Britta is taking the 8 week Sensual Shaman Immersion I offer and recently discovered on a shamanic journey that the Bonobo was her sexual power animal. Her research on this beloved creature has made its way into her Masters Research.
Bonobos: Make Love Not War by Britta Love
Bonobos are our peace-loving cousins, a little known and only recently discovered species of monkey. Previously thought to be ‘small chimps’, they’re actually an entirely different species. As opposed to chimp society, which is a ‘dominator’ culture, bonobo cultures demonstrate remarkable cooperation and peacemaking capacity.
The bonbobo is an omnivorous frugivore. The majority of its diet is fruit, but it supplements its diet with leaves, meat from small vertebrates such as flying squirrels, and invertebrates. They nest high up in the trees of their jungle, which is swamp jungle (there’s half a mile of swamp inland from the river before you hit the ground, tough terrain.)
In 20+ years of research, there has yet to be one instance intergroup killing by bonobos (complete opposite of chimps.) In fact, when two different groups come across each other, the males do stand and posture, waving sticks and baring their teeth. But the females from both groups immediately gather together and start sharing food or grooming each other. Now bonded, the men can do nothing but acquiesce to the new peace. In fact, groups of bonobos have been known to then integrate and travel together for a week or more.
There is also no infanticide in bonobo groups. This is because there is no way of discerning paternity due to bonobos’ nonstop sexual exploits! So killing a baby could be killing your own baby. In fact, male bonobos are known to babysit and interact with little ones even though they don’t know that it is ‘theirs’. Overall, bonobos are more sensitive and emotionally aware than chimps. Bonobos are known to show empathy and help other species too. Young bonobos stay with their mothers for five years in a prolonged childhood. In fact, sons basically never leave their mothers, staying always by her side. This differs from chimps who leave their mothers to bond with other males.
Bonobos live in a kind of ‘matriarchal’ society. The females are the first who have access to food and resources and they decide who gets what. Females form strong bonds by sharing food and through sexual activity like tribadism (rubbing genitals with/on each other for a period of 10-20 seconds, which females do every two hours on average!!!) While the males are physically stronger, they lack the bonded group that females form, and therefore their occasional attempts to dominate fall flat on their face. From the PBS documentary: “Males want to muscle in but if females stand united the males remain under their collective thumb.” (!!!) The sons of powerful females in the group have higher social status – but once their powerful momma passes away, they immediately lose their status.
When there is tension, sex is used to diffuse the situation. There was AMAZING footage in one documentary I watched. A male bonobo is running, clearly aggressively, large stick in hand. Mid-run he realizes he’s approaching a female bonobo and drops his stick for a quick shag. Anger forgotten!
In fact, sex has all number of social functions. It is like a handshake or greeting, it’s used to bond/create intimacy, to resolve issues and for reconciliation. They have all kinds of sex as well – gay, straight, masturbation, tongue kissing, oral sex, and they have sex face to face which is rare in the animal kingdom. They have much gentler sex compared to chimps. In a group, female will have sex with all the males. This constant sexual interaction creates calm in bonobo life. Intimacy makes it hard to stay angry!
Bonobos give us insight into our lineage of cooperation and partnership societies, that likely existed farther back in hunter-gatherer (pre-agricultural) times. They share the DNA we have that is correlated to affiliation/bonding, which chimps lack. It is interesting to realize that a lot of what we think is ‘natural’ about ourselves comes from our knowledge of chimpanzee culture – when actually we are equally related to bonobos, and in fact, resemble them more physically (more distinct faces, longer legs, pronounced breasts, larger penises). Although on a side note – a female bonobo weighing perhaps half that of a human teenager, “has a clitoris that is three times bigger than the human equivalent – and visible enough to waggle unmistakably as she walks”! (Wikipedia)
Unfortunately bonobos are very difficult to study. They are an endangered species, there are only about 30,000 of them left, all in the jungles of the Congo – where they are hunted for bush meat as well as the pet trade. Researchers have barely had a chance to study them because of the constant warfare and uncertainty in the region and it’s a very difficult place to be a scientist! But there seems to be so much hope in this cute cousin of ours. Interestingly, the translation of ‘bonobo’ in their language is ‘ancestor’.
After watching a few documentaries, I thought I’d better start doing my reading for my next packet of masters work. I was astounded to find an entire chapter devoted to primates, particularly the bonobos, in Riane Eisler’s “Sacred Pleasure” which I’m reading for my master’s program. The premise of her book is that there are two strands of our evolution – ‘dominator’ culture based on fear/pain and ‘partnership’ culture based on pleasure. She stresses that “bonobos demonstrate an evolutionary movement toward sex as a means of reinforcing social relations based on the give and take of shared sensual pleasure rather than on coercion and fear.” Bonobos are masters of using sex as peacemaking ritual. It’s important to note that bonobos aren’t inherently peaceful, or there would be no need to make peace! They just know how to use female bonding and all kinds of sex to make peace and prevent violence.
Learning all this about bonobos has been so powerful. I knew a little bit of it but hadn’t thought about bonobos in a long time. The deeper I got the more powerfully it resonated and the more I saw the importance of their discovery for our evolutionary understanding – as well as my own personal understanding. I want to be a master of using sex as peacemaking, healing and spiritual ritual.
Yesterday during my morning meditation, I discovered a new direction for my career. From the signs I received and the direction I’m now heading, I feel this is connected to the animal totem work we did this week.
In honor of my bonobos I did skip a few meals this week which actually felt good, it reminded me that as animals our bodies are more adapted to eating when we find food, rather than at scheduled mealtimes. I also introduced fruit (bananas!) into my diet, kind of by accident because my sister kept bringing them home and forcing me to drink the banana smoothies she makes every day. I realized I almost never eat fruit these days, I’ve gone off fruit for the past year! I think it’s a good time to start reintroducing it into my diet.
I completely resonate with bonobo sexuality. I can easily see how sex can be used completely pragmatically for any number of social functions. I would say that I have always seen sex as a way to create and maintain intimacy – even when I identified as an asexual, I saw the value of sex in that capacity and was happy to participate for that reason only.
It’s a shame that in our society, it would be a bit dangerous to go down on all fours with your skirt raised in between two blokes about to have a fight – what a powerful image!”