August 17, 2022
The bonobos in us - 06/25/2022 - Reinaldo Jose Lopez

The bonobos in us – 06/25/2022 – Reinaldo Jose Lopez

From time to time, I start thinking about the absolute miracle of meeting complete strangers all the time on the street and not stepping out on men’s arm or getting hit on their hands. Yes, I know the phrase sounds completely illogical, but the truth is that this wonderful invention of human society known as “tolerance of strangers” is by no means inevitable. doubt? ask the chimpanzee.

Our closest living relatives, members of a species pan cavesThey have no idea what it will be like to exchange pleasantries with some chimpanzee they have just met. In the wild, all interactions between members of one group of these great apes with members of the other chimpanzee community ends in escape or confrontation.

The only exception – which is still a relative one – involves the transfer of females who have just reached reproductive age from one group to another. Like many human cultures, chimpanzees are considered paternal, which means that males remain in the same pack for life, while females leave their family (not to marry, as they are not monogamous, but to mate with several males). This does not mean that females cannot be beaten alone, sometimes to death, when members of another group run into them in the woods. All this means that in terms of social interaction, chimpanzees spend their lives confined to a network of, at most, about a hundred individuals.

Even smaller human societies, the so-called nomadic hunters, deal with this problem in a more complex way. While global harmony is far from under control between groups with this social organization, the relatively peaceful exchange of news, raw materials, technologies, and sexual partners extends across much wider networks, with thousands of individuals. Kinship and friendships transcend domains (as basic social units are called, roughly the same size as chimpanzee groups).

Which means we have a little dilemma: Given this gap, how did humans become more tolerant of strangers? with the word bonobos (Pan Baniscus), our other first cousins.

These great apes are known for their mixed and seemingly idyllic sexual lives, but there has also been evidence that most interactions between the different groups of species are peaceful. However, doubts remain about what exactly was happening in these cases. One possibility is that the seemingly seamless encounters between the different groups were actually just interactions between subgroups of one large community.

A study recently appeared in the US trade journal PNAS seems to have solved the mystery, in favor of the idea that bonobos are, in fact, excellent political animals. Three researchers led by Harvard University primatologist Liran Samoni used sophisticated statistical methods to dissect the links among bonobos living in Kokoloburi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Conclusion: groups are real social units, which have their own identity and preferential interaction among their members – however, they do not enter into battle when other groups encounter, in fact, quite the opposite.

Therefore, perhaps our ability to relate to people completely different from us is as old a component of our lineage as chimpanzee xenophobia. We are complex primates – which, if it gives us a lot of work, is also reason to have some hope.


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