The Holidays are here and it’s no secret that getting your troop together can be as stressful as fun. But it’s not just that way for humans! Turns out lots of primates feel the same way.
Let me know if this sounds familiar. The eldest daughter of your family has organized a holiday event. It used to be mom’s Job, but since she’s gotten older, the eldest daughter has become the glue that holds the family together. Everyone is there and the place feels warm and familiar, but admittedly a little loud. It seems no conversation can be just between two family members, everyone has something to say. Uncle Ted doesn’t like Cousin Zach’s new girlfriend, but ultimately it doesn’t matter since the hostess says she’s wonderful and that’s really who she needs to impress. Your little cousin tries to reach for a roll before dinner only for him to be caught and reprimanded by the eldest, causing a whole scene. Yep, this is the holidays. And if this sounds familiar you may have much in common with the red ruffed lemur!
Red Ruffed Lemurs are one of the oldest types of primates living today. That makes them one of our oldest living relatives on the primate tree, but they’re still our relatives nonetheless and we tend to have a lot more in common with them than we think! These little primates live in matriarchal structures with big voices. Just like your mom, aunt, and big sister, the most assertive female in the troop is keeping an eye on her family and making sure things run smoothly. Anything that needs to be done must be approved by that matriarch! If not, you’ll hear the whole troop arguing from miles away!
So maybe your holidays don’t look quite like that. Maybe they’re a bit quieter but with their unique chaotic charm. Picture this: you’ve just made it home for the holidays, and you’re at your grandparents’ house where you return year after year. Your grandfather is excited to see you but also quite busy. He hugs you and welcomes you, but he’s rough around the edges and doesn’t say much. Your grandmother and he are both working extra hard on dinner while your siblings and cousins watch the kids. Your family isn’t loud like the others, but what you do say matters. The warmth and comfort of having your family close are present, and when you say something like “Grandma is so sweet isn’t she?” Your sisters know you’ve just been shooed away from the kitchen for trying to help. Your cousin and you share a knowing glance as your brother introduces his new wife to your grandfather. It isn’t going well but grandma is a good mediator. Your grandparents are traditional people and in their house their rules go, so as you sit for the meal your grandfather gets his meal first, then grandma, and it goes by age. You have a friend who says in her house the kids eat first, and you wonder what must be like. This all sounds so human, doesn’t it? But once again, if this all sounds familiar, you may have a lot in common with DeBrazza’s Monkeys.
Coming from a patriarchal structure, the dominant male is in charge of the troop for DeBrazza’s monkeys. This does not mean that females aren’t also capable of dominance, just like grandma, a dominant female is also an important decision maker, keeping things in check and at peace, but the dominant male will have first and primary access to food, the primate equivalent to being at the head of the table. These little primates are almost non-vocal, but the small sounds they do make have a big impact, and just like sharing a glance with your cousins, eye contact and body language are everything.
So what does this mean for us? It seems like for every family dynamic there’s a primate to match! Maybe your family are good communicators with lots of love to give like the Bonobo! Perhaps you’re a single guy hoping to spend the holidays with your significant other and not much else like the Orangutan! Or hey! It could be a chosen group of friends that you feel the closest to like Chimpanzees have been known to do. Whoever your troop is, if primates have taught us anything, it’s that there is no wrong way to be a family. As long as you feel safe, loved, and supported this holiday season, then you’ve found the troop that suits you.
Cover Image: Mark Pressler