The Guardian on Papua New Guinea Cannibalism: People Were Eaten 'Out of Respect'

Chris Menahan
Apr. 19, 2024

The Guardian is pushing back against President Joe Biden's anti-cannibal bigotry.

From The Guardian, " 'Lost for words': Joe Biden's tale about cannibals bemuses Papua New Guinea residents":
Joe Biden's suggestion that his uncle may have been eaten by cannibals in Papua New Guinea during world war two has been met with a mixture of bemusement and criticism in the country.

Biden spoke about his uncle, 2nd Lt Ambrose J Finnegan Jr, while campaigning in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, describing how "Uncle Bosie" had flown single engine planes as reconnaissance flights during the war. Biden said he "got shot down in New Guinea", adding "they never found the body because there used to be a lot of cannibals, for real, in that part of New Guinea."

Official war records say Finnegan was killed when a plane on which he was a passenger experienced engine failure and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. The records do not mention cannibalism or state that the plane was shot down.

Analysts in Papua New Guinea who were shown his comments described the claims as unsubstantiated and poorly judged, pointing out that they come at a time when US has been seeking to strengthen its ties with the country, and counter Chinese influence in the Pacific region.

"The Melanesian group of people, who Papua New Guinea is part of, are a very proud people," said Michael Kabuni, a lecturer in political science at the University of Papua New Guinea. "And they would find this kind of categorisation very offensive. Not because someone says 'oh there used to be cannibalism in PNG' – yes, we know that, that's a fact.

"But taking it out of context, and implying that your [uncle] jumps out of the plane and somehow we think it's a good meal is unacceptable."

Cannibalism was practised by some communities in the past in specific contexts, said Kabuni, such as eating a deceased relative out of respect, to prevent their body from decomposing. "There was context. They wouldn't just eat any white men that fell from the sky," said Kabuni.

The practice was not due to people lacking food, he added, pointing out that archaeological evidence illustrates that agriculture was practised in Papua New Guinea more than 10,000 years ago.
The people eating their relatives are your moral superiors, Mr. Biden.

NIH has a paper detailing their cannibalism and how they spread the fatal neurodegenerative disorder "Kuru" among their population for years up to the 1960s (after the evil white colonialist Australians banned the practice).

From NIH:
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2008 Nov 27; 363(1510): 3721–3724.

Mortuary rites of the South Fore and kuru

Jerome T. Whitfield, Wandagi H. Pako, John Collinge, and Michael P. Alpers

[...] The brain contained most of the infectious agent and its consumption was largely responsible for the transmission of kuru. The head of the deceased was placed over a fire to burn off the hair and then it was de-fleshed with a bamboo knife. A hole was made in the top of the skull using a stone and the brain was gradually removed by one of the older women whose hand would be wrapped in ferns. The tissue was then mixed with ferns and placed in bamboo tubes, normally two or three, and cooked. The head of a male or married female belonged to the affines but was nearly always given back to the family, and the head of an unmarried female belonged to the family. Children under the age of 3 were never fed any part of the body, but those aged between 3 and 6 were indulged even though they were not meant to eat the brain. It was believed that the brain tissue would stop children from growing properly so the children were not meant to eat it; however, this rule was enforced in some areas but not in others—indeed some participants held the belief that brain was good for the growth of young children. The parents were also worried that if a child squeezed the soft meat, some might fall on the ground and the kwela might harm the child for not showing respect to the deceased's body. The brain was considered a delicacy and the children would demand some from their mothers who naturally indulged them out of love. Males over the age 6 never consumed brain tissue, but females of all ages in the majority of South Fore communities consumed it. Sometimes the anatu would share half of the cooked brain with the ename. To ensure that the kwela departed to kwelanandamundi and the deceased became a complete ancestor, the entire body had to be eaten and, for this reason, the women ensured that the brain was all eaten. It was never rubbed on to their bodies, which would have been disrespectful of the dead.
They weren't just eating any random white man who fell from the sky, Mr. Biden, they were eating their friends and relatives -- so show a little respect!

[Header image "Johannes Maas with cannibals in New Guinea" by Rak-Tai via Wikicommons, February 9, 1972, CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED]

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