Going Bonobo




I can’t stop thinking about Bonobos. Recently, I saw a 60 Minutes segment on Bonobos, extremely loving apes who hang out in the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Watching bonobos on the uplifting segment shifted my attention away from all the negative news going on in the United States and around the world. Since the show, I find myself walking around New York City and Weehawken, New Jersey, chanting “Bonobos.”

Although I like the sound of their name, I’m more fascinated with how bonobos interact with each other. Their unique non-violent behavior exhibits qualities we could learn from. Before I get into why I consider these apes to offer a glimmer of hope for how people socially interact, here are some exceptional characteristics of bonobos.

  • These great apes share 98.7 percent of our DNA and are one of our closest living relatives.
  • Bonobos pink lips, black faces, and stylish middle hair parts differentiate their looks from chimpanzees.
  • The words diplomatic, docile, highly complex, intelligent, and cooperative are often used to describe their social and sexual relationships.
  • Female bonobos run the show—meaning the females are in charge, and the males handle their lower social status well because they benefit with lots of sex, good food and their moms protect them from other males in the group for life.
  • Lady bonobos understand the importance of forming strong bonds and alliances to keep others in the group in check.
  • Bonobos are known as the “Make Love not War” ape—they deal with stress by having sex. Doesn’t matter if it’s males with females or females with females or males with males. They get it on so much that their way of dealing with stress is referred to as the Bonobo handshake. Grooming and sharing food also helps to reduce their stress.
  • They possess a strong throat chakra, because they’re quite vocal and often communicate with loud squeals and hand gestures.
  • Sadly, these special great apes are endangered due to hunting and logging in the Congo Basin. Learn more here about how you can help.

Learning more about bonobos prompted me to consider how we could follow their examples to a greater degree in our human communities. I’m not suggesting we all have sex with whomever when we feel conflict. (Although if it works for you, then go for it.) I’m talking about the benefit of women bonding together in groups to help create social change, a pattern we’re already seeing in subtle ways in our own communities.

I can’t help but notice that there’s an upswing in women forming alliances in person and on social media—entrepreneurs, moms, single women, and yoga enthusiasts getting together in meet-up groups, business groups, and meditation circles. Chi-raq, a movie by Spike Lee based on the classic Greek play Lysistrata, is about how women withhold affection from their men to avoid war—no affection until the men negotiate peace. Couldn’t we benefit from more female collaboration, not at the exclusion of men, but the inclusion of everyone? Seventeen women elected as councilors in Saudi Arabia for the first time in history hints of important shifts occurring for more inclusion.

During the 60 Minutes segment, I was surprised to find out that bonobos not only look into each other’s eyes during sex but also gaze into the eyes of humans they interact with. As I walk around the streets of my community and commute on public transportation, there’s not a whole lot of eye gazing going on. Almost everyone is looking down and captivated by their phones rather than looking up.

Eye-catching bonobos remind me of one of the first things I learned in improv class at Improvolution in New York City. Thanks to Viola Spolin, the originator of Theater Games and creator of the first professional improvisational acting company in Chicago, my improv teachers always stress the importance of meeting your partner’s eyes during warmup games or scenes to build trust. Bonobos naturally do this. A little more real eye contact and play with friends might go a long way toward reducing excess stress during these tense times on our planet.

It’s hard to say when more peaceful times will evolve. Learning about these delightful great apes helped me to reframe my focus, and I’m keeping my eyes open to the growing hints out there of others going bonobo.



Lorraine Giordano

Inspired To Health