Prologue — Yali’s Question
In the summer of 1972, Jared Diamond explored New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea) while it was still an Australian administered territory (taken from the British Government in 1902).
Independence was in the air but so were certain questions that stunned and made Jared think hard. Questions for which he waited 25 years to answer. It’s fair enough considering they weren’t as simplistic as they sounded.
Guns, Germs, and Steel is a classic piece of Anthropology and its interdisciplinary fields which answers the questions about the industrial evolution, wealth distribution, and human development of the species. Why could only some countries develop while the rest couldn’t? Was it colonization, geography, culture, biology, or something else?
Taking the timeline into consideration after the last Ice-Age, the human species started developing around the same time. Then why do we find such stark disparities when it comes to usage of metal, eating habits, medicines, clothing, and more? What were its causes?
If we go back to AD 1500, there were vast technological differences in different countries. Europeans, Asians, and North Africans used tools made of metal. Europeans especially were starting with the colonialization process. In North America, Incas and Aztecs ruled their empires with stone tools. In some parts of the Pacific Islands, people still lived as hunter-gathers or farmers. How did the world be the way it was in AD 1500 although we started evolving around the same time?
These questions were embedded into Diamond’s mind by a curious politician named ‘Yali’. In July 1972, Diamond was taking a stroll on a beach in New Guinea where he studied the birds' evolution. On his way forward, he stumbled upon Yali and they struck a conversation that became a foundation of this very book. Some questions that he asked were -
How did my ancestors arrive here thousands of years ago but got colonized by the white people some 200 years ago?
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?” (The word Cargo meant goods brought by the westerners such as matchsticks, steel axes, and other substances which were much appreciated by the ‘primitive’ Guineans.
Yali’s questions emerged from his understanding of the contrasting lifestyle lived by his people and that of the Europeans.
Quoting Mr. Diamond, Why did wealth and power become distributed as they now are, rather than in some other way? For instance, why weren’t Native Americans, Africans, and Aboriginal Australians the ones who decimated, subjugated, or exterminated Europeans and Asians?
This book answers all these questions and makes you internally scream ‘Eureka’. If this isn’t convincing enough, I’ll prepare a summary of another chapter soon enough.