of animal.