Faraway: Get Out of Your World
Jungle Dads. The Gold Standard of Fatherhood.
The Aka live in the tropical forest of Central Africa. For centuries they have lived as peaceful hunter-gatherers. Recently I came across the research of Barry Hewlett, an anthropologist, who has been studying this culture since 1973. Hewlett is fascinated with the behavior of this tribe, the egalitarian nature of their existence, and the intimate bonds that fathers maintain with their babies. In 1993, Hewlett wrote a popular book on the subject, Intimate Fathers: The Nature and Context of Aka Pygmy Paternal Infant Care. He describes a typical day in the jungle when the women take off for a hunting excursion and the fathers stay behind to care for the children. On other days, however, the roles are reversed. In other words, there is an equitable share of labor. Fathers assume their childcare duties with ease, often times soothing a fussy baby by putting it to the breast. Hewlett noted that Western cultures find this behavior to be well outside defined standards of masculinity. Interestingly, social disorders like crime and violence are almost non-existent among the Aka.
For more about this story, there’s an article in The Guardian, by Joanna Moorhead, "Where fathers mother their babies: A glimpse into the world's most egalitarian society", written with a healthy dose of wit and humor. If you’d like to really dig in and get a scholarly dose on the subject, here is a link to one of Hewlett’s research papers at Washington State University: The Cultural Nexus of Aka Father-Infant Bonding. If you’d like to further your anthropological knowledge, you can read about Hewlett’s timely case study on Ebola, that he co-authored with his wife, Bonnie: Ebola, Culture and Politics: The Anthropology of an Emerging Disease, below is a synopsis:
In this case study, readers will embark on an improbable journey through the heart of Africa to discover how indigenous people cope with the rapid-killing Ebola virus. The Hewletts are the first anthropologists ever invited by the World Health Organization to join a medical intervention team and assist in efforts to control an Ebola outbreak. Their account addresses political, structural, psychological, and cultural factors, along with conventional intervention protocols as problematic to achieving medical objectives. They find obvious historical and cultural answers to otherwise-puzzling questions about why village people often flee, refuse to cooperate, and sometimes physically attack members of intervention teams. Perhaps surprisingly, readers will discover how some cultural practices of local people are helpful and should be incorporated into control procedures. The authors shed new light on a continuing debate about the motivation for human behavior by showing how local responses to epidemics are rooted both in culture and in human nature. Well-supported recommendations emerge from a comparative analysis of Central African cases and pandemics worldwide to suggest how the United States and other countries might use anthropologists and the insights of anthropologists to mount more effective public health campaigns, with particular attention to avian flu and bioterrorism.