Meticulously examining ethnographic sources, Christophe Darmangeat argues that warfare among Australian Aborigines was mostly an extension of their judicial systems. He demonstrates how violent conflict occurred when circumstances prohibited regulated proceedings.
Christophe Darmangeat is lecturer at the University of Paris.
Chapter 1: Characterizing Aboriginal Societies
Chapter 2: Common Forms of Justice
Chapter 3: Deadly Confrontations
Chapter 4: Why Fight?
Chapter 5: A General Classification of Organized Violence
Chapter 6: On the War Path
Chapter 7: Means of War
Chapter 8: Australia, a Unique Case?
Did Australian Aboriginal peoples ﬁght each other? This question arises in the context of a ﬁerce debate over whether hunter-gatherer societies practised warfare or not. Darmangeat’s book is an important contribution towards answering this question. The author’s great achievement is having created an impressive database containing detailed information on war amongst Australian Aboriginal peoples between 1803 and 1951.... Darmangeat’s study is an important step forward in studying violence and warfare among hunter-gatherers.
This is the first comprehensive study of the literature on the roles of collective violence in classical Aboriginal Australia. . . . Justice and Warfare in Aboriginal Australia makes a most useful addition to the anthropological literature on Australian society as it was before conquest by the British Empire. The nature of that society has recently come under considerable social media debate and public discussion in Australia. This book is thus a very timely contribution to our understanding of the past.
For over a century anthropologists have sought to counter ethnocentric and unilineal evolutionary views of Australian hunter-gatherer societies by emphasizing their sophisticated environmental knowledge, efficacious socio-political organization, and complex cosmology. Embedded in this approach has been a tacit acceptance by the vast majority of anthropologists that pre-European Australia was a continent of peace where conflict was solved solely through cooperation and avoidance. This view has had a profound impact on the study of the origins of violence and warfare in human history. A handful of scholars have reevaluated this assumption through consideration of evidence from archaeology, oral tradition, history, ethnography, and material culture. This book, however, is the first comprehensive analysis of this material. Darmangeat assembles detailed evidence for violence and warfare among Australian foragers through the critical lens of a Marxist perspective. Particularly valuable is his emphasis on placing conflict within the context of traditional justice systems. The result is a vital and long overdue contribution to the study of the origins of violence and warfare among hunter-gatherers.
Until the first English settlement in 1788, the Australian continent was solely inhabited by hunter-gatherers whose social life mirrored human history for 95% of our existence. Darmangeat’s Justice and Warfare in Aboriginal Australia is the richest and most comprehensive source of eye-witnessed violence ranging from simple assault to feud and warfare ever compiled for the continent. As such, the accounts therein are central for our understanding the origins of organized violence. Just as importantly, his theoretically informed classification of collective violence is a valuable guide for researchers.
Christophe Darmangeat has produced an exhaustive volume on traditional Aboriginal Australian justice and warfare. I opened the book with trepidation because the topic is fraught with problems of politics, definition, interpretation, bias, prejudice and missing data. But I was pleasantly surprised to find all the issues were tackled head on with a very readable forensic analysis. This methodical book is fascinating to read and an excellent record that questions many past assumptions about hunter-gatherer lifeways.
The subject of Australian Aboriginal warfare – whether Aborigines went to war and if so how and why – has become a vital issue in scholarship on the origins of human warfare. In Justice and Warfare in Aboriginal Australia, Christophe Darmangeat has made an enormously valuable contribution by assembling a large database of widely scattered reports on Aboriginal violence, evaluating this evidence, and discussing its implications for current research on war and its origins.