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5 Lessons Humans Can Learn From Bonobos

However weird it might sound, it is a fact that humans share 98.8% of their DNA with many ape species. If you have ever seen Planet of the Apes or 2001: A Space Odyssey, you might be surprised that, despite our common genetics, these primates are portrayed as vicious and barbaric. Contrary to this depiction, apes are known to show a wide-range of emotions, superior intellect, and a style of workmanship similar to that of humans. There is one primate group in particular that stands out in respect to highly organized societal structure: the bonobos. In fact, there are a lot of lessons humans can learn from bonobos in respect to community life…

  1. Bonobos have matriarchal societies. Unlike most primate groups, bonobos value their female members as more than just part of reproduction . Bonobos usually stick together in communities of about 100 members with females at the top of the hierarchical chain. Male bonobos are considered active members of the community through their relationship with their mothers and female partners, causing them to form strong bonds with the female bonobos. While I am not advocating that humans should value one gender over another, I do believe that women should be more appreciated. Despite the fact that women make up a little more than half of the population, they are severely underrepresented in all political and economic realms of life. Women should not only respect themselves but should be encouraged by men to pursue more leadership roles in human society, like amongst the bonobos!
  2. Bonobos eat a healthy diet. A bonobo’s diet consists of mostly fruit but they also feed on sprouts, flowers, leaves, seeds, and roots. While they are mostly vegans, bonobos are also known to eat eggs and honey, with the occasional but rare small mammal. Though we think consider ourselves evolved, the majority of Americans live off of hydrogenated syrups and greasy fast food. If more humans stuck to all-natural diets with pronounceable ingredients, we would be a more fit, active and healthy species. We should follow the bonobos example–with the addition of silverware of course!
  3. Bonobos have fluid sexualities. If you only take away one thing from this article let it be this: bonobos love sex. They do not have a mating season, but rather engage in sexual activity all year long and for multiple reasons besides reproduction. Bonobos have sex to reduce stress, to end arguments, and for means of excitement and pleasure. Bonobos are not constricted to human terms like “straight” or “gay” and frequently engage with multiple sexual partners from different genders. Our society is timid when it comes to discussing sex, despite the fact that we constantly come across sex in magazines, television shows, the internet, and our daily thoughts. Humans need to become more comfortable with their own bodies and their sexualities. Bonobos remind us that we are sexual beings and should not repress our needs and desires no matter what form they come in.
  4. Bonobos clearly express their emotions. Although bonobos don’t have the written language and massive vocabulary that humans have, they easily assert themselves with facial expressions. As humans we often hide behind our words and phrase our conversations in such a way that they cover up the truth. We should try to be more like the bonobos and express ourselves simply: if you are mad, show that you are mad and if you are happy, show that you are happy. Sometimes all it takes is a crinkled brow to show a friend that you are upset and sometimes all a person needs is a smile to know that you care.
  5. Bonobos are not aggressive beings. Bonobos tend to be calm, gentle beings (probably because they have so much sex!) They coexist with one another peacefully, which one could assume is related to the gender dynamics and emotional and sexual freeness of their communities. Human society teaches us to repress our emotions and sexuality which leads to built up tension and aggression. While some choose to focus their frustrations on work or exercise, others take their anger out on one another on both the large and small scale. From petty fights between friends to major world wars, humans have developed both physical and emotional ways to abuse themselves and one another. We could all benefit from acknowledging that suffering exists and choose to instead fight against the pain with love and compassion.



Overall there is a lot that humans can learn from bonobos: they respect their women, maintain peaceful through free-love, they treat their bodies well, and they communicate well with facial expressions. If you would like to learn more about bonobos visit the sites below and sign up for Biological Anthropology with either Professor Hardy or Professor Murphy in the fall!

[Sources: http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/bonobo/behavhttp://www.animalfactguide.com/animal-facts/bonobo/http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/bonobo]


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