November 24, 2004
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.-In Yali's Question: Sugar, Culture, and History ($67.50, $27.50 paperback, 360 pp. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2004), Deborah Gewertz, the G. Henry Whitcomb 1874 Professor of Anthropology at Amherst College, tells the remarkable story of Ramu Sugar Limited (RSL), a sugar plantation in a remote part of Papua New Guinea. Cowritten with Frederick Errington of Trinity College, Yali's Question explores this imported industrial creation, a smoke-belching, steam-shrieking factory and vast fields of carefully tended sugar cane that contrast sharply with the surrounding grasslands.
RSL not only dominates the landscape, but it also culturally shapes those thousands who left their homes to work there. In examining these views, Gewertz and Errington also consider those of Yali, a PNG political leader. Significantly, Yali figures not only in the story of RSL, but also in Jared Diamond's Pulitzer Prize-winning world history Guns, Germs, and Steel-a history the authors probe through its contrast with RSL's. Gewertz and Errington disagree with Diamond not because of the generality of his focus and the specificity of theirs, but from a difference in view about how history is made - and from an insistence that those with power must be held accountable for affecting history.
Gewertz has taught at Amherst since 1977. She and Errington have co-authored several books, including Cultural Alternatives and a Feminist Anthropology: An Analysis of Culturally Constructed Gender Interests in Papua New Guinea (Cambridge, 1987), Articulating Change in the "Last Unknown" (Westview, 1995), Twisted Histories, Altered Contexts: Representing the Chambri in a World System (Cambridge, 1991) and Emerging Class in Papua New Guinea: The Telling of Difference (Cambridge, 1999). Gewertz is also the author of numerous articles in books and journals, including American Ethnologist and American Anthropologist.