The Fathers Who Breastfeed Their Babies
It’s a question that has puzzled even the greatest of minds since time began, Why do men have nipples? Well the Aka pigmy tribe in Central Africa have provided a suitable solution, quite simply to step in and soothe the babies and infants when the mother isn’t around, by providing suckling services.
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Personally, I think why ever not? Surely a male nipple, deficient though it is in terms of sustenance, gives a more pleasant sucking sensation than, say, a rubber dummy?
This really gives a whole new meaning to the title of ‘father of the year’, as it’s something you simply wouldn’t see happening in the baby change area at Walmart or Tesco. These men are hands down, super dads, not only though their actions but because of their mindset towards children in general.
You see, children are at the center of Aka society, these are babies who don’t touch the ground for the first year of their life, and would never be put in another room to sleep alone as is common place in Western Culture. American Anthropologist Barry Hewlett who studied the tribe actually calculated that Aka fathers are within arms-reach of their kids 47 percent of the time, The rest of the time, the mother is there.
Professor Hewlett was the first person to spot male breastfeeding among the Pygmy tribe who are found in the Republic Of Congo have a population of around 20,000 after he decided to live alongside them in order to study their way of life more closely. What he found most fascinating about the Aka is that male and female roles are virtually interchangeable. While the women hunt, the men mind the children; while the men cook, the women decide where to set up the next camp, and they switch roles constantly.
“There is a sexual division of labour in the Aka community – women, for example, are the primary caregivers,” explains Hewlett. “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.”
Another unique facet of Aka life is that women are not only just as likely as their men to hunt, but some are even more proficient as hunters. The women’s role wasn’t just that of being carers of the young. Hewlett found a woman who hunted through the eighth month of her pregnancy and was back at work with her nets and her spears just a month after giving birth. Other mothers went hunting with their newborns strapped to their sides, despite the fact that their prey, the duiker (a type of antelope), can be a dangerous beast.
The top jobs in the tribe however invariably go to men: the kombeti (leader), the tuma (elephant hunter) and the nganga (top healer) in the community Hewlett studied were all male. But that doesn’t detract, he says, from their important contribution as co-carers in the parenting sphere: and nor, either, does it reduce the impact of the message he believes the Aka people have for western couples struggling to find a balance between the demands of employment, home-making, self- fulfilment and raising children.
“The point about the Aka,” says Hewlett, “is that the active role the fathers have is simply one facet of their entire approach to life, and it’s that approach as much as anything that we can learn from. One thing that’s crucial in the raising of the young is the importance placed on physical closeness: at around three months, a baby is in almost constant physical contact with either one of her parents or with another person. There’s no such thing as a cot in an Aka camp because it’s unheard of for a couple to ever leave their baby lying unattended – babies are held all the time.”
Apparently Aka fathers just like most fathers around the world, head down to their equivalent of the pub except they often have a child attached to their chest (or even their nipple); the Aka tipple, palm wine, is often enjoyed by a group of men with their infants in their arms.
So next time you see that ‘Father of the year’, product in the shop or on Fathers day, spare a thought for those other amazing fathers deep in the heart of the jungle giving their body, mind and soul to bring up their children in the most loving and attentive ways they can possibly provide.
What do you think about this? Does this article make you feel uncomfortable? Are your wondering at the marvels of cultural differences?Comment and share below to have your say….