Saturday, May 16, 2015

May 16, 1960

On this day in the year 1960, thirteen members of the Miamin tribe in Papua New Guinea were convicted of murdering three members of the Suwana tribe, in order to steal their wives. The three murdered Suwana tribesmen were hacked to death with machete and their livers were cut out.

When the Miamin raiders returned to their village with the women, they feasted on roasted human liver and taro. Upon the appeal of their convictions, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea reviewed the prevailing morals and traditions before revising their death sentences.

“Apparently,” he wrote, “they have to rely upon raids of this kind to obtain wives for their young men. The killing, cutting up and eating of the women’s husbands appear to be accepted by the women as something inevitable and final, so that they simply accept their position and make no attempt to escape.”

Since the cannibalism was merely ritualistic but neither celebratory nor a matter of obtaining fresh meat, the Chief Justice commuted the death sentence to three years of imprisonment.

As the French proverb puts it, “To understand everything is to forgive everything.”

Adapted from Siu, R. G. H., The Master Manager

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