‘FREEDOM’—Chapter 5  The Origin of Humans’ Moral Instinctive Self or Soul

Chapter 5:10 The importance of nurturing in bonobo society


An indication of how bonobos have been able to develop the nurturing love-indoctrination process more than chimpanzees, is that female bonobos have, on average, one offspring every five to six years and provide better maternal care than chimpanzees. Bonobos are born small, develop more slowly than other ape species, and stay in a state of infancy and total dependence for a comparatively long period of timebeing weaned at about five years of age and remaining dependent on their mothers until between the ages of seven and nine. Chimpanzees are weaned at about four years of age and remain dependent up to the age of six (on average), while the biological weaning age for humans is considered to be between five-and-a-half and six years, which is closer to the five years of bonobos. Biologists have noted that an individual’s lifespan is, amongst other factors, ‘related to the postnatal development rate’ (Richard Cutler, ‘Evolution of longevity in primates’, Journal of Human Evolution, 1976, Vol.5, No.2), and so it is possible to deduce that the selection for a longer infancy period had the side effect of lengthening all the stages of maturation, which may explain how humans acquired our comparatively long lifespan.


The primatologist Takayoshi Kano’s long-running study of bonobos in their natural habitat in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has observed this prolonged infancy in practise, reporting that ‘The long dependence of the son may be caused by the slow growth of the bonobo infant, which seems slower than in the chimpanzee. For example, even after one year of age, bonobo infants do not walk or climb much, and are very slow. The mothers keep them near. They start to play with others at about one and a half years, which is much later than in the chimpanzee. During this period, mothers are very attentive…Female juveniles gradually loosen their tie with the mother and travel further away from her than do her sons’ (Frans de Waal & Frans Lanting, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, 1997, p.60 of 210). As alluded to in this passage, the bond between mother and son is of particular significance in bonobo society where the son will maintain his connection with his mother for life and depend upon her for his social standing within the group. For example, the son of the society’s dominant female, the strong matriarch who maintains social order, will rise in the ranks of the group, presumably to ensure the establishment and perpetuation of unaggressive, non-competitive, cooperative male characteristics, both learnt and genetic, within the group. Again, historically, it is the male primates who have been particularly divisive in their aggressive competition to win mating opportunities and, therefore, the gender most needing of love-indoctrinationas this quote makes clear: ‘Patient observation over many years convinced [Takayoshi] Kano that male bonobos bonded with their mothers for life. That contrasts with chimpanzee males who rarely have close contact with their mothers after they grow up, instead joining other males in never-ending tussles for dominance’ (Paul Raffaele, ‘Bonobos: The apes who make love, not war’, Last Tribes on Earth.com, 2003; see <www.wtmsources.com/143>).


The following quote (part of which has already been referred to), from Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and the writer Roger Lewin’s book, Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind, provides further insight into bonobo society and its emphasis on nurturing: ‘Bonobo life is centered around the offspring. Unlike what happens among common chimps, all members of the bonobo social group help with infant care and share food with infants. If you are a bonobo infant, you can do no wrong. This high regard for infants gives bonobo females a status that is not shared by common chimpanzee females, who must bear the burden of child care all alone. Bonobo females and their infants form the core of the group, with males invited in to the extent that they are cooperative and helpful. High-status males are those that are accepted by the females, and male aggression directed toward females is rare even though males are considerably stronger’ (1994, p.108 of 299).


Also ‘Unlike what happens among common chimps’ is the fact that bonobos regularly share their food, and while chimpanzees restrict their plant-food intake to mainly fruit, bonobos eat leaves and plant pith as well as fruit, a diet more like that of gorillas. While bonobos have been known to capture and eat small game, including small monkeys, to supplement their diet with protein, they are not known to routinely hunt down and eat large animals such as colobus monkeys, like chimpanzees do, with ‘hunting behavior [by bonobos] very rare’ (Tetsuya Sakamaki quoted by David Quammen, ‘The Left Bank Ape, National Geographic, Mar. 2013). (In chapter 6:6 it is explained how mechanistic science has had to try to argue that bonobos are not gentle and peaceful because their cooperative behaviour serves as an unbearably exposing and confronting reminder of our now immensely angry, egocentric and alienated, unloving and unloved lives. For example, you will recall how, in par. 208, E.O. Wilson brazenly attempted to paint bonobos as indistinguishable from chimpanzees by stating that, like chimpanzees, bonobos ‘do not share’, and that they ‘hunt in coordinated packs in the same manner as chimpanzees’. However, as I pointed out, even the most basic research shows that Wilson had to fudge his evidence to support his liebut this is how desperate resigned humans have been to find some excuse for our species’ divisive behaviour.) Also, while physical violence is customary amongst chimpanzees it is rare among bonobos where, although the males are stronger, male aggression has been tamed and, unlike other great apes but like our ancestors, there is actually little difference in sexual size dimorphism between the male and female of the species. And, as has been mentioned, like our ancestors Sahelanthropus, Orrorin and Ardipithecus, bonobos have reduced canine teeth, another indication they are less aggressivein fact, the bonobo male ‘possesses smaller canines than any other [male] hominoid (J. Michael Plavcan et al., ‘Competition, coalitions and canine size in primates’, Journal of Human Evolution, 1995, Vol.28, No.3). The practice of infanticide, while not uncommon amongst chimpanzees, also appears to be non-existent within bonobo societies where even orphan bonobos are cared for by the group. In chimpanzee society orphans are occasionally adopted by a female but are not especially cared for by the group. Social groups of bonobos also have much greater stability than social groups of chimpanzees, with bonobos periodically coming together in large, harmonious, stable groups of up to 120 individualsas Barbara Fruth’s observation, included in par. 415, indicated: ‘up to 100 bonobos at a time from several groups spend their night together. That would not be possible with chimpanzees because there would be brutal fighting between rival groups.’ The primatologist Genichi Idani similarly reported that ‘In societies of African great apes other than bonobos, only antagonistic [aggressive] relationships have been reported between unit-groups…[Bonobo] neighborhood relationships…allow peaceful coexistence of two unit-groups [and] provide the first nonhuman primate community model which is close to…​human society’ (‘Relations between Unit-Groups of Bonobos at Wamba, Zaire: Encounters and Temporary Fusions’, African Study Monographs, 1990, Vol.11, No.3). So, bonobos are much gentler than their chimpanzee cousins; they are relatively placid, peaceful and egalitarian, exhibiting a remarkable sensitivity to othersand not just towards their own kind, as will be evidenced shortly with an account of how a bonobo cared for a stunned bird.