Bonobo Culture

Bonobos have always fascinated me. They are the hippies of the primate world. Peace, free love, and hairy bodies. And genetically they happen to be our closest relatives, along with chimpanzees, who are much more warlike. Which direction will we go?

Bonobos may be more like us than we thought. According to an article in the Harvard Gazette entitled, “Differing diets of bonobo groups offer insights into how culture is created”, they do, in fact, have a rudimentary culture going on. I’m intrigued.

It seems that scientists studied two bands of bonobos in the Congo for five years. These bands lived and hunted in the same forest. They were genetically identical. They hunted with the same size hunting parties and displayed the same amount of teamwork. And yet the two groups had two different food preferences.

All things being equal, that had to be a learned behavior or, at the very least, different cravings. Which amounts to culture. Isn’t that astounding?

It’s now believed that since bonobos have the beginnings of culture, and we of course do as well, then our earlier, common ancestor must have had it, too. I wonder what their culture was like? I love the idea that someday we might learn the answer to that question. Who knows what archeologists will dig up next?

Science rocks. Just sayin’. And all this talk has me craving Chinese food.

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Child Witch Hysteria

Every day in Africa, hundreds of children are declared to be witches. Once this happens, their lives are effectively over. They are tortured for confessions, abandoned by their families or murdered by villagers. Schools will no longer teach them. Hospitals will no longer treat them.

These children are blamed for any family misfortune. Disease, miscarriage, unemployment, death in the family…all these things surely must be because the most vulnerable among us is a witch. You can also be considered a witch simply by virtue of being born with a deformity. It is claimed that these children feast on human flesh. They are stigmatized, feared, and cast out by society.

This practice has experienced an extreme resurgence this century, mainly thanks to the movies put out by the Liberty Gospel Church, an extreme Pentecostal sect in Nigeria that combines a weird brand of Christianity with ancient cultural beliefs in witchcraft. One of their movies, “End of the Wicked” goes into graphic details about these witches, and claims that this information is in the bible, and that these things are all facts.

A lot of the adherence to this practice probably has to do with the extreme poverty in which these people live. They are unable to support these children, and witchcraft is an effective excuse for society to abandon them. It’s really the only “acceptable” excuse.

To exact confessions from these kids, people will beat them, deprive them of food, put acid in their eyes, force them to sit on fires, or drive nails into their skulls. Once a “confession” is exacted, many of these children are buried alive, or have stones tied to their legs and then are thrown off bridges, are abandoned in the bush, or are poisoned.

A big industry has grown up to take advantage of those parents who do not want their children to suffer from this stigma. Unscrupulous people claim that they can exorcise the witches, and it will “only” cost a year’s income. If the parents can’t pay, these evil people will hold the child captive, torturing them all the while, until the parents pay up.

According to Wikipedia, this practice is common in Angola, Gambia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Congo, and Ethiopia. This movie on Youtube, entitled Dispatches: Saving Africa’s Witch Children, will tell you all about the practice in Nigeria. I have to warn you that it will also break your heart.

I cannot stress enough the importance of education to combat these horrible beliefs. Until then, though, these children need to be protected, housed, educated and treated so that they can reclaim what little childhood may be left to them.

If you would like to help these children, please join me in donating to Safe Child Africa. Since it’s a British-based organization, your donations will be in pounds, not dollars, but they do accept credit cards.

If you are reading this on a computer or another electronic device, chances are you are much better off than these children will ever be. Take a moment to appreciate that. And please help if you can.

The “witches” of Africa thank you.

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