In 2005, Vanessa Woods accepted a marriage proposal from a man she barely knew and agreed to join him on a research trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country reeling from a brutal decade-long war that had claimed the lives of millions.Read more...
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Publisher: Tantor Media Inc$29.99
In 2005, Vanessa Woods accepted a marriage proposal from a man she barely knew and agreed to join him on a research trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country reeling from a brutal decade-long war that had claimed the lives of millions. Settling in at a bonobo sanctuary in Congo's capital, Vanessa and her fiancé entered the world of a rare ape with whom we share 98.7 percent of our DNA. She soon discovered that many of the inhabitants of the sanctuary-ape and human alike-are refugees from unspeakable violence, yet bonobos live in a peaceful society in which females are in charge, war is nonexistent, and sex is as common and friendly as a handshake.
A fascinating memoir of hope and adventure, "Bonobo Handshake" traces Vanessa's self-discovery as she finds herself falling deeply in love with her husband, the apes, and her new surroundings while probing life's greatest question: What ultimately makes us human? Courageous and extraordinary, this true story of revelation and transformation in a fragile corner of Africa is about looking past the differences between animals and ourselves, and finding in them the same extraordinary courage and will to survive. For Vanessa, it is about finding her own path as a writer and scientist, falling in love, and finding a home.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 47.
- Review Date: 2010-03-08
- Reviewer: Staff
Devoted to learning more about bonobos, a smaller, more peaceable species of primate than chimpanzees, and lesser known, Australian journalist Woods and her fiancé, scientist Brian Hare, conducted research in the bonobos' only known habitat—civil war–torn Congo. Woods's plainspoken, unadorned account traces the couple's work at Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary, located outside Kinshasa in the 75-acre forested grounds of what was once Congo dictator Mobutu Sese Seko's weekend retreat. The sanctuary, founded in 1994 and run by French activist Claudine André, served as an orphanage for baby bonobos, left for dead after their parents had been hunted for bush meat; the sanctuary healed and nurtured them (assigning each a human caretaker called a mama), with the aim of reintroducing the animals to the wild. Hare had only previously conducted research on the more warlike, male-dominated chimpanzee, and needed Woods because she spoke French and won the animals' trust; through their daily work, the couple witnessed with astonishment how the matriarchal bonobo society cooperated nicely using frequent sex, and could even inspire human behavior. When Woods describes her daily interaction with the bonobos, her account takes on a warm charm. Woods's personable, accessible work about bonobos elucidates the marvelous intelligence and tolerance of this gentle cousin to humans. (Apr.)
Learning with apes
Chimpanzees are loads of fun, or so movies and TV shows would have us believe. They’re charming, intelligent, affectionate—just like us. But they really are just like us: They can be violent and domineering, and they are deeply intolerant of strangers. They do, indeed, share most of our DNA.
Bonobos, another species of ape, also share more than 98 percent of our DNA, but it’s less likely you’ve heard of them. There are fewer of them, they were discovered by scientists more recently, and they haven’t been well-studied yet. But their differences from chimps are fascinating. Bonobos are female-dominated, have staggering amounts of sex of all varieties and are naturally cooperative and altruistic. They’re also in serious danger of being wiped out by hunters.
Vanessa Woods, an Australian chimp aficionado, had never heard of bonobos herself until she fell for Brian Hare, an American scientist whose dream is to compare the behavior of chimps and bonobos living in Congolese sanctuaries and figure out what the differences reveal about human evolution. Bonobo Handshake is Woods’ beguiling story of falling in love with bonobos and the Congo while her marriage to Hare matured.
Bonobos turn out to be easy to like; the Democratic Republic of Congo is more problematic. Following decades of the brutal Mobutu dictatorship, it’s been wracked by unimaginably vicious civil wars. Lola ya Bonobo, the sanctuary where Woods and Hare work, is a paradise surrounded by horror.
Woods is candid about her own emotional immaturity at the beginning of her adventures. Just as her husband learns about humans by studying apes, Woods comes to terms with herself through interaction with bonobos and their keepers. Her Congolese friends, human and animal, rise above their traumas and teach her much about courage, endurance and tolerance.