Meet bonobo apes: along with chimpanzees human’s closest relative, the three species sharing 99% genome.
chimp & bonobo & Darwin
image credit: National Geographic
Bonobos and chimpanzees diverged some 2 million years ago and have developed in quite different directions. While chimps are male dominated, strictly patriarchal society with alpha males and increased aggressiveness, bonobos live in a matriarchal society, are peaceful, calm and, to humans’ greatest surprise, quite sexual.
Bonobos have sex for sex’ sake and do it quite often with quite many partners. They are creative in it, too: performing oral sex, changing partners regardless the gender and… oh, well… you get the idea… sky is the limit, and bonobos, similar to their human counterparts, are quite imaginative indeed.
“The greatest difficulty which presents itself, when we are driven to the above conclusion on the origin of man (evolution through natural selection), is the high standard of intellectual power and moral disposition which he has attained.”
Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871)
But, is it really so?
Is Mr. Darwin right, or he simply did not know better?
Now we know bonobos: emotional, emphatic, sexual and peaceful. It is important to point out that the species was first distinguished in 1928, and described in detail in a study by Eduard Paul Tratz and Heinz Heck published in the early 1950s. Yet, with this knowledge, I can not help but wonder:
Are we – humans – more intelligent and hence more advanced, or have we only not understood, or did not know our bonobo relative that well?
It is believed that sexuality has created humans: the moment we had raised on two feet, making our private parts not so easily attainable and quite concealed, sex has become an endless game of romance, seduction, pleasure and deceit. The game is so irresistible that we are prone to submission our lives to it, we live for it, we drive our zest for life from it.
In case of us, humans, is it derived from the simple biological imperative of reproduction so the show must go on, or do we do it for pleasure’s sake only?
And, if we do it for pleasure, how has it come in the picture in the first place?
We may check our relatives, bonobos, again… peaceful in nature,they are real animal hippies. It is believed that such calm nature of bonobos is the result of their sexuality: for them, sex is a way of reaching and experiencing pleasure, relieving stress and bonding. Considering they have sex quite often, it is no wonder they indeed are calm and cool. The developed sexuality is presumed to be a result of the abundant living environment they live in. Bonobos’ habitat is a 500,000 km2 (190,000 sq mi) area of the Congo river basin in the Democratic Republic of Congo: rain forest area with plenty of food within one’s reach. Therefore our relatives, unlike chimps, have never had the need to search for food, or have experienced the lack of it. Knowing not of scarcity has provided for spare time they can use to develop other interests – sex being one of the main. This further provides for possibility to create alliances and connections which is more attributable to females. Maybe this best explains why bonobos are matriarchal.
Musing further on this, a thought comes to mind: maybe we, humans, are not as advanced and superior as we like to see ourselves, but rather are unaware of other species and their ways.
It might be sex, it might be woman power, but bonobos indeed are one of the most interesting animal tribes.