The really interesting site Atlas Obscura has an article this week on Alice Springs, a town of about 28,000 that is smack in the middle of Australia. Americans may have heard of it because there is a U.S./Australian satellite tracking station nearby; about 2,000 of the town's residents are U.S. citizens, in fact.
Or you may know Alice Springs as the place where more people are stabbed in the thigh than in any other place in the world. I guess it all depends what you read.
Around the turn of the century (the 20th), Dr. Abraham Jacob moved to Alice Springs and noticed something odd: people were getting stabbed a lot. These stabbings were almost never fatal, but they happened virtually every day. Statistically, of course, there will be some stabbings in any relatively large community. (Banjo attacks are much less common, but again it's all about the statistics.) But to Dr. Jacob the stabbing rate in Alice Springs seemed very high. So he started to keep track.
To give you a basis for comparison, according to the CDC (if I'm running the numbers correctly), there were about 110,000 non-fatal stabbings in the U.S. during 2001. (That's limited to those between 15 and 44 years of age, but those are the years when people are most interested in stabbing, it appears.) That's a rate of about 36 per 100,000 population per year. The article says the rate in London is about 47 per 100,000, which in a city of over 8 million would work out to just under 4,000 per year.
Dr. Jacob counted 1,550 stabbings in Alice Springs during the next seven years, an average of 221 per year. The good news: that's way less than London! The bad news: there were only 25,000 people in Alice Springs at the time. The article says the stabbing rate was 390 per 100,000—the numbers above work out to 880, but I think many of the stabbees did not live in the city proper, which would bring the rate down. Even at 390, though, this was "by far the highest reported incidence of stab injuries in the world." Also strange: about half of the victims were female, though everywhere else it's almost always young men stabbing each other. And only one percent of the wounds were in the abdomen, which is ordinarily the most common target. Forty percent of these people had been stabbed in the thigh.
WTF? asked Dr. Jacob, scientifically.
The answer turned out to be that this was, and is, a feature of the traditional legal system among the Aboriginal population. Wikipedia says that Aboriginal people make up 20-30 percent of the population in the area. (It also says this: "The most common non-English languages spoken in Alice Springs are Arrernte, Warlpiri, Luritja, Pitjantjatjara, and Italian.") But almost all the victims (99%) were Aboriginal people.
As Atlas Obscura explained, most of the stabbings were what's known as "payback":
Payback is a form of corporal, and sometimes capital, punishment administered by tribal elders.... [It] consists of the wrongdoer being stabbed in the thigh with a spear. The exact positioning of the wound depends on the crime. A stab in the lateral thigh punishes but does not cripple. A blow to the posterior thigh can permanently disable, while a spear applied to the medial thigh often punctures the femoral artery and kills....
Although it might seem like a form of vendetta, payback is a traditional form of conflict resolution, not escalation. It aims to restore peace to the community and act as a healing process and it is treated with the utmost seriousness by the felonious and the faithful alike.... [I]f an Aboriginal man is arrested for a crime by the Australian police he will often bail himself out in order to return home and receive payback. If he does not accept it his family will be ostracized and he will never be allowed to return home again.
Sometimes they will also beat him with a boomerang, "[b]ut what is unchangeable in every payback ritual is the thigh-spearing."
The government is said to disapprove of such practices (it hasn't killed any prisoners since 1967), and "seeks to replace them with court-mandated mediation." I don't know—going from formal stabbings to mediation seems like kind of a big jump. But maybe it'll catch on.