Daniel Wemp, a tribesman from Papua New Guinea is seeking damages from the New Yorker over an article written by Pulitzer prize winning author Jared Diamond was published that portrayed him as a vicious, bloodthirsty rapist and killer. The lawsuit claims that Wemp and fellow tribesman Isum Mandingo did not know that they were being interviewed for publication when they recounted tribal tall tales. He and the other tribesman are seeking $10 million in damages.
Diamond’s article, “Vengeance is Ours”, was published April 21, 2009. It details a six year conflict between rival clans that resulted in the deaths of 43 people and the theft of 300 pigs that was allegedly sparked by the murder of Wemp’s uncle. The New Yorker stands by its author, however, others have cast doubt on the legitimacy of Diamond’s story.
Wemp’s fellow tribesman and legal adviser, Mako John Kuwimb, commented:
When foreigners come to our culture, we tell stories as entertainment. Daniel’s stories were not serious narrative, and Daniel had no idea he was being interviewed for publication. He has never killed anyone or raped a woman. He certainly has never stolen a pig.
Rhonda Roland Shearer of stinkyjournalism.org has published a 10,000 word article entitled, “Jared Diamond’s Factual Collapse: The New Yorker’s Papua New Guinea Revenge Tale Untrue.” Shearer’s study involved fact checking Diamond’s article. Three local researchers in Papua New Guinea interviewed 20 people and Shearer spoke to 40 anthropologists. The situation will be further examined in an upcoming 40,000 word article.
It should be noted that while the anthropologists may dispute some of Diamond’s details, they did report that Wemp maintained that the names his stories were true but that the events were not.
In Shearer’s own words:
The truth is Tribespeople blame Daniel for the New Yorker “lies” about the raping and endless murderous ways of the Handa and Ombal because it is untrue and common knowledge with government official, police and local tribes.
What Handa member and lawyer Mako Kuwimb meant was that Daniel was telling stories causally–like at a bar. When you don’t know you are being interviewed this naturally effects the precision of what you say – here or there in PNG.
The ugly fact is no one indigenous person named in the article was ever contacted before or after publication.