Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Aka Pygmies: The world's best fathers?

The Aka pygmies are hunter-gatherers who live in the southwestern Central African Republic and northern People's Republic of the Congo, not quite in the heart of Africa, but close. Here is anthropologist Barry S. Hewlett's description of how Aka parents behave with their children (from his book, Intimate Fathers):

"Aka infancy is indulgent: Infants are held almost constantly, they have skin-to-skin contact most of the day as Aka seldom wear shirts or blouses, and they are nursed on demand and attended to immediately if they fuss or cry. Aka parents interact with and stimulate their infants throughout the day. They talk to, play with, show affection to, and transmit subsistence skills to their infants during the day. I was rather surprised to find parents teaching their eight-to-twelve-month-old infants how to use small pointed digging sticks, throw small spears, use miniature axes with sharp metal blades, and carry small baskets..."

Most of this happens when parents are out hunting game with nets, Hewlett says. Yes, the infants go with them. But, says Hewlett, despite all this attention and contact, the Aka are not a child-centered society. More:

"American parents allow their children to interrupt their conversations with other adults; they ask their children what they want to eat and try to accommodate other desires of the children. Aka society is adult-centered in that parents seldom stop their activities to pay undivided attention to their children. If an infant fusses or urinates on a parent who is talking to others or playing the drums, the parent continues his activity while gently rocking the infant or wiping the urine off with a nearby leaf."

What, I wonder, can we learn from this?

1 comment:

  1. I have teenagers. I love them, but the notion of keeping children this close is actually pretty alarming. Before they can talk, sure.