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19 Apr, 2024 14:59

Biden condemned for cannibalism comments

Papua New Guinean tribes are unlikely to have eaten the US president’s uncle, an academic has told The Guardian
Biden condemned for cannibalism comments

Academics from Papua New Guinea have criticized US President Joe Biden for suggesting that their countrymen ate his uncle after a wartime plane crash. Local tribes “wouldn’t just eat any white men that fell from the sky,” one lecturer told The Guardian.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Biden recounted the alleged fate of 2nd Lieutenant Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., whose reconnaissance plane was “shot down in New Guinea” in 1944. “They never found his body,” Biden said, “because there used to be, there were a lot of cannibals − for real − in that part of New Guinea.”

Michael Kabuni, a political science lecturer at the University of Papua New Guinea, told The Guardian that while cannibalism was historically practiced by some tribes who inhabited the country, “they wouldn’t just eat any white men that fell from the sky.”

“The Melanesian group of people… are a very proud people,” Kabuni said. “And they would find this kind of categorisation very offensive. Not because someone says ‘oh there used to be cannibalism in PNG’ – yes, we know that, that’s a fact. But taking it out of context, and implying that your [uncle] jumps out of the plane and somehow we think it’s a good meal is unacceptable.”

Human flesh was not a staple in the Melanesian diet, Kabuni explained. Instead, some tribes would eat their deceased relatives as a funerary custom, he told the British newspaper. According to the University of Western Australia, the practice triggered an outbreak of a fatal disease known as ‘Kuru’ and died out in the early 1960s.

“I am lost for words actually,” Papua New Guinean opposition leader Allan Bird told The Guardian. “I don’t feel offended. It’s hilarious really. I am sure when Biden was a child, those are the things he heard his parents say. And it probably stuck with him all his life.”

Economics professor Maholopa Laveil argued that Biden should have chosen his words better, considering the US signed a security pact with Papua New Guinea last year. With the agreement struck, Washington is currently attempting to pressure the country out of a separate pact with China.

“For a US president to say that – particularly after a lot of deals have been struck with PNG and the work they’ve been doing in the Pacific – even off the cuff, I don’t think that should have been said at all,” Laveil said.

According to official military records, Finnegan was killed when his plane crashed “for unknown reasons” off the north coast of the island. “One crew member survived and was rescued by a passing barge,” the Pentagon’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency states, adding that “an aerial search the next day found no trace of the missing aircraft or the lost crew members.”

Biden has a long record of exaggerating his own involvement in historic events. The 81-year-old has falsely claimed that he visited Ground Zero in New York the day after the September 11 terrorist attacks, that he was arrested while attempting to visit Nelson Mandela in a South African jail, and that he marched with civil rights protesters in the 1960s.

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