Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Our Sexy Ancestors

Five to eight million years ago our ancestors were covered with dark hair and spent their days swinging from tree to tree. We shared that ancestor with the gorillas and chimpanzees, until some chimps branched off and developed into hominids.

Chimps still inhabit the African continent. They band together in tribes that are fiercely dominated by their males. Aggression and violence are their trademarks—nothing better for them than to fight wars against neighboring tribes.

They are close relatives of ours—96% of our DNA is identical to theirs. Why is it then that many humans are gentle and kind and have little in common with the aggressive chimp?

Researchers have finally figured it out. Apparently, the chimps weren’t all mean and bloodthirsty. Some were peaceful and mellow and decided millennia ago to separate from their brutal brothers. They retreated to the inaccessible jungle of the African Congo where they hid high up in the treetops and enjoyed peace and harmony there. Few humans have ever come to this remote jungle and when they do, these Bonobos carefully avoid being seen. No wonder they were not discovered until quite recently, and it took researchers infinite patience to discovered some of their secrets.

What are some of the secrets of these happy Bonobos?

They love having fun, they are sensual and emotional and form lifelong friendships, they groom one another, take naps, share their food and are surprisingly compassionate. They enjoy meeting neighboring tribes and are glad to roam with them for a while.

The key to their happy harmony?

There may be two. According to Bonobo Researcher Frances White, they are matriarchal, a fact that was long disputed by her colleagues. Bonobo females band together in a powerful sisterhood; they are the ones who are in control. They allot the food and eat before the males are allowed to even touch theirs.

Their other secret? 

They favor constant sex. It’s their favorite pastime—many times every day. They are not choosy; every male has sex with every female. It leaves them no time for gnashing their teeth.

How about the Bonobo babies?

All Bonobos love babies; after all, each baby could be anybody’s baby in this happy world.

Homo sapiens has come a long way since our ancestor roamed high up in the treetops of the jungle and swung from branch to branch. We have gathered considerable knowledge and skills, we’ve multiplied and become ever more diverse. We’ve acquired great riches and have grown increasingly dependent on them. Have we become happier too?

Until next time,