At an Mbendjele Camp in Congo – Gül Deniz Salalı (2015)

These footage were recorded in an Mbendjele BaYaka Pygmies camp of northern Congo-Brazzaville during a year long field study on Human behavior by a UCL researcher Gül Deniz Salalı. The Mbendjele camp filmed here is called Masia. The videos highlighted here are a part of a much larger project aiming to understand the origins of the human cumulative culture.

The main video shows how a woman named Semoi (wearing red African fabric) harvests tubers of wild yam (Dioscorea) locally called “mea”. Not to be confused with sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) also mistakenly called “yam” especially in the United States. Yam tubers are boiled and fried in palm oil and mixed with meat to make a traditional dish called bεbunaka. Dioscorea has a fascinating Human-assisted migration story. Ocean faring Polynesians brought the plant into far corners of the Pacific ocean. In the video, women deliberately produce sounds to advertise their presence to wild animals by singing and talking loudly when advancing in the forest.

We also see a few snapshots from the life of baby Eteni. You will be surprised to see all the things Eteni does (and is allowed to do!) as a toddler. There isn’t much teaching in hunter-gatherers. Children learn by observing and mimicking adults and older siblings. When Gül Deniz first saw Eteni, she wasn’t walking yet. A month later, she wasn’t only walking, but playing with knives and machetes at a different camping location.

Humans have a tendency to discount the future. Small, short-term rewards are generally valued more over larger, long-term rewards. This is akin to the famous marshmallow test conducted by Stanford University researchers. Socio-economic factors affect the degree of future discounting. By focusing on Mbendjele BaYaka hunter-gatherers of northern Congo and their farmer neighbors researchers investigated their adaptations and changes in preferences over time. The hypothesis is that in immediate-return systems, where food storage is absent and egalitarianism is enforced through leveling mechanisms, future discounting is an adaptive strategy. In this way, wealth accumulation and the emergence of hierarchies are curbed. Food sharing becomes widespread which maximizes survival in unpredictable environments where there is risk of an energy shortfall. On the other hand, when food storage is made possible by the emergence of agriculture or as seen in some delayed-return hunter-gatherer populations, wealth accumulation, hierarchies and lower discount rates become the adaptive strategy. Therefore, individuals in immediate-return, egalitarian societies will discount the future more than those in non-egalitarian, delayed-return societies.

Human Nature

 

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