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Lost jungle tribe research: Nice guys can get the girls

Sign of a society about to wipe itself out, though

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Interesting news today for male Reg readers living in primitive, murderous jungle warrior societies. New research indicates that, while in general the more violent and aggressive you are the more success with the ladies you will have, there is a point at which diminishing returns set in.

News regarding the limitations of homicide, kidnapping and robbery with violence as reproductive strategies comes to us courtesy of anthropologists at Penn State Uni.

Until lately it had been generally thought by anthro profs that, among the notably testy old-time tribesmen of the South American rainforest, the most violent chaps always got the girls and so fathered the most children.

"In 1988, Napoleon Chagnon published evidence that among the famously warlike Yanomamo of Venezuela, men who had participated in a homicide had significantly more wives and children than their less warlike brethren," says Stephen Beckerman, associate anthroprof at Penn State.

But then Beckerman and his colleagues looked into the pre-contact-with-civilisation record of the Waorani, a different jungle tribe from the Amazon basin. They had no peaceful contact with outsiders until 1958, having killed pretty much every non-Waorani who entered their territory until then.

According to the Penn State researchers, the Waorani are much harder than the Yanomamo:

Warfare and murder were common among the Waorani, who are known to be more warlike than the Yanomamo. They practiced their violence on each other as well as on outsiders.

In 1958, however, the psychopathically murderous Waorani let down their guard somewhat. Within a mere 14 years or so, missionaries and other envoys of civilisation had apparently convinced them that killing everybody all the time wasn't the way forward, and it seems that "warfare and raiding are now almost gone".

This has meant that it's now safe to do anthropological research on the Waorani, and Beckerman and his colleagues have duly done so, interviewing all the old-timers they could find who remembered the days back before the pacification.

Among the Waorani, unlike the comparatively mellow Yanomamo, it seems that having killed people wasn't an indicator of getting more attention from the ladies and so having more babies. Quite the reverse, in fact. And, significantly, the anthropologists believe that the Yanomamo were increasing in numbers at the time of civilised contact - whereas the Waorani were dwindling, even though they had access to abundant food and resources.

"The Waorani, as far as we could tell, were well along in the process of killing themselves off at the time of peaceful contact," says Beckerman.

These results have been interpreted by the media to mean that "sometimes nice guys finish first": eg, being the hardest and most macho doesn't get you the girl.

That does appear to be true where there are very few nice guys present, as among the universally badass pre-contact Waorani. With most of the chaps busily exterminating each other, the no doubt rather bored ladies turn to the nerdy minority for consolation. However, wherever there are any large numbers of milder and more peaceable chaps about - as among the Yanomamo, and perhaps in our own Western globo-civilisation - it would seem that the aggressive warrior type maintains his advantage over other men.

Not really good news for nice guys, then: it seems the only place where they sometimes get the girl is in societies which are about to wipe themselves out. ®

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