Have you ever wondered why men have nipples? If you have, you join the ranks of intellectual greats such as Aristotle and Charles Darwin who have also puzzled over this question.
The answer is provided by the Aka pygmy tribe in Central Africa.
In the absence of babycare amenities of the modern world such as dummies, these men use their nipples (very sensibly) to soothe their babies when mummy is not around.
“The best fathers in the world”
It was during this time that he noticed that Aka babies were sometimes suckled by their fathers.
However, Professor Hewlett was not overly surprised at this observation because he had come to realise that the Aka practiced the best kind of gender egalitarian parenting than anyone else he had ever studied.
In fact, the data he had collected for over 20 years showed that Aka dads “are within reach of their infants 47% of the time”. This is apparently more than fathers in any other cultural group on the planet.
True egalitarian parenting
Among the Aka people, male and female roles are interchangeable. So, while the women hunt, the men mind the kids and when the men cook, the women think about where to set up the next camp.
According to Professor Hewlett:
“There is a sexual division of labour in the Aka community – women, for example, are the primary caregivers.
“But, and this is crucial, there’s a level of flexibility that’s virtually unknown in our society.
“Aka fathers will slip into roles usually occupied by mothers without a second thought and without, more importantly, any loss of status – there’s no stigma involved in the different jobs.”
He further explains that among the Aka, great importance is placed is placed on physical closeness in raising their young. Babies are almost always in close physical contact with their parents or another caregiver.
Also, cots do not exist in this community because a couple would never leave their baby unattended, even when asleep. Basically, babies are held all the time.
In other words, they practice some of the main principles of Attachment Parenting to a T.
Lessons for other dads
The Aka men certainly can teach modern dads a lot. As Professor Hew says, “There are lots of positive contributions fathers can make to bringing up their children, but we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of touch and cuddles.”
And in an age where intimacy between fathers and their children is discouraged — sometimes even to the point of dads who exhibit such closeness being labelled as paedophiles — could learning about the way the Aka men parent their babies be a liberating experience for modern dads?
Why not try it out and let us know?
What do you think about the Aka way of parenting? Do share your thoughts in a comment below.