“Do Chimpanzees Have Culture?”
The question “do chimpanzees have culture?” has been debated throughout the world. Many Anthropologists and scientists believe that this question is problematic because nobody really knows what culture is. So what is culture and what determines it?
Russell Tuttle believes that “symbolism is a defining aspect of culture.” However, Victoria Horner believes that it is the “transmission of behaviour by non-genetic means.”
These two examples of culture are completely different from each other. They both try and portray, and come up with an answer to what culture could be, but neither of them really hit the target; they aren't detailed enough to say what culture is. Therefore, if both try and portray culture, and if both are technically correct – because nobody really knows how to define it – then can there be more than one type of culture?
I believe that culture is the product of manipulation within ourselves by social, historical, environmental and biological factors.
Furthermore, taking my definition of culture and Horner's, it is easy to see that culture can be learnt.
Through observation of our own young, we know that children imitate to learn. They copy actions, sentence patterns and so on from their parents or from the people around them to stimulate brain development. This is called the Social Learning Theory (SLT).
For there to be culture, ideas and a way of life have to be passed on to the future generations. This culture has to be learnt. We've noticed that animals teach each other all the time. It has been seen that parent animals try to teach their young, e.g. A domesticated Bitch teaching her pup to climb up and down the stairs.
We've also witnessed teaching behaviours in Chimpanzees.
Sanz and Morgan of the Max Planck Institute observed Chimpanzees in the wild using and making tools. They observed one Chimpanzee breaking a hole into a Termite mound and then creating a brush-like stick by fraying the end to prod into the hole. This collected 10 times as many Termites. They then observed other Chimpanzees replicating this method. This is a SLT example. The first Chimpanzee noticed that this method was more beneficial than the former method – it produced 10 times as much Termites, and then taught the others, or the others imitated this method. The whole group would soon adopt this method, therefore it would pass throughout the group and throughout the group's generations. How could this not be culture?
It is clear that as Human beings, we have symbols which have another meaning. Tuttle believes that “symbolism is a defining aspect of culture”, therefore we have culture. However, can Chimpanzees show understanding of symbols and recognize their meanings?
Charlotte Uhlenbroek also observed another easier method of producing more food. She observed Chimpanzees cracking nuts open with two different stones, one used as a hammer and one used as an anvil. She noticed the others replicating this procedure – even the young. She theorised that the young did not know why they were doing it but followed to gain a sense of “identity and belonging.” This suggests that the two stones used to crack the nuts open were chosen, rather than just picked up off of the ground. The stones would have to have specific characteristic to be able to be used correctly. Thus, the Chimpanzees would have had to think about it, therefore these rocks have meaning.
Tuttle does not believe that Chimpanzees could have culture. He believes that the Chimpanzees did not realize or show understanding that the rocks had meaning. He stays that “If they were doing it because that rock and that nut and anvil represented something, then it would be culture.” However, the rocks had to have meant something – even if it was a 'primitive' thought like 'more food.' It is possible that a Chimpanzee could find two similar rocks again and recognize that they both mean easy, and more food. So these types of rocks have to be symbols of 'easy to get' and 'more food.' Therefore, if they are symbols, this supports the idea that Chimpanzees have culture.
Another study also provides support of the idea that Chimpanzees have culture. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh from Georgia University shows Panbanisha – a Chimpanzee – link written symbols with certain heard words and whom can show understanding of word order to follow orders to give something to someone. The fact that Panbanisha can understand the symbols which she uses to make sentences and understand word prompts is an indication that Chimpanzees can understand symbolism. For example, the word 'egg' is a flower picture. We'd expect that the symbol for an egg would be an egg, however this is not the case – it is a flower. She recognizes the picture 'flower' means the term 'egg'. This is abstract thinking. Panbanisha knows language which a four year old human would. The flower represented 'egg' - this shows symbolism. Language was taught to her. All of this suggests the idea that Chimpanzees have culture.
On the other hand, Tuttle and Bennett Galef believe that Chimpanzees do not have culture. They avoid the world “culture” when describing Chimpanzees' behaviours. “If you want to call what Chimpanzees have culture, then we'll have to find a new word for what it is humans have, because they're just totally different from each other,” says Galef, “It's reflected in the fact that we're building cathedrals and walking on the Moon, and they still sit naked in the rain.”
There are disagreements for what it is called, and that there is a lack of data.
“You want to call it culture? Fine, I'll call it learned behaviour patterns.”
It's true. What Chimpanzees have is learned behaviour, but we also learn behaviour and call it 'culture'! There is an assured primitivity to what Chimpanzees have, but the fact that there is a likeness to what we have cannot go ignored.
Another strong case to prove that Chimpanzees have culture is Franz De Waal's and Andy Whitten's study to see if Chimpanzees have culture. Horner is also involved with this experiment. They show us a machine containing M&Ms. The machine has two different release methods. The two chosen Chimpanzees are taught how to release the M&Ms differently. One is taught to lift the releaser and the other is taught to push the releaser to release the M&Ms. They then were placed back into their separate packs. They observed the two Chimpanzees showing the others how to release the M&Ms the way they were taught to. (This supports social manipulation as being a feature of culture and the SLT.) This automatically separates them into different communities with different cultures. The way they were told to release the M&Ms was passed throughout the two groups – they inadvertently created two different cultures by passing that information on, which shows their capacity for culture.
In conclusion, I believe that Chimpanzees do have a culture. This culture is definitely more primitive and simple than our own which has adapted overtime to become a more meaningful and detailed representation of the manipulation of social, historical, environmental and biological factors within ourselves.
Chimpanzees are only going to be able to have a simpler culture than our own because we are more advanced than them. However what they have is still a culture due to the fact that they pass on beneficial information they have learnt to other Chimpanzees: The Sanz and Morgan Chimpanzees which developed a more sufficient way of getting Termites, Charlotte Uhlenbroek's Chimpanzees cracking nuts open and their young imitating, Sue Savage-Runbaug's Chimpanzee – Panbanisha - understanding and recognizing sentence patterns and symbols, and Franz De Waal, Andy Whiten and Victoria Horner's Chimanzees separating their communities and producing two new cultures by releasing M&Ms.