Is Racism an Instinct?

Everyone is a little bit racist–Hillary Clinton

If everyone in the world exhibits a particular behavior, chances are it’s innate. But I have been informed–by Harvard-educated people, no less–that humans do not have instincts. We are so smart, you see, that we don’t need instincts anymore.

This is nonsense, of course.

One amusing and well-documented human instinct is the nesting instinct, experienced by pregnant women shortly before going into labor. (As my father put it, “When shes starts rearranging the furniture, get the ready to head to the hospital.”) Having personally experienced this sudden, overwhelming urge to CLEAN ALL THE THINGS multiple times, I can testify that it is a real phenomenon.

Humans have other instincts–babies will not only pick up and try to eat pretty much anything they run across, to every parent’s consternation, but they will also crawl right up to puddles and attempt to drink out of them.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves: What, exactly, is an instinct? According to Wikipedia:

Instinct or innate behavior is the inherent inclination of a living organism towards a particular complex behavior. The simplest example of an instinctive behavior is a fixed action pattern (FAP), in which a very short to medium length sequence of actions, without variation, are carried out in response to a clearly defined stimulus.

Any behavior is instinctive if it is performed without being based upon prior experience (that is, in the absence of learning), and is therefore an expression of innate biological factors. …

Instincts are inborn complex patterns of behavior that exist in most members of the species, and should be distinguished from reflexes, which are simple responses of an organism to a specific stimulus, such as the contraction of the pupil in response to bright light or the spasmodic movement of the lower leg when the knee is tapped.

The go-to example of an instinct is the gosling’s imprinting instinct. Typically, goslings imprint on their mothers, but a baby gosling doesn’t actually know what its mother is supposed to look like, and can accidentally imprint on other random objects, provided they are moving slowly around the nest around the time the gosling hatches.

Stray dog nursing kittens
Stray dog nursing kittens

Here we come to something I think may be useful for distinguishing an instinct from other behaviors: an instinct, once triggered, tends to keep going even if it has been accidentally or incorrectly triggered. Goslings look like they have an instinct to follow their mothers, but they actually have an instinct to imprint on the first large, slowly moving object near their nest when they hatch.

So if you find people strangely compelled to do something that makes no sense but which everyone else seems to think makes perfect sense, you may be dealing with an instinct. For example, women enjoy celebrity gossip because humans have an instinct to keep track of social ranks and dynamics within their own tribe; men enjoy watching other men play sports because it conveys the vicarious feeling of defeating a neighboring tribe at war.

So what about racism? Is it an instinct?

Strictly speaking–and I know I have to define racism, just a moment–I don’t see how we could have evolved such an instinct. Races exist because major human groups were geographically separated for thousands of years–prior to 1492, the average person never even met a person of another race in their entire life. So how could we evolve an instinct in response to something our ancestors never encountered?

Unfortunately, “racism” is a chimera, always changing whenever we attempt to pin it down, but the Urban Dictionary gives a reasonable definition:

An irrational bias towards members of a racial background. The bias can be positive (e.g. one race can prefer the company of its own race or even another) or it can be negative (e.g. one race can hate another). To qualify as racism, the bias must be irrational. That is, it cannot have a factual basis for preference.

Of course, instincts exist because they ensured our ancestors’ survival, so if racism is an instinct, it can’t exactly be “irrational.” We might call a gosling who follows a scientist instead of its mother “irrational,” but this is a misunderstanding of the gosling’s motivation. Since “racist” is a term of moral judgment, people are prone to defending their actions/beliefs towards others on the grounds that it can’t possibly be immoral to believe something that is actually true.

The claim that people are “racist” against members of other races implies, in converse, that they exhibit no similar behaviors toward members of their own race. But even the most perfunctory overview of history reveals people acting in extremely “racist” ways toward members of their own race. During the Anglo-Boer wars, the English committed genocide against the Dutch South Africans (Afrikaners.) During WWII, Germans allied with the the Japanese and slaughtered their neighbors, Poles and Jews. (Ashkenazim are genetically Caucasian and half Italian.) If Hitler were really racist, he’d have teamed up with Stalin and Einstein–his fellow whites–and dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima. (And for their part, the Japanese would have allied with the Chinese against the Germans.)

picture-2Some quotes from the NewScientist article:

The murder victim, a West African chimpanzee called Foudouko, had been beaten with rocks and sticks, stomped on and then cannibalised by his own community. …

“When you reverse that and have almost two males per every female — that really intensifies the competition for reproduction. That seems to be a key factor here,” says Wilson.

Jill Pruetz at Iowa State University, who has been studying this group of chimpanzees in south-eastern Senegal since 2001, agrees. She suggests that human influence may have caused this skewed gender ratio that is likely to have been behind this attack. In Senegal, female chimpanzees are poached to provide infants for the pet trade. …

Early one morning, Pruetz and her team heard loud screams and hoots from the chimps’ nearby sleep nest. At dawn, they found Foudouko dead, bleeding profusely from a bite to his right foot. He also had a large gash in his back and a ripped anus. Later he was found to have cracked ribs. Pruetz says Foudouko probably died of internal injuries or bled out from his foot wound.

Foudouko also had wounds on his fingers. These were likely to have been caused by chimps clamping them in their teeth to stretch his arms out and hold him down during the attack, says Pruetz.

After his death, the gang continued to abuse Foudouko’s body, throwing rocks and poking it with sticks, breaking its limbs, biting it and eventually eating some of the flesh.

“It was striking. The female that cannibalised the body the most, she’s the mother of the top two high-ranking males. Her sons were the only ones that really didn’t attack the body aggressively,” Pruetz says …

Historically, the vast majority of wars and genocides were waged by one group of people against their neighbors–people they were likely to be closely related to in the grand scheme of things–not against distant peoples they’d never met. If you’re a chimp, the chimp most likely to steal your banana is the one standing right in front of you, not some strange chimp you’ve never met before who lives in another forest.

Indeed, in Jane Goodall’s account of the Gombe Chimpanzee War, the combatants were not members of two unrelated communities that had recently encountered each other, but members of a single community that had split in two. Chimps who had formerly lived peacefully together, groomed each other, shared bananas, etc., now bashed each other’s brains out and cannibalized their young. Poor Jane was traumatized.

I think there is an instinct to form in-groups and out-groups. People often have multiple defined in-groups (“I am a progressive, a Christian, a baker, and a Swede,”) but one of these identities generally trumps the others in importance. Ethnicity and gender are major groups most people seem to have, but I don’t see a lot of evidence suggesting that the grouping of “race” is uniquely special, globally, in people’s ideas of in- and out-.

For example, as I am writing today, people are concerned that Donald Trump is enacting racist policies toward Muslims, even though “Muslim” is not a race and most of the countries targeted by Trump’s travel/immigration ban are filled with fellow Caucasians, not Sub-Saharan Africans or Asians.

Race is a largely American obsession, because our nation (like the other North and South American nations,) has always had whites, blacks, and Asians (Native Americans). But many countries don’t have this arrangement. Certainly Ireland didn’t have an historical black community, nor Japan a white one. Irish identity was formed in contrast to English identity; Japanese in contrast to Chinese and Korean.

Only in the context where different races live in close proximity to each other does it seem that people develop strong racial identities; otherwise people don’t think much about race.

Napoleon Chagnon, a white man, has spent years living among the Yanomamo, one of the world’s most murderous tribes, folks who go and slaughter their neighbors and neighbors’ children all the time, and they still haven’t murdered him.

Why do people insist on claiming that Trump’s “Muslim ban” is racist when Muslims aren’t a race? Because Islam is an identity group that appears to function similarly to race, even though Muslims come in white, black, and Asian.

If you’ve read any of the comments on my old post about Turkic DNA, Turkey: Not very Turkic, you’ll have noted that Turks are quite passionate about their Turkic identity, even though “Turkic” clearly doesn’t correspond to any particular ethnic groups. (It’s even more mixed up than Jewish, and that’s a pretty mixed up one after thousands of years of inter-breeding with non-Jews.)

Group identities are fluid. When threatened, groups merged. When resources are abundant and times are good, groups split.

What about evidence that infants identify–stare longer at–faces of people of different races than their parents? This may be true, but all it really tells us is that babies are attuned to novelty. It certainly doesn’t tell us that babies are racist just because they find people interesting who look different from the people they’re used to.

What happens when people encounter others of a different race for the first time?

We have many accounts of “first contacts” between different races during the Age of Exploration. For example, when escaped English convict William Buckley wandered into an uncontacted Aborigine tribe, they assumed he was a ghost, adopted him, taught him to survive, and protected him for 30 years. By contrast, the last guy who landed on North Sentinel Island and tried to chat with the natives there got a spear to the chest and a shallow grave for his efforts. (But I am not certain the North Sentinelese haven’t encountered outsiders at some point.)

But what about the lunchroom seating habits of the wild American teenager?

If people have an instinct to form in-groups and out-groups, then races (or religions?) may represent the furthest bounds of this, at least until we encounter aliens. All else held equal, perhaps we are most inclined to like the people most like ourselves, and least inclined to like the people least like ourselves–racism would thus be the strongest manifestation of this broader instinct. But what about people who have a great dislike for one race, but seem just fine with another, eg, a white person who likes Asians but not blacks, or a black who like Asians but not whites? And can we say–per our definition above–that these preferences are irrational, or are they born of some lived experience of positive or negative interactions?

Again, we are only likely to have strong opinions about members of other races if we are in direct conflict or competition with them. Most of the time, people are in competition with their neighbors, not people on the other side of the world. I certainly don’t sit here thinking negative thoughts about Pygmies or Aborigines, even though we are very genetically distant from each other, and I doubt they spend their free time thinking negatively about me.

Just because flamingos prefer to flock with other flamingos doesn’t mean they dislike horses; for the most part, I think people are largely indifferent to folks outside their own lives.

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Chimps, Dominance, and the Irony of Riots

protester beaten with hammer by Black Lives Matter protesters
Remember this guy, with his “Stop killing black people” shirt, who was beaten with a hammer by other Black Lives Matter protesters?

The anti-Trump riots/protests going on right now seem at first glance, to be highly counter-productive: most of the rioters live in highly liberal areas, so the majority of people they intimidate, assault, or rob are not Trump supporters, but actually on their own side.

Remember when a black cop shot a black criminal and blacks rioted, looting their own stores, and the criminal’s sister scolded them, telling them to “take that shit to the suburbs” because “we need our weaves!”?

Or when the citizens of Detroit rioted, burning down 2,000 buildings, thus driving out small businesses and the entire middle class base and sending the city into an economic death spiral?

Just as when watching small children run and scream on the playground, I am reminded here of Jane Goodall’s descriptions of chimpanzees, especially their dominance displays. Here is an account of one that went awry:

Just then Flint, six months older than Goblin, came bouncing up and the two children began to play, both showing their lower teeth in the chimpanzee’s playful smile. Flo was reclining nearby grooming Figan; Goblin’s mother, Melissa, was a little farther away, also grooming. It was so peaceful…. All at once a series of pant-hoots announced the arrival of more chimpanzees, and there was instant commotion in the group. Flint pulled away from the game and hurried to jump onto Flo’s back as she moved for safety halfway up a palm tree. I saw Mike with his hair on end beginning to hoot; I knew he was about to display. So did the other chimpanzees of his group–all were alert, prepared to dash out of the way or to join in the displaying. All, that is, save Goblin. He seemed totally unconcerned and, incredibly, began to totter toward Mike. Melissa, squeaking with fear, was hurrying toward her son, but she was too late. Mike began his charge, and as he passed Goblin seized him up as though he were a branch and dragged him along the ground.

picture-32Since you don’t have the benefit of having the entire book in front of you, I’ll explain what’s going on, just in case you’re confused: when two groups of chimps meet, or a male chimp enters a group of other chimps, it’s very normal for the males to engage in dominance displays (or just “display,” as Jane puts it.) These displays are aggressive and involve a lot of running around, waving and shaking branches at each other, and making noise, but don’t generally involve actual violence. By making it clear which chimp is the strongest, weaker chimps simply back down without getting into an actual fight.

When the males are about to display, all of the females, being smaller and weaker, grab their kids and get out of the way. Chimpanzee aggression is not normally aimed at chimpanzee children, who of course are helpless against a full-grown male. However, in this case, little Goblin didn’t realize what was going on, and Mike, in his all-consuming rage at the newcomers, didn’t realize that he had grabbed Goblin instead of a tree branch.

An then the normally fearful, cautious Melissa, frantic for her child, hurled herself at Mike. It was unprecedented behavior, and she got severely beaten up for her interference, but she did succeed in rescuing Goblin–the infant lay, pressed close to the ground and screaming, where the dominant male had dropped him. Even before Mike had ceased his attack on Melissa the old male Huxley had seized Goblin from the ground. I felt sure he too was going to display with the infant, but he remained quite still, holding the child and staring down at him almost, it seemed in bewilderment. Then as Melissa, screaming and bleeding, escaped from Mike, Huxley set the infant on the ground. As his mother hurried up to him Goblin leaped into her arms…

Normally, small infants are shown almost unlimited tolerance from all other members of the community; it almost seem as though the adult male may lose many of his social inhibitions during his charging display.”

Note that Mike is not normally aggressive toward infants–at another time, when Goblin got lost, Mike actually rescued him and stayed with him until Melissa returned for him. Chimps don’t really pair bond and so they don’t have “fathers” who care for their young the way their mothers do, devotedly, for years, but all of the males in a troop are likely to be related to the young in the troop in some manner, either as brothers or uncles or cousins or fathers, and so quite sensibly they do not generally try to kill their own relatives.

Mike’s urge to display in front of these newcomers was so strong that it completely overwhelmed his normal senses. The aggressive instinct is no mere luxury–showing that he is stronger than the other chimps is how Mike keeps his own troop safe.

picture-26There is a saying that “Democracy is war by other means.” The two sides line up, count their troops, and declares the side with more soldiers the winner.

Well, Hillary Clinton’s soldiers have refused to accept the headcount. They refuse to accept their new alpha chimp, and they are out there, rioting, protesting, displaying their strength. It doesn’t matter whether they display by grabbing a branch, an infant, or a smashed window. It doesn’t matter if they loot their own neighborhoods and light their own cars on fire. The message is still the same: We are Strong. We are violent. Don’t fuck with us.

As I noted before, when the chimps Jane was studying in the Gombe split into two groups, the chimpanzees of the Kahama region of the Gombe Stream went to war against the chimps of Kasakala in 1974:

The two [groups] had previously been a single, unified community, but by 1974 researcher Jane Goodall, who was observing the community, first noticed the chimps dividing themselves into northern and southern sub-groups.[2]

The Kahama group, in the south, consisted of six adult males (among them the chimpanzees known to Goodall as “Hugh”, “Charlie”, and “Goliath”), three adult females and their young, and an adolescent male (known as “Sniff”).[2] The larger Kasakela group, meanwhile, consisted of twelve adult females and their young, and eight adult males.[2] …

The first outbreak of violence occurred on January 7, 1974,[4] when a party of six adult Kasakela males attacked and killed “Godi”, a young Kahama male …

Over the next four years, all six of the adult male members of the Kahama were killed by the Kasakela males.[5] Of the females from Kahama, one was killed, two went missing, and three were beaten and kidnapped by the Kasakela males.[5] The Kasakela then succeeded in taking over the Kahama’s former territory.[5]

I have the luxury of reading this account after already hearing, at least vaguely, that chimps wage war on each other. To Jane–despite having observed chimpanzee belligerence for years–it came as a surprise:

The outbreak of the war came as a disturbing shock to Goodall, who had previously considered chimpanzees to be, although similar to human beings, “rather ‘nicer’” in their behavior.[7] Coupled with the observation in 1975 of cannibalistic infanticide by a high-ranking female in the community, the violence of the Gombe war first revealed to Goodall the “dark side” of chimpanzee behavior.[7] She was profoundly disturbed by this revelation; in her memoir Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe, she wrote:

“For several years I struggled to come to terms with this new knowledge. Often when I woke in the night, horrific pictures sprang unbidden to my mind—Satan [one of the apes], cupping his hand below Sniff’s chin to drink the blood that welled from a great wound on his face; old Rodolf, usually so benign, standing upright to hurl a four-pound rock at Godi’s prostrate body; Jomeo tearing a strip of skin from Dé’s thigh; Figan, charging and hitting, again and again, the stricken, quivering body of Goliath, one of his childhood heroes. [8]”

For all our talk of anti-racism, we are still just shit-flinging monkeys.

War.

It is worrying indeed that we have drifted so far apart that liberals are violently displaying against conservatives, treating them like an entirely separate tribe to be beaten, dismembered, and destroyed.

And especially foolish since conservatives have the vast majority of guns and ammunition.

For all our talk of anti-racism, we are still just shit-flinging monkeys.
For all our talk of anti-racism, we are still just shit-flinging monkeys.

Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man, (5/5)

Today we are finishing our discussion of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, featuring the adventures of a family (or several families) of chimpanzees from The Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania.

Eastern chimpanzee female twins 'Golden & Glitter' aged 14 years with their babies 'Gosama' aged 3 months and 'Glama' aged 1 year (Pan troglodytes schweinfurtheii). Gombe National Park, Tanzania. September 2012.
Eastern chimpanzee female twins ‘Golden & Glitter’ aged 14 years with their babies ‘Gosama’ aged 3 months and ‘Glama’ aged 1 year, from Jane’s Blog.

Melissa has a baby:

“As Melissa came down the slope toward our camp she moved on three limbs, supporting the newborn with one hand. Every so often she stopped and seemed to disentangle something from the undergrowth. When she got closer we saw that this was the placenta, still attached to the baby by the umbilical cord. …

“She seemed dazed, her eyes not quite focused, her movements slow and uncertain. When one of the mature males arrived, Melissa, usually so quick to greet another chimp, so anxious to ingratiate herself with her superiors, ignored him completely. … She continued to sit, the baby cuddled between her thighs, her feet crossed under his tiny rump, her arm behind his head. …. The baby’s head fell back on her knees, and Melissa, looking down, stared long at the tiny face.”

Fifi the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall's website
Fifi the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall’s website

Fifi’s fascination with her little brother, Flint:

“Flo sat down and began to tickle Flint’s neck with small nibbling movements of her worn teeth, and Fifi once again sat close and reached out to make a few grooming movements on Flint’s back. Flo ignored this. Earlier, though, when Flint was not yet two months old, Flo had usually pushed Fifi’s hand away each time she had tried to touch Flint…

“When Flint was three months old… he began to respond when Fifi approached by reaching out to her. Fifi became more and more preoccupied with him. She began to make repeated attempts to pull him away from his mother. …

“When Flint was thirteen weeks old we saw Fifi succeed in pulling him away from his mother. Flo was grooming Figan when Fifi, with infinite caution and many quick glances toward her mother’s face, began to pull at Flint’s foot. Inch by inch she drew the infant toward her–and all at once he was in her arms. Fifi lay on her back and cuddled Flint to her tummy with her arms and legs. She lay very still. …

Flo the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall's website
Flo the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall’s website

“Flo for the first few moments appeared to take no notice at all. But when Flint, who had possibly never lost contact with his mother’s body, reached around and held his arms toward her, pouting his lips and uttering a soft hoo of distress, Flo instantly gathered him to her breast and bent to kiss his head with her lips. …

“After this, not a day passed without Fifi pulling her infant brother away from Flo. …

“When Flint was very small his two elder brothers, although they sometimes stared at him, paid him little attention.”

Pom and Passion:

“Babies less than five months of age are normally protected by their mothers from all contact with other chimpanzees, except their own siblings. … It was, however, very different for Pom, one of the first female infants born into our group. Her mother, Passion, actually laid the baby on the ground the very first day of her life and allowed two young females to touch and even groom her as she lay there. But then, in all respects, Passion was a somewhat unnatural mother.

“She was no youngster, this Passion… I know she lost one infant before Pom’s birth in 1965. If her treatment of Pom was anything to go by, I suspect Passion had lost other infant, too, for Pom had to fight for her survival right from the start. When she was a mere two months old, she began to ride on her mother’s back–three or four months earlier than other infants. It started when Pom hurt her foot badly. She could not grip properly, and Passion, rather than constantly support her infant with one hand as most mothers wold have done, probably pushed Pom up onto her back. The very first day that Pom adopted this new riding position, Passion hurried for about thirty yards in order to greet a group of adult males, seeming quite without concern for her infant, Pom, clinging frantically, managed to stay aboard–though much older infants, when they tart riding on their mothers’ back, usually slide down if their mothers make sudden movements. …

“Flo, it will be remembered, was very solicitous when Flint was finding his feet, gathering him up if he fell and often supporting him with one hand as he wobbled along. …. Passion was positively callous. One day, precious to which Pom had never been seen to totter on her own more than a two yards, Passion suddenly got up and walked away from her infant. Pom, struggling to follow and falling continually, whimpered louder each time, and finally her mother returned and shoved the infant onto her back. This happened repeatedly. As Pom learned to walk better, Passion did not even bother to return when the infant cried–she just waited for her to catch up by herself.

“… It was not really surprising that, during her second year, when most infants wander about happily quite far away from their mothers, Pom usually sat or played very close to Passion. For months on end she actually held tightly on to Passion with one hand during her games with Flint and Goblin and the other infants. Obviously she was terrified of being left behind.

EvX: Passion, aside from being a terrible mother, was a cannibal. According to Wikipedia:

She, along with her daughter Pom, captured, killed, and ate several newborns at Gombe.[78]

Passion only had three children who made it to adulthood. Of these, two had no surviving children–Pom had one child who died, and then Pom disappeared; Pax lost his testicles in a conflict between other chimps and his mother, and never reproduced. The Wikipedia doesn’t record whether the third child had any children, but compared to Flo, Wilkie, and even Frodo, Passion was clearly not successful. (Though her cannibalism may have ultimately benefited other, more distantly related chimps in her family.)

Childhood:
“Like Human children, chimpanzee children are dependent on their mothers for several years. …

“Just then Flint, six months older than Goblin, came bouncing up and the two children began to play, both showing their lower teeth in the chimpanzee’s playful smile. Flo was reclining nearby grooming Figan; Goblin’s mother, Melissa, was a little farther away, also grooming. It was so peaceful…. All at once a series of pant-hoots announced the arrival of more chimpanzees, and there was instant commotion in the group. Flint pulled away from the game and hurried to jump onto Flo’s back as she moved for safety halfway up a palm tree. I saw Mike with his hair on end beginning to hoot; I knew he was about to display. So did the other chimpanzees of his group–all were alert, prepared to dash out of the way or to join in the displaying. All, that is, save Goblin. He seemed totally unconcerned and, incredibly, began to totter toward Mike. Melissa, squeaking with fear, was hurrying toward her son, but she was too late. Mike began his charge, and as he passed Goblin seized him up as though he were a branch and dragged him along the ground.

“An then the normally fearful, cautious Melissa, frantic for her child, hurled herself at Mike. It was unprecedented behavior, and she got severely beaten up for her interference, but she did succeed in rescuing Goblin–the infant lay, pressed close to the ground and screaming, where the dominant male had dropped him. Even before Mike had ceased his attack on Melissa the old male Huxley had seized Goblin from the ground. I felt sure he too was going to display with the infant, but he remained quite still, holding the child and staring down at him almost, it seemed in bewilderment. Then as Melissa, screaming and bleeding, escaped from Mike, Huxley set the infant on the ground. As his mother hurried up to him Goblin leaped into her arms…

“Normally, small infants are shown almost unlimited tolerance from all other members of the community; it almost seem as though the adult male may lose many of his social inhibitions during his charging display.”

EvX: At another time, when Goblin got lost in some confusion, Mike rescued him and stayed with him until Melissa returned–Mike wasn’t normally aggressive toward the small children in his troop.

Teenagers:

“Although I never saw a juvenile son who was frightened of his mother, as Miff [female] was of Marina, nevertheless the male juvenile normally shows a good deal of respect for his mother.
One day I came across Figan with the freshly killed body of a colobus monkey. He climbed a tree with the tail of the monkey in one hand and the body slung over his shoulder He was closely pursued by Fifi. When he reached a comfortable branch he sat and began eating, and Fifi, who was about three years old at the time, begged persistently. Several times Figan gave he small fragments of meat.
A few minutes later I saw Flo climbing toward Figan. Instantly he slung the carcass over his shoulder and climbed to a higher branch. Flo remained in a low fork, gazing around, not once looking at her son. He relaxed and began feeding again, though constantly he glanced somewhat apprehensively toward his mother. The old female sat there for a full ten minutes. Then, with only a preliminary fleeting glance at Figan, she very slowly climbed slightly higher, looking oh so nonchalant, and sat on the net branch up. …

“When he reached a very high position in the tree Flo could keep up her pretence no longer–without warning she rushed toward him. Figan with a scream leaped down into the foliage and vanished from sight…

“For the most part, these adolescent males, even when they were ten or eleven years old, continued to how respect for their old mothers. If we offered a banana the son usually stood back and waited for his mother to take the fruit. …

“On many occasions a mother will hurry to try to help her adolescent son. Once when Mr. Worzle attacked Faben, who was then about twelve, Flo, with hair on end and Flint clinging to her, rushed toward the scene of strife. As she approached, Faben’s frightened screams turned instantly to angry waa barks and he began to display, standing upright and swaggering from foot to foot. Then mother and son, side by side, charged along the track toward old Mr. Worzle… Mr. Worzle turned and fled. …

“As the adolescent male grows older, he is increasingly likely to hurry to his mother’s aid when she is threatened. …

“In his dealings with the higher-ranking males the adolescent must be cautions, because now, more than when he was a mere juvenile, an act of insubordination tends to bring severe retribution. …”

EvX: Jane notes that the chimps show sign of trying to avoid incest, though they likely have no way of avoiding father/daughter couplings, half-sibling couplings, and similar such cases.

Pestilence rides a white horse:

“Olly’s new baby was four weeks old when he suddenly became ill. … One morning Olly walked slowly into camp supporting him with one hand. Each time she made a sudden moved, he uttered a loud squawk as though in pain, and he was gripping badly. First one hand or foot and then another slipped from Olly’s hair and dangled down. …

“Next morning it was obvious that the baby was very ill. All his four limbs hung limply down and he screamed almost every time his mother took a step. … Olly only moved a few yards at a time, and then, as though worried by the screams of her infant, sat down to cradle him close. When he quieted, she moved again, but he instantly began to call out so that once more she sat to comfort him. After traveling about a hundred yards, which took her just over half an hour, Olly climbed into a tree. Again she carefully arranged her baby’s limp arms and legs on her lap as she sat down. … The baby stopped screaming and, apart from occasionally grooming his head briefly, Olly paid him no further attention.

“When we had been there some fifteen minutes it began to pour, a blinding deluge that almost obscured the chimps from my sight. During the storm, which went on for thirty minutes, the baby must either have died or lost consciousness…

“Olly climbed down the tree with her infant carelessly in one hand, and when she reached the ground she flung the limp body over her shoulder. It was as though she knew he was dead….

“The following day Olly arrived in camp, followed by Gilka, with the corpse of her infant slung over her shoulder. When she sat down the body sometimes dropped heavily to the ground. Occasionally Olly pushed it into her groin as she sat; when she stood she held it by an arm or even a leg. …

“Finally Olly wandered away from camp and she and Gilka, with me following went some way up the opposite mountain slope. Olly seemed dazed; she looked neither left nor right but plodded up the narrow trail through the forest., the body slung over her neck, until she reached a place halfway up the mountainside. Then she sat down.

“The dead infant slumped to the ground beside her, and other than to glance down briefly, Olly ignored it. She just sat staring into space…

“Now, at last, came Gilka’s opportunity to play with her sibling… Carefully she groomed it, and then she even tried to play, pulling one dead hand into the ticklish spot between her collarbone and neck… We had been so glad for Gilka’s sake when old Olly had given birth again–but it looked as if Gilka was always to be ill-fated. … Only then did Olly’s lethargy leave her for a moment. She snatched the body away, and then once more let it fall to the ground. …

“The following afternoon Olly and Gilka arrived in camp without the body. …

“Had we known at the time that Olly’s infant was without doubt the first victim of the terrible paralytic disease that struck our chimpanzee community, I wouldn’t have have followed the family–for at this time my own baby was on the way …

“When we realized that the disease was probably polio, we panicked, for Hugo and I and our research assistant Alice Ford had not received a full course of polio vaccine. … The Pfizer Laboratories in Naiobi generously supplied us with the oral vaccine, and we offered it to the chimps in bananas. …

“I think those few moths were the darkest I have ever lived through: every time a chimp stopped visiting the feeding area, we started to wonder whether we would ever see him again, or worse, if he would reappear hideously crippled. Fifteen chimpanzees in our group were afflicted, of whom six lost their lives… Gilka lost partial use of one hand and Melsa was affected in her neck and shoulders. … Pepe and Faben both appeared after short absences trailing one useless arm. One adolescent male returned, after a long absence, shuffling along in a squatting position and with both arms paralyzed. He could only eat the bits and pieces he was able to reach with his lips, and he was nothing but a skeleton covered with dull, staring hair. We had to shoot him. And thew ere other victims–like fat, bustling J.B., of whom we had all become so fond–who just disappeared, and we could only conjecture about their lonely deaths.

EvX: Old Mr. McGregor also died, the account of which is the saddest part of the book.

“We did not allow any of the chimps to see his dead body, and for a long time it looked as if Humphrey did not realize he would not meet his old friend again. For six months he kept returning to the place where Gregor had spent the last days of his life and would sit on one tree or another staring around, waiting, listening. During this time he seldom joined the other chimps when they left together for a distant valley; he sometimes went a short way with such a group, but within a few hours he usually came back again and sat staring over the valley, waiting, surely to see old Gregor again, listening for the deep, almost braying voice, so similar to his own, that was silenced forever.”

Let us conclude on a more upbeat note (I think I will just skip who killed whom in the Gombe war; you can look it up yourself if you want to know):

David Greybeard and Jane Goodall hold hands, from Jane's blog
David Greybeard and Jane Goodall hold hands, from Jane’s blog

“One day, as I sat near [David Greybeard] at the bank of a tiny trickle of crystal-clear water, I saw a ripe red palm nut lying on the ground. I picked it up and held it out to him on my open palm. He turned his head away. When I moved my hand closer he looked at it, then at me, and then he took the fruit, and at the same time held my hand firmly and gently with his own. As I sat motionless he released my hand, looked down at the nut, and dropped it to the ground.

“At that moment there was no need of any scientific knowledge to understand his communication of reassurance. … It was a reward far beyond my greatest hopes.”

Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man, (4/5)

jane-van-lawick-goodall-in-the-shadow-of-man-book-coverHello! Today we are continuing with our discussion of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, featuring the adventures of a family (or several families) of chimpanzees from The Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. Today’s focus is on social structure.

Social status:

“I began to suspect that Goliath might be the highest-ranking male chimpanzee in the area–and later I found that this was in reality the case. If William and Goliath started to move toward the same banana at the same time, it was William who gave way and Goliath who took the fruit. If Goliath met another adult male along a narrow forest track, he continued–the other stepped aside. Goliath was nearly always the first to be greeted when a newcomer climbed into a fig tree to join a feeding group of chimpanzees. One day I actually saw him driving another chimp from her nest to take it for himself. …

William, with his long scarred upper lip and drooping lower lip, was one of the more subordinate males in his relationships with other chimpanzees. If another adult male made signs of aggression toward him, William was quick to approach with gestures of appeasement and submission, reaching out to lay his hands on the other, crouching with soft panting grunts in front of the higher-ranking individuals. … When I offered him a banana in my hand for the first time, he stared at it for several moments, gently shook a branch in his frustration, and then sat uttering soft whimpering sounds until I relented and put the fruit on the ground. …

Flo the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall's website
Flo the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall’s website

“Even in those days, Flo looked very old. … We soon found out that her character by no means matched her appearance: she was aggressive, tough as nails, and easily the most dominant of all the females at that time.

“Flo’s personality will become more vivid if I contrast it with that of another old female, Olly … was remarkably different. Flo for the most part was relaxed in her relations with the adult males; often I saw her grooming in a close group with with two or three males out in the forest, and in camp she showed no hesitation in joining David or Goliath to beg for a share of cardboard or bananas. Olly, on the other hand, was tense and nervous in her relations with others of her kind. She was particularly apprehensive when in close proximity to adult males, and her hoarse, frenzied pant-grunts rose to near hysteria if high-ranking Goliath approached her. …

“Olly tended to avoid large groups of chimps and often wandered around with only her two year old daughter Gilka for company.

EvX: Gilka eventually became so lonely and isolated that she made friends with a baboon:

“One day when Gilka was again waiting while Olly fished for termites, I heard a baboon bark further down the valley. At the sound Gilka’s whole attitude underwent and immediate change. [from her previously depresesed state.] …

“A moment later I saw Gilka move out from the trees, and at almost the same time a small baboon detached itself from the troop and cantered toward her. … the two ran up to each other, and for a moment I saw their faces very close together. Each had one arm around the other. The next moment they were playing, wrestling, and patting each other. Goblina went around behind Gilka and, reaching forward, seemed to tickle the chimpanzee in the ribs. Gilka, leaning back, pushed at Goblina’s hands, her mouth open in a wide smile. …

“I watched Gilka and Goblina playing for ten minutes, and all the time they were amazingly gentle. Then the baboon troop started to move on and Goblina scampered after it.”

EvX: Olly may have been avoiding other chimps because she was lower status, and being around people of higher status than oneself is often unpleasant.

“Often, too, Olly and Flo traveled about together in the forests, and all four children were playmates of long standing. For the most part, the relationship between Olly and Flo was peaceful enough, but if there was a single banana lying on the ground between them the relative social status of each was made clear: Flo had only to put a few of her moth-eaten hairs on end for Olly to retreat, pant-grunting and grinning in submission. …

Fifi the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall's website
Fifi the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall’s website

“The adult females of the chimpanzee community are almost always submissive to the adult males, and and to many of the older adolescent males. But they have their own dominance hierarchy, of which Flo was for many years supreme. … Flo was exceptionally aggressive toward her own sex, and she would tolerate no insubordination from young adolescent males. Much of her confidence no doubt resulted from the fact that he was so often accompanied by her two eldest sons,and with the aggressive Fifi as well, the family was formidable indeed.”

EvX: Flo and Olly once they teamed up and literally beat the shit out of a strange female who had ventured into their territory. Perhaps not coincidentally, Flo was the most sexually popular female in the group.

As Jane observed the chimps over the decades, most of them received names that started with the same letter as their mothers. (It is usually difficult to know which chimp was an infant’s father.) So Flo is the matriarch of the “F-family.” According to Wikipedia:

The F-family has produced at least four alpha males for the community, and the matriarch, Flo, played a particularly important role in acknowledging Dr Goodall’s acceptance as a human observer by the community. The G-family has produced at least one alpha male, and also the birth of several twins, which are rare among chimpanzees. There are other families as well which include the T-family and S-family (which has produced one alpha male).

In other words, Flo’s children and grandchildren did very well for themselves. If you were a male chimp in the Gombe, you would want to mate with Flo.

Frodo the chimpanzee, image also from Jane's website
Frodo the chimpanzee, image also from Jane’s website

The Wikipedia also tells us about the lives of some of the chimps born after the book ends, such as Frodo, Flo’s grandson:

Frodo (June 30, 1976 – November 10, 2013) was Fifi’s second oldest son.[39] His father was the relatively low-ranking male Sherry. Even from a young age, Frodo was large and aggressive. He learned to throw rocks as a juvenile, sometimes throwing them at and hitting and bruising his human observers.[40] As an adult, he was one of the largest chimpanzees ever observed in the community, at about 113 pounds (51 kg) and remained aggressive.[37][39] He also became an excellent hunter of red colobus monkeys, and was also able to intimidate other chimpanzees into sharing their kills with him if he was unsuccessful.[22][41] His large size and aggressive nature allowed him to attain high status…

As alpha male, Frodo maintained his position largely through intimidation.[22][37][41] He rarely groomed other males, and often demanded that other males groom him.[22][37][41] Frodo maintained his alpha position until becoming ill himself in 2002.[22][33][41][42] He was then defeated by a coalition of several males and spent most of the next two years on his own recovering from his wounds and illness.[22][33][41][42]

Frodo’s aggression was not limited to Colobus monkeys and other chimpanzees. In May 2002, he killed a 14-month-old human baby that the niece of a member of the research team had carried into his territory.[43] … In 1988, he attacked cartoonist Gary Larson, leaving him bruised and scratched.[43] In 1989, he attacked Goodall, beating her head to the point of nearly breaking her neck.[43]

Frodo fathered at least eight infants, second most of any group male (Wilkie fathered ten).

Perhaps if Frodo’s father had been high-status, he could have solidified his position via grooming and social coalition rather than violence, and thus perhaps avoided being violently deposed.

The entry on Wilkie notes his very different approach to dominance:

In 1989 Wilkie defeated Goblin and attained the alpha position.[53] Wilkie, attained this position despite being one of the smallest males in the community, at 37 kilograms (82 lb).[85] According to researchers at the University of Minnesota‘s Jane Goodall Institute Center for Primate Studies, Wilkie attained his position primarily by becoming popular by obsessively grooming other males.[79][85] Unlike most males, Wilkie also groomed females.[85] Wilkie also made effective use of charging displays.[79]

Mike’s rise:

“Mike‘s rise to the number-one spot in the chimpanzee hierarchy was both interesting and spectacular. In 1963, Mike had ranked almost bottom in the adult male dominance hierarchy. He… had been threatened and actually attacked by almost every other adult male. …

“A group of five adult males, including to-ranking Goliath, David Graybeard, and the huge Rodolf, were grooming each other. The session had been going on for some twenty minutes. Mike was sitting about thirty yards apart from them, frequently staring toward the group, occasionally idly grooming himself.

“All at once, Mike calmly walked over to our tent and picked up an empty kerosene can by the handle. Then he picked up a second can and, walking upright, returned to the place where he had been sitting. … After a few minutes he began to rock from side to side. … his hair slowly began to stand erect, and then, softly at first, he began a series of pant-hoots. … suddenly he was off, charging toward the group of males, hitting the two cans ahead of him. The cans, along with Mike’s crescendo of hooting, made the most appaling racket: no wonder the erstwhile peaceful males rushed out of the way. …

“Mike set off again, but he made straight for Goliath–and even he hastened out of the way like the others. Then mike stopped and sat, all his hair on end, breathing hard. …

“Rodolf was the first of the males to approach Mike, uttering soft pant-grunts of submission, crouching low and pressing his lips to Mike’s thigh. Next he began to groom Mike. … Finally David Greybeard went over to Mike, laid one hand on his groin, and joined in the grooming. Only Goliath kept away, sitting alone and staring toward Mike.”

EvX: So Mike becomes dominant.

“… it was fully another year before Mike seemed to feel quite secure in his position. He continued to display very frequently and vigorously, and lower-ranking chimps had increasing reason to fear him, since often he would attack a female or youngster viciously at the slightest provocation.”

The observance of human customs:

“Christmas that year at the Gombe Stream was a day to remember. I bought an extra large supply of bananas and put them around a small tree I had decorated with silver paper and absorbent cotton. Goliath and William arrived together on Christmas morning and gave loud screams of excitement when they saw the huge pile of fruit. They flung their arms around one another and Goliath kept patting William on his wide open screaming mouth while William laid one arm over Goliath’s back. Finally they calmed down and began their feast, still uttering small squeaks and grunts of pleasure.”

Friendship:

“Firm friendships, like that between Goliath and David Graybeard, seem to be particularly prevalent among male chimpanzees. Mike and the irascible, testy old J.B. traveled about in the same group very frequently. … The only two adult females we know of who enjoyed this kind of friendship were almost certainly sisters.”

EvX: J.B. uses his relationship with newly ascended Mike to raise his own social status and get more bananas.

Illness and Death:

“Shortly after Christmas, I had to leave the Gombe stream myself for another term at Cambridge. My last two weeks were sad, for William fell ill. … When he climbed down in the morning I saw that every few moments his body shook with violent spasms of shivering. … One morning, two days before I had to leave, William stole a blanket from Dominic’s tent. [Dominic was the camp cook.] He had been sitting chewing on it for a while when David Greybeard arrived and, after eating some bananas, joined William at the blanket. For half an hour or so the two sat peacefully side by side, each sucking noisily and contentedly on different corners. Then William, like the clown he so often appeared to be, put part of the blanket right over his head and made groping movements with his hands as he tried to touch David from within the strange darkness he had created. … Presently the two wandered off into the forest together, leaving me with the echo of a dry, hacking cough and the blanket lying on the ground. I never saw William again. …

To be continued…

 

 

Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man (3/5)

Chimpanzee family from the Gombe
Chimpanzee family from the Gombe

(Do you know what’s frustrating? When you discover that you can type about three times faster than the words actually show up on your computer screen.)

Anyway, today we are continuing with our discussion of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, featuring the adventures of chimpanzees from The Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. The book contains many interesting vignettes of chimpanzee life and descriptions of their social order. I wish I could share more of them, but my fingers are tired of typing, so here we go. (As usual, for readability I’m just using “” for the quotes instead of block quotes, and they’re organized around several themes.) I’ve tried to bold the names of the chimps the first time they appear.

Hunting and the sharing of meat:

“One day I arrived on the Peak and found a small group of chimps just below me in the upper branches of a thick tree. As I watched I saw that one of them was holding a pink-looking object from which he was from time to time pulling pieces with his teeth. There was a female and a youngster and they were both reaching out toward the male, their hands actually touching his mouth. Presently the female picked up a piece of the pink thing and put it to her mouth: it was at this moment that I realized the chimps were eating meat.

“After each bite of meat the male picked off some leaves with his lips and chewed them with the flesh. Often, when he had chewed for several minutes on this leafy wad, eh spat out the remains into the waiting hands of the female. Suddenly he dropped a small piece of meat, and like a flash the youngster sung after it to the ground. Even as he reached dot pick it up the undergrowth exploded and an adult bushpig charged toward him. … Soon I made out the shapes of three small striped piglets. Obviously the chimps were eating a baby pig. The size was right and later, when I realized that the male was David Graybeard, I moved closer and saw that he was indeed eating piglet.

“For three hours I watched the chimps feeding. David occasionally let the female bite pieces from the carcass and once he actually detached a small piece of flesh and placed it in her outstretched hand. When he finally climbed down there was still meat on the carcass; he carried it away in one hand, followed by the others.”

EvX: it is much easier to dismember carcases when you have tools at your disposal, like stone knives.

“I had taken Hugo [animal photographer and Jane’s future husband] up to show him the peak and we were watching four red colobus monkeys that were evidently separated from their troop. Suddenly an adolescent male chimpanzee climbed cautiously up the tree next to the monkeys and slowly along a branch. Then he sat down. After a moment, three of the monkeys jumped away–quite calmly, it appeared. The fourth remained, his head turned toward the chimp. A second later another adolescent male chimp climbed out of the thick vegetation surrounding the tree, rushed along the branch along which the last monkey was sitting, and grabbed it. Instantly several other chimps climbed up into the tree, and, screaming and barking in excitement, tore their victim into several pieces. It was all over within a minute from the time of capture. …

“During the ten years that have passed since I began work at the Gombe Stream we have recorded chimpanzees feeding on the young of bushbucks, bushpigs, and baboons, as well as both young and small adult colobus monkeys, redtail monkeys, and blue monkeys. And there are two cases on record of chimpanzees in the area actually taking off African babies–presumably as prey, since when recovered from an adult male chimpanzee one infant had had its limbs partially eaten. …

“On other occasions, the hunting seems to be a much more deliberate, purposeful activity, and often at such times the different individuals of a chimpanzee group show quite remarkable cooperation–as when different chimpanzees station themselves at the bases of trees offering escape routes to a cornered victim.

After Rodolf kills a baboon:
“Presently the four chimpanzees emerged from the undergrowth and climbed into the higher branches of a tall tree, whee Rodolf settled down and began to feed…

“Other chimpanzees in the valley, attracted by the loud screaming and calling that typifies a hunt and kill, soon appeared in the tree, and a group of high-ranking males clustered around Rodolf, begging for a share of his kill. Often I have watched chimpanzees begging for meat, and usually a male who has a reasonably large portion permits at least some of the group to share with him. Rodolf, on the contrary, protected his kill jealously that day. …

“Rodolf kept almost the entire carcass to himself for nine hours that day, although from time to time he spat a wad of meat and leaves into a into a begging hand, or one of the other males managed to grab a piece from the carcass and make off with it. …

“At this time, the third year of Mike‘s supremacy, Rodolf was no longer the high-ranking male he had once been. How was it, then, that he dared push away Mike’s hand, he who normally went into a frenzy of submission when Mike approached him? … I had seen this sort of apparent inconsistency before during meat-eating episodes and I often wondered whether the chimps were showing the crude beginnings of a sot of moral values. Rodolf killed the baboon, therefore, the meat was Rodolf’s. More serious consideration of the behavior has led me to that something rather different maybe involved.

“Mike would have attacked Rodolf without hesitation had the prize been a pile of Bananas, yet if Rodolf had gathered the fruits from a box for himself they would have been his property quite as legitimately as as was the meat. I wonder, then, if the principle involved may be similar to the one governing a territorial animal within his own territory, when he is more aggressive, more likely to fight off an intruder, than if he met the same animal outside his territorial boundary. Meat is much liked, much prized food item. An adult male in possession of such a prize may become more willing to fight for it, and therefore, be less apprehensive of his superiors than if he has a pile of everyday fruits like bananas. In support of this theory, I should mention that in the early days, when bananas were something of a novelty, the chimps very seldom did fight over the fruits.”

EvX: The lack of sharing makes the normally dominant males very frustrated and aggressive toward everyone else in the vicinity during these meat-eating episodes. Often, though, quite a bit of sharing of meat occurs.]

On baboons:

“The baboons very soon made themselves at home around our camp, too, and Vanne [Jane’s mother] quickly learned never to leave the tents unguarded. About two weeks after our arrival she went for a short walk; when she returned it was to find our belongings strewn in all directions, and one blase male baboon sitting by the overturned table polishing off the loaf that Dominic had baked that morning. …

“It was far worse when one morning Vanne, who had been dozing after my early departure, suddenly heard a small sound in the tent. She opened her eyes and there, silhouetted in the entrance, she saw a huge male baboon. He and she remained motionless fr a few moments and then he opened his mouth in a tremendous yawn of threat. In the gray light Vanne could just see the gleam of his teeth and she thought her last hour had come. With a sudden yell she sat bolt upright in bed, waving her arms, and her unwelcome visitor fled. He was a horrible baboon, that one, an old male who took to hanging around our camp at all hours of the day, lurking in the undergrowth and dashing out whenever opportunity presented to steal a loaf of bread.”

The Rain Dance:

“At about noon the first heavy drops of rain began to fall. … At that moment the storm broke. The rain was torrential, and the sudden clap of thunder, right overhead, made me jump. As if this were a signal, one of the big males stood upright and as he swayed and swaggered rhythmically from foot to foot I could hear the rising crescendo of his pant-hoots above the beating of the rain. Then he charged, flat-out down the slope toward the trees he had just left. He ran some thirty yards, and then, swinging round the trunk of a small tree to break his headlong rush, leaped into the low branches and sat motionless.

“Almost at once two other males charged after him. One broke off a low branch from a tree as he ran and brandished it in the air before hurling it ahead of him. The other, as he reached the end of his run, stood upright and rhythmically swayed the branches of a tree back and forth before seizing a huge branch and dragging it farther down the slope. A fourth male, as he too charged, leaped into a tree and, almost without breaking speed, tore off a large branch, leaped with it to the ground, and continued down the slope. As the last two males called and charged down, so the one who had started the whole performance climbed from his tree and began plodding up the slope again. The others, who had also climbed into trees near the bottom of the slope, followed suit. When they reached the ridge, they began charging down all over again, one after the other, with equal vigor. …

“As the males charged down and plodded back up, so the rain fell harder, jagged forks or brilliant flares of lightning lit up the leaden sky, and the crashing of thunder seemed to shake the very mountains. …

“I would only see such a display twice more in the next ten years.”

EvX: the chimps do not build nor take any kind of shelter from the rain, but just sit hunched up in it, looking pretty miserable for much of the rainy season.

Getting to know the chimps:

[Jane, upon hearing some chimps nearby, lies down flat on the ground to avoid disturbing them/being seen]

“Suddenly I saw a large male chimpanzee climbing a tree only a couple of yards away. He moved over into the branches over my head and began screaming at me, short, loud, high-pitched sounds, with his mouth open. … He began climbing down toward me until he was no more than ten feet above me and I could see his yellow teeth… He shook a branch, showering me with twigs. Then he hit the trunk and shook more branches, and continued to scream and scream and work himself into a frenzy of rage. All at once he climbed down and went out of sight behind me.

“It was then that I saw a female with a tiny baby and an older child sitting in another tree and staring at me with wide eyes. They were quite silent and quite still. I could hear the old male moving about behind me and then his footsteps stopped. He was so close by that I could hear his breathing.

“Without warning there was a loud bark, a stamping in the leaves, and my head was hit, hard. At this I had to move, had to sit up. The male was standing looking at me, and for a moment I believed he would charge; but he turned and moved off, stopping often to turn and stare at me. The female with her baby and the youngster climbed down silently and moved after him. There was a sense of triumph: I had made contact with a wild chimpanzee–or perhaps it should be the other way around.

“When I looked back some years later at my description of that male, I was certain it was the bad-tempered, irascible, paunchy J.B. … I suppose he was puzzled by my immobility and the plastic sheet that was protecting me from the light rain. He simply had to find out exactly what I was and make me move–he must have known, from my eyes, that I was alive. …

“One evening I returned to camp and found Dominic and Hassan very excited. A large male chimpanzee, they told me, had walked right into camp and spent an hour feeding in the palm tree that shaded my tent. …

David Greybeard and Jane Goodall hold hands, from Jane's blog
David Greybeard and Jane Goodall hold hands, from Jane’s blog

“One day as I sat on the veranda of the tent, David climbed down from his tree and then, in his deliberate way, walked straight toward me. When he was about five feet from me he stopped, and slowly his hair began to stand on end, until he looked enormous and very fierce. A chimpanzee may erect his hair when he is angry, frustrated, or nervous. Why had David now put his hair out? All at once he ran straight at me, snatched up a banana from my table, and hurried off to eat it farther away. Gradually his hair returned to its normal sleeked position.

“After that incident I asked Dominic to leave bananas out whenever he saw David, and so, even when there were no ripe palm nuts, the chimp still wandered into camp sometimes, looking for bananas. …”

EvX: This marks the beginning of the feeding stations, which took several years to perfect (you can’t just hand out bananas all day; eventually the chimps stop doing normal chimp things and just sit there all day waiting for more bananas,) but were critical in getting the chimps to regularly appear in the same places so that Jane and other researchers could actually gather data on them. So the researchers have had to balance between “ability to gather data” and “behavior changes due to free bananas.”

To be continued.

Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man (pt. 2/5): War

Location of the Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania
Location of the Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania

Welcome back to our discussion of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, an account of chimpanzee life in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania. I enjoyed this book quite a bit; my chief difficulty has been deciding which parts to excerpt for you.

Tanzania borders the DRC ne Congo ne Belgian Congo, which was (coincidentally) the location of our previous Anthropology Friday selection, Isaac Bacirongo’s Still a Pygmy.

The book begins with the difficulties inherent in setting up the research–obtaining permits and funding, overcoming the locals’ distrust, (they of course did not believe that this white woman actually wanted to live in the forest and stare at monkeys all day,) and a massive influx of refugees:

Once we reached Nairobi, however, I could think of nothing save the excitement of the eight-hundred-mile journey to Kigoma–and the chimpanzees. … When we reached Kigoma, however, after a dusty three days on the road, we found the whole town in a state of chaos. Since we had left Nairobi violence and bloodshed had erupted in the Congo, which lay only some twenty-five miles to the west of Kigoma, on the other side of lake Tanganyika. Kigoma was overrun by boatloads of Belgian refugees. …

Eventually we ran the District Commissioner to earth, and he explained, regretfully but firmly, that there was no chance at all of my proceeding to the chimpanzee reserve. First it was necessary to wait and find out how the local Kigoma district Africans would react to the tales of rioting and disorder in the Congo. …

Bernard shared his room with two homeless Belgians, and we even got out our three camp beds and lent them to the harassed hotel owner. Every room was crammed, but these refugees were in paradise compared to those housed in the huge warehouse, normally used for storing cargo… There everyone slept in long rows on mattresses or merely blankets on the cement floor, and queued up in the hundreds for the scant meals that Kigoma was able to provide for them.

… On our second evening in Kigoma we three and a few others made two thousand SPAM sandwiches. …

Two evenings later most of the refugees had gone, carried off by a series of extra trains to Tanganyika’s capital, Dar es Salaam.

Belgian refugees fleeing violence in the Congo, 1960
Belgian refugees fleeing violence in the Congo, 1960

There follows a nice description of the town of Kigoma itself, and of course there is soon a great deal of material about chimpanzees and rather little about humans. Jane doesn’t mention the refugees again. (To be fair, isolation probably meant that she had rather little knowledge about most human affairs for most of the 60s and 70s.)

So who were these refugees? Where did they come from, and why?

Obviously they were Belgians, from the Congo. We briefly covered this conflict back in Anthropology Friday: War, Violence, and More War:

Patrice Lumumba was an anti-colonialist protestor who was jailed for opposing Belgian rule in the Congo and became the first democratically elected prime minister of the DRC.

He then gave raises to everyone in the government except the military, so of course the military revolted. He asked the UN for help putting down the rebellion, but the UN sucked so he went to the Soviets.

The Wikipedia page on the Congo Crisis gives far more detail on this conflict–notably, it blames the outbreak of the crisis not on Lumumba failing to give the army a raise, but on a Belgian military commander’s speech:

Lieutenant-General Émile Janssens, the Belgian commander of the Force Publique, refused to see Congolese independence as marking a change in the nature of command.[36] The day after the independence festivities, he gathered the black non-commissioned officers of his Léopoldville garrison and told them that things under his command would stay the same, summarising the point by writing “Before Independence = After Independence” on a blackboard.

Basically, the Belgians officially proclaimed that the Republic of the Congo was independent on June 30, 1960, thirty years earlier than they had intended to. They seemed to have thought they could get people to stop protesting against Belgian rule by “officially” handing over power, but would still run everything. After all, while the colony had been advancing rapidly in recent decades–

During the 1940s and 1950s, the Congo experienced an unprecedented level of urbanisation and the colonial administration began various development programmes aimed at making the territory into a “model colony”.[10] One of the results of the measures was the development of a new middle class of Europeanised African “évolués” in the cities.[10] By the 1950s the Congo had a wage labour force twice as large as that in any other African colony.[11]

–most native Congolese still weren’t well-educated in the fields thought necessary to run a country (or army.)

The idea that the Congolese were too dumb and inexperienced to run their own country and therefore needed the Belgians to do it for them went over great with the army:

This message was hugely unpopular among the rank and file—many of the men had expected rapid promotions and increases in pay to accompany independence.[36] On 5 July, several units mutinied against their white officers at Camp Hardy near Thysville. The insurrection spread to Léopoldville the next day and later to garrisons across the country.[37]

Rather than deploying Belgian troops against the mutineers as Janssens had wished, Lumumba dismissed him and renamed the Force Publique the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC). All black soldiers were promoted by at least one rank.[38]Victor Lundula was promoted directly from sergeant-major to major-general and head of the army, replacing Janssens.[37]

Of course, the Congolese proved the Belgians wrong by transforming their country into one of the world’s best-run economic powerhouses with an astonishing per capita GDP of $499 and reports of cannibalism. (By contrast, the nearby country of Botswana has a per cap GDP of over $6,000.)

But back to the post-independence anti-Belgian violence:

The government attempted to stop the revolt… but in most of the country the mutiny intensified. White officers and civilians were attacked, white-owned properties were looted and white women were raped.[37] The Belgian government became deeply concerned by the situation, particularly when white civilians began entering neighbouring countries as refugees.[40]

A 1960s newsreel reports:

Photo from the newsreel; no caption given
Photo from the newsreel; no caption given

Violence and chaos in the Congo. Barely 11 days after official independence from Belgium, Congolese troops begin a wave of attacks and looting throughout the fare flung sectors of the former colony. Meanwhile in Belgium and African countries bordering on the Congo, refugees are pouring in with harrowing tales of violence and of hasty flight. …

The mutiny first started only four days after independence, on July 4, 1960, in the camp outside Leopoldville. The rebels used machetes on their white officers and broke into the armory. On day eight, all 1000+ Belgian officers were removed from their positions, and replaced with Congolese. With or without an Africanized officer corps, the soldiers are running amok throughout the Congo, and panic-stricken whites are fleeing in all directions. Numerous European targets have been attacked.

The flight of officers has left the army totally uncontrolled, and the new country has no effective instrument to control the territory.

Back to Wikipedia:

… On 9 July, Belgium deployed paratroopers, without the Congolese state’s permission, in Kabalo and elsewhere to protect fleeing white civilians.[41] …At Lumumba’s request, white civilians from the port city of Matadi were evacuated by the Belgian Navy on 11 July. Belgian ships then bombarded the city; at least 19 civilians were killed. This action prompted renewed attacks on whites across the country, while Belgian forces entered other towns and cities, including Léopoldville, and clashed with Congolese troops.[40]

This one is captioned "Mike Hoare and Belgian Congo Armed Forces evacuating refugees 1969." Let me know if that's inaccurate.
This one is captioned “Mike Hoare and Belgian Congo Armed Forces evacuating refugees 1969.” Let me know if that’s inaccurate.

Then parts of the Congo started secede. UN “Peace Keeping” troops tried to get people to stop fighting but without actually defeating once side or the other, so predictably people kept killing each other. The Prime Minister, Lumumba, went to the Soviets for help, which concerned everyone because the Congo made a lot of money selling uranium to the US, which used it in atomic bombs, so the Congolese President dismissed Lumumba and Lumumba dismissed the President, at which point Mobutu dismissed both of them (leading pro-Lumumba protesters in Yugoslavia to attack the local Belgian embassy,) and had Lumumba shot. Mobutu, while awful in many ways, did end the civil war and restore a modicum of order.

“Mad” Mike Hoare was a Irish mercenary active in the Congo and elsewhere in Africa:

In 1964, Congolese Prime Minister Moïse Tshombe, his employeer back in Katanga, hired “Major” Mike Hoare to lead a military unit called 5 Commando, Armée Nationale Congolaise (5 Commando ANC) (later led by John Peters) (not to be confused with No.5 Commando, the British Second World War commando force) made up of about 300 men most of whom were from South Africa. … The unit’s mission was to fight a revolt known as the Simba Rebellion.

Later Hoare and his mercenaries worked in concert with Belgian paratroopers, Cuban exile pilots, and CIA-hired mercenaries who attempted to save 1,600 civilians (mostly Europeans and missionaries) in Stanleyville from the Simba rebels in Operation Dragon Rouge. This operation saved many lives.[3] Hoare was later promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in the Armée Nationale Congolaise and 5 Commando expanded into a two-battalion force. Hoare commanded 5 Commando from July 1964 to November 1965.[4]

Mad Mike once tried to conquer the Seychelles, but failed when customs officials noticed his groups’ weapons.

Many of the Belgian refugees, meanwhile, fled to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which became just “Rhodesia” after Northern Rhodesia changed its name to Zambia (one of the obscurer African countries, with a per cap GDP of $1,143) The white folks + refugees of Southern Rhodesia took one look at the chaos over in the Congo, said “Nope,” and declared themselves independent of Great Britain to avoid handing over power to the black majority (97% of the Rhodesian population.)

The rest of the world (Great Britain included) never officially recognized Rhodesia as a country and hit it with a bunch of sanctions. According to Wikipedia:

Although prepared to grant formal independence to Southern Rhodesia (now Rhodesia), the British government had adopted a policy of no independence before majority rule, dictating that colonies with a substantial population of European settlers would not receive independence except under conditions of majority rule.[20][21][22]

After the federal break-up in 1963, then-Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home insisted that preconditions on independence talks hinge on what he termed the “five principles” – unimpeded progress to majority rule, assurance against any future legislation decidedly detrimental to black interests, “improvement in the political status” of local Africans, moves towards ending racial discrimination, and agreement on a settlement which could be “acceptable to the whole population”.[25][26][27][28]

Note that Douglas-Home here is the head of the British conservatives.

Harold Wilson and his incoming Labour government took an even harder line on demanding that these points be legitimately addressed before an independence agenda could be set.[24] …

However, few seemed to initially realise that Rhodesia was no longer within the Commonwealth’s direct sphere of influence and British rule was now a constitutional fiction; Salisbury remained virtually immune to credible metropolitan leverage.[15]

In October 1965, the United Nations Security Council had warned Whitehall about the possibility of UDI, urging Wilson to use all means at his disposal (including military pressure) to prevent the Rhodesian Front from asserting independence.[44] After UDI was proclaimed, UN officials branded Ian Smith’s government as an “illegal racist minority regime”[45] and called on member states to sever economic ties with Rhodesia, recommending sanctions on petroleum products and military hardware.[24] In December 1966, these measures became mandatory, extending to bar the purchase of Rhodesian tobacco, chrome, copper, asbestos, sugar, meat, and hides.[24]

Britain, having already adopted extensive sanctions of its own, dispatched a Royal Navy squadron to monitor oil deliveries in the port of Beira, from which a strategic pipeline ran to Umtali. The warships were to deter “by force, if necessary, vessels reasonably believed to be carrying oil destined for (Southern) Rhodesia”.[46][47]

Meanwhile, of course, no one is allowed to vote in Saudi Arabia, but no one seems to care about that.

You probably know the story by now: the USSR supported the black nationalists, pretty much no one supported the white Rhodesians, and eventually they got tired of civil war and gave up. According to Wikipedia:

In the ten years after independence, around 60% of the white population of Zimbabwe emigrated, most to South Africa and to other mainly white, English speaking countries where they formed expatriate communities. …

While as Rhodesia, the country was once considered the breadbasket of Africa. Today, Zimbabwe is a net importer of foodstuffs, with the European Union and United States providing emergency food relief as humanitarian aid on a regular basis.[151] The nation has suffered profound economic and social decline in the past twenty years. Recently the agriculture sector has started to do well since the availability of expertise and machines has improved supported mainly by China.[152][153]

Zimbabwe also suffered from a crippling inflation rate, as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had a policy of printing money to satisfy government debts, which introduces excessive currency into the economic system which led to the demise of the local currency. This policy caused the inflation rate to soar from 32% in 1998 (considered extremely high by most economic standards) to an astonishing 11,200,000% by 2007. Monetary aid by the International Monetary Fund has been suspended due to the Zimbabwe government’s defaulting on past loans, inability to stabilise its own economy, and its inability to stem corruption and advance human rights.[151] In 2009, Zimbabwe abandoned its currency, relying instead on foreign currencies such as the South African rand, the US dollar, the Botswana pula, the euro and the British pound, among others.[154]

Zimbabwe‘s current per cap GDP is $1,054.

I think one of the common misconceptions about NRx is that it is based on a bunch of overly-pessimistic speculations about the future of democracy in places like the US or Germany. There’s plenty of that, of course. But much of Neoreaction is actually based on observation of events that have already happened in places like the DRC, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

Chimpanzee family from the Gombe
Chimpanzee family from the Gombe

To be fair, though, we are getting really off track from our original mission of reviewing Jane Goodall’s book about chimpanzees. In the book’s Forward, David A. Hamburg writes:

The picture of chimpanzee life that emerges is fascinating. Here is a highly intelligent, intensely social creature capable of close and enduring attachments, yet nothing that looks quite like human love, capable of rich communication through gestures, posture, facial expressions, and sounds, yet nothing quite like human language. This is a creature who not only uses tools effectively but also makes tools with considerable foresight; a creature who does a little sharing of food, though much less than man; a creature gifted in the arts of bluff and intimidation, highly excitable and aggressive, capable of using weapons, yet engaging in no activity comparable to human warfare; a creature who frequently hunts and kills small animals of other species in an organized, cooperative way, and seems to have some zest for the process of hunting, killing, and eating the prey; a creature whose repertoire of acts in aggression, deference, reassurance, and greeting bear uncanny similarity to human acts in similar situations.

This bold turns out to be false.

In the Shadow of Man was published in 1971; the chimpanzees of the Kahama region of the Gombe Stream went to war against the chimps of Kasakala in 1974:

The two [groups] had previously been a single, unified community, but by 1974 researcher Jane Goodall, who was observing the community, first noticed the chimps dividing themselves into northern and southern sub-groups.[2]

The Kahama group, in the south, consisted of six adult males (among them the chimpanzees known to Goodall as “Hugh”, “Charlie”, and “Goliath”), three adult females and their young, and an adolescent male (known as “Sniff”).[2] The larger Kasakela group, meanwhile, consisted of twelve adult females and their young, and eight adult males.[2] …

The first outbreak of violence occurred on January 7, 1974,[4] when a party of six adult Kasakela males attacked and killed “Godi”, a young Kahama male …

Over the next four years, all six of the adult male members of the Kahama were killed by the Kasakela males.[5] Of the females from Kahama, one was killed, two went missing, and three were beaten and kidnapped by the Kasakela males.[5] The Kasakela then succeeded in taking over the Kahama’s former territory.[5]

I have the luxury of reading this account after already hearing, at least vaguely, that chimps wage war on each other. To Jane–despite having observed chimpanzee belligerence for years–it came as a surprise:

The outbreak of the war came as a disturbing shock to Goodall, who had previously considered chimpanzees to be, although similar to human beings, “rather ‘nicer'” in their behavior.[7] Coupled with the observation in 1975 of cannibalistic infanticide by a high-ranking female in the community, the violence of the Gombe war first revealed to Goodall the “dark side” of chimpanzee behavior.[7] She was profoundly disturbed by this revelation; in her memoir Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe, she wrote:

“For several years I struggled to come to terms with this new knowledge. Often when I woke in the night, horrific pictures sprang unbidden to my mind—Satan [one of the apes], cupping his hand below Sniff’s chin to drink the blood that welled from a great wound on his face; old Rodolf, usually so benign, standing upright to hurl a four-pound rock at Godi’s prostrate body; Jomeo tearing a strip of skin from Dé’s thigh; Figan, charging and hitting, again and again, the stricken, quivering body of Goliath, one of his childhood heroes. [8]”

War.

I suspect that humans evolved their upright stance to be better at carrying around large sticks with which to kill other apes. This made it harder for us to climb trees, but may have allowed for our voice boxes to descend (the voice box is actually important for closing off the lungs to provide rigidity to the chest while climbing,) allowing for a greater range of vocalizations, which in turn made us better at communicating and so organizing our bashing-apes-with-sticks expeditions. Eventually we stopped hunting other primates and turned our attention to more efficient game, like mammoths.

Refugee flow from the DRC to other nations
Refugee flow from the DRC to other nations

Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man, by Jane Goodall (1/5)

jane-van-lawick-goodall-in-the-shadow-of-man-book-coverToday we begin our discussion of In the Shadow of Man, (published in 1971,) an account of Dame Jane Goodall’s observations of chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania. If you haven’t finished the book yet, don’t panic; feel free to join the discussion anyway, or keep the questions in mind and answer them later. Also, remember that these questions are only meant to help inspire you; if you want to discuss some other aspect of the book or propose your own questions, go ahead.

  1. What did you think of the book? Favorite part, least favorite part?
  2. Do you agree with Jane’s claim that this was the first observation of tool making in animals, or does something like a beaver building a dam count? What constitutes “tool making”?*
  3. To what extent do you think the study of chimps aids in our understanding of ourselves? Do chimps make useful human analogues?
  4. What do you think is the nature of chimpanzee “consciousness”? Do they experience the world in some way similar to ourselves?
  5. (source)
    Chimp feeding a leopard cub (source)

    What do you think of the role of dominance (and violence) in chimp social life?

  6. What about the role of play, friendship, and love?
  7. Do we do ourselves a disservice by comparing humans to common chimps (pan troglodytes) instead of pygmy chimps/aka bonobos (pan paniscus)?
  8. Do you think Jane’s use of feeding stations, which potentially raised the level of chimp-on-chimp violence in the Gombe, compromised her research?
  9. I found it very interesting that chimps would fight over relatively low-value bananas, but not over high-value meat. Why do you think they did?
  10. Is it a good idea to use chimpanzee child-rearing methods with human children?
  11. Should humans do more to protect chimpanzees, both in the wild and captivity?
  12. Is it possible for chimps to act “morally” or have what we would call a “moral conscious?” Can we condemn the chimps for their treatment of Old Mr. McGregor?
  13. (source)
    Chimp hugging same cub

    If chimps (or other animals) have emotions, are we morally obligated to be kind to them?

  14. After the publication of this book, war broke out among the Gombe chimps, shocking Jane (more on this later.) Was her surprise warranted, or would you have expected it, based on the violence described in the book?
  15. Why do you think social grooming is so important to chimpanzees?
  16. Do humans have any behaviors similar to social grooming? If not, why?
  17. It must take an extraordinary sort of person to sequester themselves in the forest (in the age before cellphones or internet,) for months or years on end. Could you ever do such a thing?
  18. Should we read another book? If so, which?

*Jane actually notes in the bibliography that reports of chimpanzee toolmaking were published back in 1925, but perhaps these were not well-known outside of the primatology field:

Tool-using is discussed by Harry Beatty in “A Note on the Behavior of the Chimpanzee,” under General Notes of the Journal of Mammalology, Vol. 32 (1951), p. 118, and by Fred G. Merfield and H. Miller in Gorillas Were My Neighbors (London: Longmans, 1956); Wolfgang Kohler reported studies of tool-using and toolmaking by groups of captive chimpanzees in The Mentality of Apes (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925).

Reports of tool use in apes date back to 1843, or perhaps earlier.

800px-AmericanBeaverIt is most likely true that, prior to the publication of Jane’s research, most people–even those interested in apes–weren’t aware of their tool-making abilities. After all, this was not the age of Wikipedia and easy research, when a few clicks of a mouse could bring you to an 1843 paper on primatology. Jane may have actually changed the body of well-known chimpanzee facts, just as Columbus changed the body of well-known continents facts, even though plenty of people had arrived in the Americas before him.

But I still think this all rather neglects the humble beaver, who cuts down trees, strips them of leaves and branches, and then arranges them into large dams, radically altering riverine environments to suit his needs. The world’s largest beaver dam is 850 meters long and still potentially growing.

But enough quibbling — on with the discussion. (Remember, you are welcome to join in even if you haven’t read the book.)

(I’ll be posting my normal excerpts + commentary next week.)

Come read “In the Shadow of Man” with me

jane-van-lawick-goodall-in-the-shadow-of-man-book-coverJane Goodall’sIn the Shadow of Man” was first published in 1971, and apparently revolutionized the entire field of primatology and our understanding of our nearest evolutionary cousins. From Amazon:

Her adventure began when the famous anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey suggested that a long-term study of chimpanzees in the wild might shed light on the behavior of our closest living relatives. … For months the project seemed hopeless; out in the forest from dawn until dark, she had but fleeting glimpses of frightened animals. But gradually she won their trust and was able to record previously unknown behavior, such as the use—and even the making— of tools, until then believed to be an exclusive skill of man. As she came to know the chimps as individuals, she began to understand their complicated social hierarchy and observed many extraordinary behaviors, which have forever changed our understanding of the profound connection between humans and chimpanzees.

It has good reviews, so I’m optimistic about using it for our next Anthropology Friday series, in about a month. (Though I am somewhat skeptical about this supposed first observed non-human tool-making, given that beavers and otters have long been observed.)

Does anyone want to read along with me? I can post discussion questions and make it a regular “book club” affair. (I guess “What counts as ‘tool making?’ should be our first question.) ETA: I promise to avoid really dumb questions, like “Explain how Jane got to know the chimpanzees,” or “Why does the author include an introduction?”

Oh, and it’s fine to post thoughts/responses even if you disliked the book or didn’t read it all the way through. Or if you really hate the book, suggest a different one for next time.