Yali's Question: Sugar, Culture, and History is a 2004 book by a duo of anthropologistsFrederick Errington and Deborah Gewertz. The book is a response to Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs & Steel”.

In GGS, Diamond offered an explanation, based on geography; for the differing levels of technological advancement between continents. GG&S has an epic scale, focusing on the last 13,000 years of human history. It discusses aspects of all the continents drawing upon geography, zoology & medicine.

In contrast, Yali’s Question begins in the 1950s. It focuses on Ramu Valley, an obscure region in Papua New Guinea, an obscure country. Where GGS is deterministic and objective, YQ is subjective & discounts the limitations of geography on human choices and human desires.

I did not like the book. I found it boring. The bulk of the story is about how PNG got a sugar refinery. The decisions taken regarding scale, situation & management. It goes into detail about the housing arrangements and negotiations with the PNG subsidiary of Coca Cola. That sort of stuff does not make for great reading. What I disliked most is how the authors mangled the aim of GGS. Diamond was inspired to write GGS by a question a PNG native asked. The native is the Yali in YQ. Yali asked why white people had so much cargo while blacks did not. Cargo is pidgin for goods. I think it is a straightforward question. Fred & Debbie reinterpreted the question to mean why did white people treat black people as inferior. Maybe if I was an anthropologist, I would understand how a simple question about technology becomes a complaint about racism and moral worth. How does a factory confer that worth or nullify the racism? I suspect the authors just claimed to be refuting a good & popular book to generate notoriety and boost book sales.

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