|Regions with significant populations|
The Fore live in the Okapa District of the Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. There are approximately 20,000 Fore who are separated by the Wanevinti Mountains into the North Fore and South Fore regions. Their main form of survival is slash and burn farming. The Fore language has three distinct dialects and is the southernmost member of the East Central Family, East New Guinea Highlands Stock, Trans–New Guinea phylum of Papuan languages.
In the 1950s the neurological disease Kuru was discovered in the South Fore. The local tradition of ritual cannibalism of their dead had led to an epidemic, with approximately 1000 deaths from 1957 to 1960.
Until the 1950s, the Fore people had minimal direct contact with outsiders who were at the time colonizing Papua New Guinea. A small number of prospectors crossed through their territory in the 1930s and at least one plane crashed there during World War II. New diseases such as influenza reached them before significant contact with colonial people occurred.
In the late 1940s, colonial government patrols reached further and further into Fore territory. The patrol officers, called kiaps by the Fore, tried to conduct a census in each village they passed through and lectured the villagers on the importance of hygiene and road construction. They encouraged the people to give up village warfare, sorcery and cannibalism as well. These officers attempted to recruit local 'big men' to represent the colonial authorities as headmen (luluais) or as deputies (tultuls).
In 1951, a police post was set up at Okapa (then known as Moke) among the North Fore. A patrol officer, John R. McArthur, was stationed there from 1954 when the 'rough track' from Kainantu opened to traffic. Transportation in the region improved to such a degree that it was possible to drive a Land Rover or motorbike to Purosa among the South Fore by 1957. At this time, colonial authorities estimated that there were at least 12,000 Fore living in the region.
In addition to government officers, other outsiders began to enter Fore territory. Anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt spent time with the North Fore in 1953, while missionaries and traders penetrated further south. The Fore underwent considerable cultural change as a result of this contact: they traded with the outsiders, began growing coffee, and started to adopt a money-based economy. Gordon T. Linsley, a patrol officer stationed at Okapa, noted the rapid pace of social change among the Fore in a 1951 report. He observed that village warfare had declined considerably, the young Fore men seemingly glad to have an excuse to quit fighting. The region was already under the control of the Australian government and some villages were relocating from the high ridges down to their gardens. Rest houses were present in the larger villages and separate men's houses remained only in the more isolated villages. Many people regularly used the 'rough track' to travel to Kainantu and were able to see the latest fashions and hear Pidgin spoken. Broad paths linked communities together; however, Linsley noted inter-district fighting persisted and accusations of sorcery were still common in Purosa.
Kuru among the South Fore
Upon the death of an individual, the maternal kin were responsible for the dismemberment of the corpse. The women would remove the arms and feet, strip the limbs of muscle, remove the brain and cut open the chest in order to remove internal organs.
Shirley Lindenbaum, one of the early kuru researchers, states that kuru victims were highly regarded as sources of food, because the layer of fat on victims who died quickly resembled pork. Women also were known to feed morsels - such as human brain and various parts of organs - to their children and the elderly.
It is currently believed that kuru was transmitted among the South Fore through participation in such cannibalism, although opportunistic infection through wounds when removing infectious tissue from the corpse can be assumed to be another cause, as not all cases can be explained by ingestion of infectious tissue.
Though the Fore would not eat those who had apparently died of disease, and so did not so easily catch other diseases via cannibalism, they believed that kuru was a mental affliction caused by a curse rather than a physical disease.
The kuru epidemic reached its height in the 1960s, having recorded over 1,100 deaths of the South Fore from kuru between 1957 and 1968. The vast majority of victims among the South Fore were women. In fact, eight times more women than men contracted the disease. It later affected small children and the elderly at a high rate as well.
Lindenbaum and Vincent Zigas worked among the South Fore in New Guinea trying to identify and catalog the symptoms and possible behavior causing the disease. Daniel Carleton Gajdusek also traveled there in 1957, to study disease patterns in indigenous and isolated populations. Lindenbaum, Zigas, and Gajdusek were all crucial to explaining the specifics of kuru to the rest of the world.
Although the prohibition of cannibalism in the 1950s led to the steady decline of the epidemic, kuru has lingered into the 21st century by an incubation period that can exceed 50 years.
- Fore World Culture Encyclopedia
- Michael P. Alpers (2008). "The epidemiology of kuru: monitoring the epidemic from its peak to its end". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 363 (1510): 3707–3713. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0071. PMC 2577135. PMID 18849286.
- Warwick H. Anderson (2008). "Early perceptions of an epidemic". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 363 (1510): 3675–3678. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0082. PMC 2735509. PMID 18849281.
- Lindenbaum, Shirley (1979). Kuru Sorcery: Disease and Danger in the New Guinea Highlands
- McElroy, Ann & Patricia Townsend, Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective, 4th edition, Westview Press, 2004, p 44.
- Gajdusek, D.C. (1996). Kuru: From the New Guinea field journals 1957-1962. Grand Street, 15:6-33