In the year 1960, Jane Goodall, a young, naive and optimistic secretarial school graduate, was sent to Gombe Stream Research Center located in East Africa in the country of Tanzania off of Kungwe Bay by fossil-hunter Louis Leakey where she would spend the next thirty years observing pan troglodytes, or chimpanzees, in their natural habitat and to study their social life, including topics such as friendship, loyalty, and social power.
During this time, Goodall made several crucial discoveries that have not only impacted the field of anthropology but has changed the way we look at ourselves as members of the environment shared with millions of other species. It was in October of 1960 that Goodall would make one of the most important scientific discoveries in modern times: chimpanzees crafting and using tools in the jungles of Gombe. Before this discovery, it was widely accepted by scientists that the only tool making and using animals were human beings because, after all, tool usage was one of the defining traits of an intelligent being. Humans were not, after all, the only tool making animals. Nor were chimpanzees the placid vegetarians that people had supposed” (pg 29).
It was previously thought that chimpanzees did not possess the level of intelligence required to handle or craft tools but after Goodall saw chimpanzees prepare tools for use on termite mounds in the distance and out of sight, she was beginning to realize that the parallels between human beings and chimpanzees may be larger than previously thought. Not only was he using the grass as a tool,” she remarks about David Greybeard, one of the chimpanzees, “he was, by modifying it to suit a special purpose, actually showing the crude beginnings of tool making” (pg 29). The comparisons to humans did not end with just the usage of tools but with other mental abilities and emotions such as detailed planning, hunting, sign language, and compassion. A few days after Goodall first saw David Greybeard crafting tools and manipulating them to fit his specific needs, she saw other chimpanzees hunting bushpigs and similar animals for food.
Then years later in 1964, Goodall witnessed Figan show off advanced strategic planning to get other chimpanzees to follow him to a different area of the jungle by kidnapping a fellow chimpanzee. In that same year, she saw another chimpanzee make his way to the alpha position, the top ranking-male of the community, by demonstrating superior intelligence and banging empty kerosene cans to create loud noises to frighten the other large males, showing his dominance. Goodall also saw Washoe, a female chimpanzee who learned more than 350 ASL (American Sign Language) signs, teach Loulis, a younger chimpanzee, how to communicate with the same signs. When [Loulis) was with Washoe he was given no lessons in language acquisition — not by humans, anyway. Yet by the time he was eight years old he had made fifty-eight signs in their correct contexts” (pg 46). But perhaps even more significant than her other findings, Goodall saw chimpanzees help each other and show compassion and emotion, another trait that was previously thought to be exclusive to humans. However, both humans and chimpanzees are capable of showing multiple emotions such as affection, support, and strong family bonds.
Goodall even saw mother chimpanzees adopt orphans whose parents had died even if they were not a close relative and saw multiple occasions where they would embrace and kiss each other, much like people. Humans and chimpanzees are also similar in the fact that they both have long periods where the child is dependant on the parent, albeit the chimpanzees do not need quite as much. “One of the most important milestones in the life of a young male is when he begins to travel away from his mother with other members of the community. “118 By far he thing that makes humans so ‘unique’ is their capability for verbal communication. But communication is not something foreign to chimpanzees; they communicate in nonverbal patterns and employ sophisticated social scenes. In her studies, Goodall commented that she hoped her discoveries would ‘humble’ humanity. Goodall detested the common conscious of chimpanzees of the time, saying, “It is … convenient to believe that the creature you are using, while it may react in disturbingly human-like ways, is, in fact, merely a mindless and, above all, unfeeling, ‘dumb’ animal” (16).
Goodall fought hard to show that chimpanzees were more than mindless vegetables and the proof is littered all throughout her work. “… the chimpanzee is more like us than any other living creature. There is close resemblance in the physiology of our two species and genetically, in the structure of DNA, chimpanzees and humans differ by only just over one per cent” (pg 38). All of these findings further solidified that humans and chimpanzees were undeniably linked.
Other than her contributions to the field of anthropology, Goodall helped give people a better sense of who they are and where human beings belong in the world. Because she studied the chimpanzees in their natural environment, free of the restrictions people put on them in labs, Goodall was able to learn things about them that would have never been possible otherwise. She was able to study them as if they had the same rights as humans. “It is, after all, convenient to believe that the creature you are using, while it may react in human ways, is, in fact, merely a mindless and, above all, unfeeling, dumb, animal” (pg 38).
Goodall was genuinely curious about the chimpanzee’s culture and cared for them, creating a connection with them unlike any other studies before her and put pressure on her shoulders from the rest of the scientific community due to her’unusual style. However, after her thirty years of research, her goal of “humbling humanity” was succeeded. It is now common knowledge and widely accepted by the scientific community that human beings are descendants of chimpanzees and that their culture does not differ too dramatically from our own. Everything did not always go well for Goodall and her chimpanzees, however.
Between the years 1974 and 1977, sometimes referred to as as ‘the dark years,’a violent conflict broke out between two groups of chimpanzees on January 7th, 1974 when one group from the southern Kasakela tribe attacked and killed Godi, an admired male member of the n Kahama tribe. They brutally attacked him for twenty minutes, leaving him for dead with catastrophic wounds, It would be over the next four years that all of the males from the Kahama tribe would be hunted and killed by the Kasakela, even killing and raping the females as well.
It seems that the attacks were an expression of the hatred that is roused in the chimpanzees of one community by the sight of a member of another” (page 118). Goodall remarked about how brutal and genocidal the chimpanzees attacked each other, going on to explain in vivid detail how an infant was tossed around like a tree branch and left for dead. The entire ordeal was an incredible shock to Goodall who had always thought that chimpanzees were generally nicer in their behavior. “For several years I struggled to come to terms with this new knowledge.
Often when I woke in the night, horrific pictures sprang unbidden to my mind… ” (127). The war would go on for four vears until the last member of the Kahama group was dead. The violence at Gombe was not only between chimpanzees, however. In May of 1975, “forty armed men came from across the lake and kidnapped four of the Gombe students (76). Goodall recalls how she had no idea where they had been taken and if they were even still alive after hearing about reports of gunshots out on the lake.
Goodall and the others were forced to leave Gombe and the chimpanzees and reside in Kigoma where all they could do was hope for news. Then, after a week, one of the students was sent back to Tanzania but with a ransom demand and news that the others had been unhurt. The entire ordeal was complicated, involving political issues between Tanzania, Zaire, and the United States. But in the end the ransom was paid and all the students were eventually returned back unharmed. Amongst the chimpanzees at the Gombe Stream Research Center was a family called the “F” family and consisted of Flo, Fifi, Freud, and Frodo.
Flo was instrumental towards Goodall’s research of infant development and familial relationships amongst the chimpanzees and was also the head of the family and together with her daughter, Fifi, led them to be one of the higher ranking families. Flo also had a son named Figan, her second son to Faben. Although Figan was younger than Faben, he was able to show dominance over him because Faben had a paralyzed arm from polio. Figan was eventually able to become the alpha male by defeating Humphrey, the prior alpha, by wearing him down and exhausting him however only with the support of Faben.
Figan would only challenge Humphrey when his older brother was there at his side. Goodall reported Figan charging, having erect hair, hurling down slopes, and moving as though he were possessed by a powerful inner demon. As powerful as Figan was, Goodall remembers how he used that power to keep social harmony in check over the other chimpanzees make alliances with other males to help secure his alpha status. He was so obviously dominant over the rest that he realized violence was not needed to show strength. And even with all that strength, both physical and mental, he did not scare Flo.
Goodall recounts a time when Flo sat directly in the path of a charging Figan, unflinching as he hurled over her head. Not all mothers would have been this collected and cool in a situation like this and at times admits that she did not understand Flo’s behavior all time time. Flo knew and understood many things about the ways of chimpanzees that Goodall could not have possibly guessed. But eventually Figan lost the alpha power to Goblin who dethroned him in 1982 on a second attempt. Figan apparently disappeared and Goodall presumes he died a few months later.
Often I have gazed into a chimpanzee’s eyes and wondered what was going on behind them” (pg 37). During her time in Gombe, Goodall displayed an unprecedented amount of curiosity and enthusiasm towards both her research and the chimpanzees. Goodall understood the importance of observing the chimpanzees in their own environment and came to many controversial conclusions regarding human nature because of it. “I dreamed, by the flickering flames. If only we could see the world through the eyes of a chimpanzee, what a lot we could learn” (p36).