Charles Darwin, referencing Morgan’s writings, suggested the possibility that humans were descended from tribal cultures characterized by matrifocal social structures that were driven by female sexual selection. After suggesting the possibility, he rejected it as being incongruent with his experience of contemporary and primitive society, which featured a focus on male hierarchical dominance patterns with a complementary pattern of female compliance. Darwin was a Victorian. It is possible that if Darwin had instead embraced what he rejected, then the history of evolutionary theory would have been at least slightly changed. Regardless, after being proposed by Darwin, female sexual selection was almost ignored for 100 years. And it is only with the work of Geoffrey Miller (2000) that sexual selection theory in the context of human evolution gets its articulate advocate.

If humans evolved through matrifocal societies, driven by female sexual selection, what would have been the origin and nature of that dynamic?

“All at once Evered charged forward, leapt up to seize one of the hanging vines, and swung out over the stream in the spray-drenched wind. A moment later Freud joined him. The two leapt from one liana to the next, swinging into space, until it seemed the slender stems must snap or be torn from their lofty moorings. Frodo charged along the edge of the stream, hurling rock after rock now ahead, now to the side, his coat glistening with spray. For ten minutes the three performed their wild displays while Fifi and her younger offspring watched from one of the tall fig trees by the stream. Were the chimpanzees expressing feelings of awe such as those which, in early man, surely gave rise to primitive religions, worship of the elements?” (Goodall, Jane (1990) Through a Window. Houghlin Mifflin: Boston, pp. 241-242.)

Less overt but perhaps more evocative of our evolution is the behavior of the bonobo. Slighter than the chimpanzee, they have far fewer male demonstrations in these matrifocal societies with alpha males often the sons of the head female. Food is often exchanged for sex, and sex is frequent. Very frequent. Bonobo societies are horizontal societies sexually and in social structure. Males are not competing for dominance as intensely as in chimpanzee societies, though they still perform for sex.

Jane Goodall also describes the influence of a thunderstorm upon a male chimpanzee, propelling him into sexual display. Testosterone has powerful components of both aggression and sexuality that compel males to exhibit and then procreate. Jane Goodall observed that these behaviors appear in concert with natural phenomena such as thunderstorms and waterfalls. Now imagine rhythm as the central bridge between the sounds of nature and the sounds around which demonstrations would be engaged, sex procured and societies formed.

If we assume that the selection of neotenous features in our ancestor species often occurred in the context of matrifocal societies–small bands where fathers did not know their sons and women controlled procreation opportunities–societies driven by rituals of dance and sound, then how did this evolutionary trajectory get started?

When did rhythm and sex become allied?

Consider that it all started by the ocean.

Imagine roving bands of hominids coming occasionally to the ocean side. The sound of crashing breakers fills the males with the reverence and desire characteristic of the chimpanzees that Goodall observed. A good time was had by all.

It happens again. The band journeys to the ocean, the males get worked up, infants are created.

The rhythm of the ocean becomes associated with the sound of sex. Then, away from the ocean, a male gets the idea to stamp his feat to the rhythm of the ocean. The other males join him. By stamping in unison, the males arouse the band. The males with the best sense of rhythm, those that can most powerfully evoke feelings of fear/reverence, get to mate.

Ritual is born.


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