Radio Days: Broadway follies
A wind of change in Maramuni

I fight, therefore I am

Mock tribal skirmish
Mock tribal skirmish


TUMBY BAY - One of the essential ingredients for tribal unity is an enemy. Fear of that enemy is important in keeping the tribe together and united.

A good tribal leader will spend much time explaining to the people the horrific motives of the enemy.

In traditional societies, rape, murder and cannibalism are effective fear narratives while in modern societies the memes centre round ideology and economics.

The enemy might live on the other side of the valley or the other side of the ocean. It’s doesn’t change the narrative - they’re evil and we must stay united to fight them.

In one context it might be two clans in the highlands of Papua New Guinea that have fought against each other since time immemorial.

In another context it could be the historical feuds between the French, Spanish and British.

In today’s world, the feud between the Americans and Chinese is dominant.

Tribal leaders Donald Trump and Xi Jinping are stirring up opposition to each other to assert dominance, political unity and, in Trump’s case, for his ego and re-election.

Before China, America’s enemy was Russia. With the fall of the Soviet Union the leaders of the US were bereft of sizeable enemies and engaged in many peculiar little wars until China came along to fill the void of enemy number one.

At a more mundane level an enemy can be manufactured between two sports teams. The sweaty hunks who kick balls around grass paddocks are particularly good at this kind of tribal activity.

Integral to the management of a tribe’s response to impending warfare are the rules of engagement.

In traditional societies these tend to be unspoken but understood. In modern tribes codes like the Geneva Convention are expected – but often fail – to hold sway. In sport there is the rule book.

In Tasmania, before the Europeans arrived, the clans of the nine island nations engaged in scheduled and setpiece fighting.

At a certain time of the year clan leaders would gather their warriors together and journey to a recognised fight ground to engage in combat with the traditional enemy.

The Europeans who invaded Tasmania were initially regarded as a new clan on the block but, to everyone’s dismay, they didn’t follow the rules and with superior firepower drove the local clans almost to the point of extinction.

Such traditional arrangements were not dissimilar to what still happens in the Papua New Guinea Highlands and in places like the Middle East.

Throughout the history of the Middle East, military operations have been launched in the autumn, after the heat of summer has abated and before the rains of winter arrive.

At this time, the days are milder, the nights are cooler and the ground still dry. It is an excellent time for warlords to engage in bloody skirmishes.

To this end, leaders ensure their people are well-primed for the season. One way they do this is through their madrassa religious schools.

Coordinating the term end with the start of the fighting season ensures a ready supply of willing young brainwashed combatants.

Now that the pesky Americans and their gullible allies have secured alternative sources of oil and are leaving, the warlords are gearing up for an unhindered re-start to their fighting seasons.

In this same way the power of the Australian colonial administration severely interrupted the fighting seasons in Papua New Guinea.

Thankfully (or not) the Australians are now gone and tribal fighting has increased in its intensity.

What is unfortunate in this case is that the old rules of engagement have been forgotten and anything seems to go, including violence against women and children.

And it is all exacerbated by the horrendous weaponry now available to participants.

The logic is still there, however. Nowadays the old threats might have been replaced but tribes use excuses like elections and access to mineral royalties as explanations for their wars.

Just like in the Middle East, it will be a long time before the clans of the Papua New Guinea Highlands bring fighting to an end. It is an embedded cultural practise.

Perhaps it might be better for the government to concentrate on getting rid of lethal weapons and establish ground rules for tribal warfare rather than trying to stamp out the practise altogether.

Australia never achieved the eradication of warfare in Papua New Guinea so why should anyone think that the present government can do it?

Failing that maybe the government should pass a law making it mandatory for every clan to have a football team.

Except, of course, losing a game is a great excuse for a fight.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Philip Kai Morre

Human beings are most aggressive species on earth who enjoy killing other species including their own much more aggressively than wild animals.

This is despite humans' reason or conscience informing them and that they are guided by cultural norms and moral values handed down from generations to control our behaviour.

Fighting in the highlands or any other place has objective and subjective reasons. They don't fight just for the sake of fighting.

They fight over land, woman, property etc in the contemporary period, political reasons being the main factor behind violence and fighting that is far worse than any other reason for fighting.

Every tribe is a state of its own with defined land boundaries. They wage war with other tribes, then they make peace treaties and reconcile and compensate for the loss and damage.

Such cultures existed before the white men came and have managed to adapt to neo-contemporary culture.

Chris Overland

Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was a famous German General. His masterpiece "On War" is still required reading for modern soldiers seeking to rise to the exalted rank of General or its naval and air force equivalents.

Von Clausewitz neatly summarised the business of fighting in two famous aphorisms:

"War is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will" and "War is merely the continuation of politics with other means".

However complex the circumstances leading to war, these aphorisms hold true in every case.

It is a sad commentary on human affairs that war remains a live option to settle disputes, and one upon which vast sums of money will be spent that might otherwise be used for more useful purposes.

That said, to paraphrase another famous aphorism, if you seek peace then you must prepare for war. A lesson of history is that this is a wise policy.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)