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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chimpanzees, politics and alpha males

If you're a fan of nature documentaries you have surely watched now and then the real adventures of our chimp cousins at the Gomba reservation. In that case, the names and even personality of these chimpanzees will be very familiar, as thanks to modern media you have become for a brief but intensive time a guest in their home.

But the researchers were not just filming documentaries, they were researching chimpanzee sociology and, by extension, also ours.

They have found that alpha males among chimps are not always the largest more brutish guys. Sometimes they are: Frodo a very large male, weighting 51 kg, never ever groomed others and yet he was the alpha male for some time. In contrast, Wilkie, weighting only 37 kg. (under male chimp average) became the alpha male with a most diplomatic strategy, grooming others almost compulsively. Freud, an intermediate guy weighting 44 kg (above average) used both strategies, grooming at times and imposing himself by force in other occasions.

Source: Science Daily, based on materials of the University of Minnesota.


Anonymous said...

With chimps it is easier to see what is going on. A lot of human behavior is tied up with subtle forms of preventing others gaining an advantage in the competition for reproductive success
Human Cultural Diversity

Leveling People

One of the most famous popular essays in anthropology is Richard Lee’s Eating Christmas in the Kalahari (1969) in which he describes how his own hubris in providing an ox for a holiday feast was punished by Bushmen who assured him that his ox was so lean as to be worthless and perhaps inedible. Daily life is pervaded with put-downs, complaints, and petty arguments, all of which work as if designed to suppress any trace of leadership or political ambition.

Maju said...

Just let's not forget our other cousin, the much more peaceful (and matrifocal) bonobos. Chimps are just one side of the coin.

Bushmen have that very interesting ultra-communist culture in which individual achievements are by rule put down and mocked systematically. This is done in order to prevent individualism and egotism, which would be deadly for the closely knit community. They do the same with their own kin and that attitude is accepted with humor and humilty.

In Bushmen culture there are no alpha males nor females. They would be laughed upon and put in their place quickly.