In the heart of Africa, in a swamp forest near Lake Tumba in the Congo, a frolicking species of ape called the bonobo has long upset the Frazetta picture of our past. These apes, who, along with chimpanzees, share up to 98 percent of our DNA, confounded the first primatologists who observed them. Over time, they have created a colony far different from that of their intensely competitive, often violent, chimpanzee cousins. Bonobo society is based on cooperation and empathy; the culture is a matriarchy where competition is redirected into a communitarian sexual appetite. Bonobos also shocked these earliest scientists because they possessed a cheerful sense of general promiscuity, weaving wanton sex into their society, and they boasted a sexual repertoire once thought to be the exclusive property of Homo sapiens—deep kissing, foreplay, oral sex, homosexuality, and polyamory. Which is why bonobos have gained a certain notoriety in the animal kingdom and are so often bracketed by a kind of ridicule whenever some story about them appears in the paper.
more from Jack Hitt at Lapham’s Quarterly here.