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.