Leave It to Biden to Offend New Guinea Citizens With Fake Cannibal Tales

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

It's another "What were you thinking, Joe?" moment. In his hometown of Scranton, Pa., Joe Biden told a very tall tale about his maternal uncle, Ambrose Finnegan, a pilot in World War II.


Biden claims his relative's plane crashed in Papua New Guinea, where cannibals ate Uncle Ambrose. The Pentagon gently tried to correct the record, pointing out that Ambrose Finnegan was killed when his plane went down over open water in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had this back-and-forth with Fox News's Peter Doocey.

“Why is President Biden saying [Finnegan] was shot down — there is no evidence of that — and why is he saying that his uncle was eaten by cannibals?” Doocy asked, adding: “That is a bad way to go.”

“He lost his life. Look, we should not make jokes about this,” Jean-Pierre chided.

“It’s not — President Biden said his uncle was eaten by cannibals,” Doocy replied.

“Your last line, it’s for a laugh — it’s for a funny statement,” Jean-Pierre countered. “And he takes this very seriously. His uncle, who served and protected this country, lost his life serving, and that should matter.”

In Papua New Guinea, residents were outraged at the accusation. Michael Kabuni, a lecturer in political science at the University of Papua New Guinea, told the Guardian, “They wouldn’t just eat any white men that fell from the sky.” 


Biden should have known that. He's got an army of fact-checkers, historians, and cultural experts, and, in a pinch, he could have Googled it. The cannibals would sometimes eat beloved relatives to prevent their flesh from decomposing. Some tribes would eat the heart of an honored enemy. But the idea they'd eat any old white man who showed up asking for directions is just balmy.

Allan Bird, governor of East Sepik Province, found the whole idea hilarious. “I don’t feel offended. It’s hilarious, really,” Bird said. “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.”

The "cannibal" imbroglio couldn't have come at a worse time for U.S.-Papua New Guinea relations. Washington has been cultivating the PNG government's friendship to join a coalition to counter China's influence in the region.


Analysts in Papua New Guinea who were shown his comments described the claims as unsubstantiated and poorly judged, pointing out that they come at a time when US has been seeking to strengthen its ties with the country, and counter Chinese influence in the Pacific region.

“The Melanesian group of people, who Papua New Guinea is part of, are a very proud people,” said Michael Kabuni, a lecturer in political science at the University of Papua New Guinea. “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.”


Maholopa Laveil, economics lecturer at the University of Papua New Guinea, points out that Biden was already in trouble with the people of PNG after canceling a trip to the island last year.

“It paints PNG in a bad light. PNG has already had a lot of negative press around riots and tribal fighting and this doesn’t help, and [the claims are] unsubstantiated,” he said.

The important thing is not to make jokes about the culture of other people, even if our doddering president thinks his uncle was a two-course meal for cannibals.


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