Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Bonobos in the Heart of Darkness

Photo by Tim Flach
part of the  "More than Uman" exhibition
Bonobos and chimpanzees are two similar kinds of primates. So similar that at a first glance you would say it’s only matter of size, being bonobos smaller than chimps. Yet the wide bends of the Congo River has played a big role in separating the two species. In fact, none of them swims -at least for such distances – and this has led to a significant difference in the development of their social organization.

Chimpanzee’s social system is based on the power of a male over a group whose members are framed by a well-defined hierarchy and clashes between neighbour communities are normal in case of border violation.

On the southern side of the Congo River, bonobos gave birth to a different reality. Here the close cooperation among females has wiped out what would be the physical advantage of the males. Male members are actually isolated individuals quite dependent on the mother, especially regarding their role in the group. But it has to be said that social status doesn't really matter among bonobos, for whom sex is the key to solve any form of conflict.

Sex is the way to soften competitiveness and everyone is doing it almost with everyone, without discrimination. When a group of bonobos find a new place to stay, a new happy island full of food in the jungle, general excitement makes that, first of all, collective sexual activities take place. After this every member will devote himself to the nourishment with less vehemence.

In the same region described on the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, bonobos have followed an alternative evolution, a parallel reality based on understanding, mutual aid, and physical contact.