At last - the column all the chimps are talking about
The writer and broadcaster Terence Blacker contributes a twice-weekly column on a wide range of social, cultural and environmental issues. He is the author of four novels, of prize-winning fiction for children, and has written a highly praised biography of the brilliant reprobate Willie Donaldson.
Monday 26 July 1999
But no. I told them to back off. The one thing you learn if you evolve in equatorial Africa is not to rush things. It has taken humans centuries to catch up with our sophisticated level of communication. To freak them out by sounding off about everything from Posh Spice to Chris Woodhead would be the height of irresponsibility.
One step at a time. I'm dealing with humans here. Let's keep it simple. A brief column, introducing myself, getting a few things off my chest, and then I'll be back to my little language lab at Georgia State University.
Have you any idea how dull that is, by the way? My natural way of life has a grace and ease of which you people can only dream: basically, we eat, swing from the trees, discuss the latest developments in philosophy and shag one another. Yet now, through some quirk of fate, I'm stuck in some God-forsaken establishment attempting to make academics (sheesh, and these are meant to be the bright ones!) understand what I say.
But you can hold those facile "Chippy Chimp In Woo-Woo Whinge" headlines. I realise that someone had to bring humans up to speed and, if it happens to be old muggins here, then so be it.
At least I'm in better shape than those luckless cousins of mine whose generous natures have been exploited down the years by an advertising company making television commercials for some ghastly brand of tea. How do I know it's ghastly? Because I can tell what they are saying when they are being filmed. "Why the bloody hell are we wearing these humiliating costumes?" "Search me. This creative director has the imaginative flair of a warthog." "Ugh, this stuff tastes like wildebeest piss."
We have fared slightly better at the hands of the so-called "primatologists". That Jane Goodall is an absolute honey - remarkably bright for a human, too. The word among the mountain gorillas was that poor old Dian Fossey was a decent sort, even if a touch eccentric. Personally, I've had it up to here with the Attenborough man and fully sympathised when, on one of his visits, a gorilla put his arm around him and whispered in his ear, "Be a good chap and sod off, will you? We've had more camera crews here than they have in Beverly Hills." Needless to say, this civilised admonition was misinterpreted as being an example of the gorilla's cuddly nature. You just can't win.
Talking of cuddliness, could I dispel a few myths about the bonobos? Human "experts" have decided that the reason why we couple with one another, regardless of age, sex and looks, is to consolidate social bonding within a group. Oh dear, is it really beyond the wit of humans to understand that we do it because we like it? You shake hands; we shag. End of story.
When I see the evolution of mankind (talk about slow, I've seen faster sloths!), it strikes me that you are, in your own muddled way, groping your way towards the bonobo model of society, with your young humans now mating in an increasingly random, meaningless and healthy fashion. This is excellent news for you, particularly when one of your own bishops announced, as happened last week, that a quick shag is no more sinful than a quick hamburger.
Your relationships, your live-in arrangements, your marriages: do they make you happy, really? Surely you must see that a brisk seeing to from a passing stranger is a more grown-up way to behave. Among the bonobos, no one gets left out, however hideous or grouchy they may be. We pass our existence in a haze of pre-coital anticipation or post-coital relaxation. I'm damned if I can see the problem here.
And, no, I'm not going to get drawn into the hunting debate. It's true that our chimpanzee cousins enjoy nothing better than a colobus hunt. I'm not saying it's fair, I'm not saying it's pretty but, by Jove, it's fun. You'll be asking whether chimpanzees actually need meat for their diet. Er no. Do you for yours? And, frankly, the jungle can offer no yummier delicacy the still warm brain of a recently killed colobus. Mm, talk about morish!
Goodness. TV, sex, violence and now cooking - you're dragging me down to your level! Seriously though, if you want any more opinions from your resident bonobo pundit, you're going to have to talk to my people.
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