Why were some civilization able to create a hegemony status for themselves and why did others fail and were only able to play a subordinate role?
This and other questions are discussed in the book “Guns Germs and Steel – The Fates of Human Societies“ by Pulitzer prize winner Jared Diamonds. One of the traces, which lead to an answer, is Papua New Guinea.
Diamond starts by enfolding a conversation he had about the hegemony of Eurasian civilizations with Yali, a politician from New Guinea. Talking about “cargo”, a term Yali uses for inventions and technology, Yali asks:
„Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo
and brought it to New Guinea,
but we black people had little cargo of our own?“ (p. 14)
In the following chapters Diamond describes his answer to the question with his theory of geographic, climatic and environmental determinism. By doing so, he refuses previous theories, which for example fostered the idea of races, or superiority due to genetic or intellectual reasons.
Diamond constructs his theory alone on the local conditions of geography, climate and wildlife, which determined different chances of development. In detailed steps he characterizes the causes for an early hegemony of Eurasian civilizations opposite to inhabitants of other continents in the environmental differences. “Famer power” is the main driving force and factor for aspiring human societies as the transition from nomadic hunters and gatherers into a sedentary and settled culture of tillers. Some regions like the “fertile crescent” in Mesopotamia are very early aspiring examples of successful rooted agrarians. In a moderate climate they were able to grow crops and store them and they were also able to domesticate animals and livestock. With this way of advances agriculture, the supply with food was ensured and the society was able to grow and live more stable. In this culture of fulltime specialists, who weren’t forced to take care of subsistence activity and the providing of food, structures of societies could emerge. Towns arose, chiefs and kings ascended and ruled this early political and social formations and where able to developing stable structures, which ensured a greater success in wars and conquests.
Back to New Guinea and and “pets”.
Diamond also highlights the fascinating role of domestic animals in the global evolution competition of cultures. Thirteen of fourteen domestic animals species, which played an important role in the sedentariness of mankind, could be found in Eurasia. Other continents however had not one single species of domestic animals that time. In Africa for example elephants and zebras could not be tamed, in Europe in contrast, cows, sheep and horses could be domesticated and held as cattle. They supported in agricultural labor, supplied food and facilitated transportation. Horses for example also played an important role in wars and invasions. Only 62 mounted soldiers and 106 food soldiers were able to defeat the Inca-army of Atahualpa with 80000 soldiers
Stay focused on the contex to get an idea of the larger picture
In his evolution theory, Diamond focuses on a geographic, climatic and environmental determinism. This approach is exceptional in our times of globalization. Disparities vanish and local specifications become more and more insignificant. A higher mobility and technological developments create an interconnectivity, which dissolve local determinations.
We are used to buy coffee; even so it is a crop that cannot grow in our region. Transportation and global trade dissolves site-specific environmental and agricultural conditions.
Today, agriculture is not the most important authoritative factor in the development of cultures, countries and societies any more. But in his retrospective evolution history, Diamond suggests a more thoughtful focus on local determinations that nurture resident and native strength and potentials.
New Guinea is on the international gross domestic product index (GPD) only on number 131 and in the human development index only on the number 156. But they are the important supplier with gold, oil, copper and coffee. Compared to the big players, they are quite weak, but with their distinct local conditions, they supply to our global warehouse and supermarket.