Friday, 7 March 2014

Hunting Aborigines for Fun and Dinner

     As every schoolboy knows, during the last four decades of the 19th century Queensland imported large numbers of Melanesians - kanakas - as indentured labourers on the cane fields. And no, "kanaka" is not a derogatory term in Australia. It is a technical term for  those indentured labourers and the descendants of those who were allowed to settle here. Melanesians who arrived in the 20th century are not called kanakas. And no, they were not slaves nor, except in the earliest few years, were they kidnapped. The government very quickly regulated the system and cracked down on abuses. At the expiry of their term, they would go home, bringing the consumer goods they had accumulated, and encourage their friends and relatives to do the same. Even so, in the last couple of decades Queensland had to compete with Germany and France for their services.
      In other words, the system worked to the mutual advantage to both sides. However, there were hiccups. For a start, the Melanesians were cannibals.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Beware of the Man-Eating Apes

     A grieving female ape, having carried around her dead baby for several days, sees a human infant lying in a makeshift crib. Overjoyed, she drops the carcass of her own baby into the crib, and adopts the human one. This, of course, is the premise at the heart of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic novel, Tarzan of the Apes. And it is also just about the most plausible aspect of the story. Bereft animal mothers have been known to adopt all sorts of unusual substitutes. Nevertheless, chimpanzees are carnivorous; their propensity for hunting monkeys in groups is legendary. Indeed, it has been pointed out on more than one occasion that, barring the unusual circumstances of Burroughs' novel, a chimpanzee would be more likely to eat a human baby than to adopt it. But I wasn't aware until now that such things had actually happened.