25 Apr 2009

PNG tribesman takes action against New Yorker publisher

9:40 am on 25 April 2009

A US academic says a lawsuit launched by a PNG man against the New Yorker magazine for 10 million US dollars over a portrayal of him and his tribesmen as "murderers, thieves and rapists" is empowering.

In an April 2008 New Yorker story titled "Vengeance Is Ours," Pulitzer Prize-winning geology scholar Jared Diamond describes feuds that rage for decades among tribes in PNG's Highlands.

In the story a Handa tribesman Daniel Wemp is depicted as having led the slaughter of 47 people and the theft of 300 pigs.

However a complaint filed in New York state's supreme court seeks 10 million US dollars from publisher Advance Publications, claiming the story falsely accused Daniel Wemp of "serious criminal activity" and "murder".

US academic Rhonda Roland Shearer interviewed 40 PNG anthropologists to fact-check Diamond's story, and says Jared Diamond got the story wrong.

"It's just unacceptable that anthropologists or other professionals come in, collect stories and then go home and say what they want at their expense. I think it was very powerful and empowering that papua New Guineans could see on the front page of the national newspaper that Diamon is being asked to be held accountable for saying these things that are untrue about tribespeople."

Rhonda Roland Shearer.