When the Grandmothers Awoke

by Jennifer Browdy, YesMagazine, Mar 02, 2015

Becoming a global family, one that unites ancient indigenous wisdom with other faith and cultural traditions, is essential if humanity is to overcome the crises of climate change.

Given the global challenges humanity faces in the 21st century, we can no longer afford to maintain artificial divisions between peoples and nations. Learning from the indigenous peoples of the world, along with the wisdom-keepers of all cultures and faith traditions, we must begin to understand ourselves as part of a great human family that is itself just one strand in the web of life on our living Earth.

This was the impetus behind the journey of a group of healers, educators, and activists, predominantly women, from a variety of ethnicities including Hopi, Ojibwe, and Maori and from religious traditions as diverse as Sufi, Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist. They traveled together last summer to share their traditions and cultural stories, both among themselves and with the people they visited, in order to create a common understanding of how humans relate to one another, to other living beings, and to the Earth.

The journey was inspired by a meeting in New Zealand between Maori spiritual leader Rangimarie Turuki Rose Pere and Sufi healer Devi Tide. Tide recalls Pere saying, “We’ve come to a place where we’re all in it together, we can no longer separate ourselves from each other. It’s a time of unity, a time for the indigenous wisdom-keepers to share our knowledge with the rest of the world.”

Tide tried to persuade Pere to travel and share her wisdom herself, but Pere had other ideas. “She turned around and pointed at me,” Tide recalls, “and she said, ‘It can’t come from one of us,’” referring to the Maori and other indigenous peoples. When Pere said that Tide should be the one to bring the wisdom-keepers of the world together, Tide said, “I felt like I had been hit by a bolt of lightning.”

That lightning bolt sparked the remarkable journey she led through the American Southwest, and then to New York City just in time for the People’s Climate March and the United Nations First World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

The group met with Grandmother Flordemayo of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, an international alliance of indigenous women elders founded in 2004 and dedicated to offering prayer and education as a means to strengthen the human family “for the next seven generations.”

“Now, finally, we are walking a pathway for peace together.”

Seeking to share perspectives and wisdom, the travelers visited the Hopi Reservation under the guidance of Hopi elder Pershlie “Perci” Ami and prayed at sacred sites like the Hopi Prophecy Rock, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon. “It was chaos and miracles, every day,” said Moetu Taiha, a Maori healer who helped lead the group. “It was like a kind of rebirth. We had to learn how to be a family.”

Becoming a new kind of family, Taiha said, one that unites ancient indigenous wisdom with other faith and cultural traditions, is essential if humanity is to successfully surmount the crises of the present moment.

The global human family was very much in evidence at the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014, where some 400,000 people from every background imaginable gathered to send a message to world leaders that they must act immediately and decisively to shift human civilization onto a sustainable course.

In New York, the wisdom-keepers offered prayers for the healing of the Earth, first in a small ceremony in Central Park, and later center stage at the start of the huge rally. Their passion was mirrored by the great crowd in front of them.

“That moment in New York was the beginning of a new stage of unity,” Ojibwe elder Mary Lyons said. “Now, finally, we are walking a pathway for peace together,” toward a new understanding of the important role of human beings, particularly women, as stewards of life on Earth.

 http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/together-with-earth/when-the-grandmothers-awoke
Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D., teaches comparative literature and media studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, focusing on women’s narratives of social and ecological justice. She is founding director of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and editor of two anthologies of African, Latin American, and Caribbean women’s writing of resistance.

New Evidence That Grandmothers Were Crucial for Human Evolution

By Joseph Stromberg, smithsonian.com, October 23, 2012

Excerpt

…grandmothering helped us to develop “a whole array of social capacities that are then the foundation for the evolution of other distinctly human traits, including pair bonding, bigger brains, learning new skills and our tendency for cooperation.”… From an evolutionary perspective, it makes more sense for older females to increase the group’s overall offspring survival rate instead of spending more energy on producing their own….the social relations that go along with grandmothering could have contributed to the larger brains and other traits that distinguish humans…“Grandmothering gave us the kind of upbringing that made us more dependent on each other socially and prone to engage each other’s attention.”...The theory is by no means definitive, but the new mathematical evidence serves as another crucial piece of support for it. This could help anthropologists better understand human evolution—and should give you another reason to go thank your grandmother.

Full text

A computer simulation supports the idea that grandmothers helped our species evolve social skills and longer lives

For years, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have struggled to explain the existence of menopause, a life stage that humans do not share with our primate relatives. Why would it be beneficial for females to stop being able to have children with decades still left to live?

According to a study published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the answer is grandmothers. “Grandmothering was the initial step toward making us who we are,” says senior author Kristen Hawkes, an anthropologist at the University of Utah. In 1997 Hawkes proposed the “grandmother hypothesis,” a theory that explains menopause by citing the under-appreciated evolutionary value of grandmothering. Hawkes says that grandmothering helped us to develop “a whole array of social capacities that are then the foundation for the evolution of other distinctly human traits, including pair bonding, bigger brains, learning new skills and our tendency for cooperation.”

The new study, which Hawkes conducted with mathematical biologist Peter Kim of the University of Sydney and Utah anthropologist James Coxworth, uses computer simulations to provide mathematical evidence for the grandmother hypothesis. To test the strength of the idea, the researchers simulated what would happen to the lifespan of a hypothetical primate species if they introduced menopause and grandmothers as part of the social structure.

In the real world, female chimpanzees typically live about 35 to 45 years in the wild and rarely survive past their child-bearing years. In the simulation, the researchers replicated this, but they gave 1 percent of the female population a genetic predisposition for human-like life spans and menopause. Over the course of some 60,000 years, the hypothetical primate species evolved the ability to live decades past their child-bearing years, surviving into their sixties and seventies, and eventually 43 percent of the adult female population were grandmothers.

How would grandmothers help us live longer? According to the hypothesis, grandmothers can help collect food and feed children before they are able to feed themselves, enabling mothers to have more children. Without grandmothers present, if a mother gives birth and already has a two-year-old child, the odds of that child surviving are much lower, because unlike other primates, humans aren’t able to feed and take care of themselves immediately after weaning. The mother must devote her time and attention to the new infant at the expense of the older child. But grandmothers can solve this problem by acting as supplementary caregivers.

In the hypothesis—and in the computer simulation—the few ancestral females who were initially able to live to postmenopausal ages increased the odds of their grandchildren surviving. As a result, these longer-lived females were disproportionately likely to pass on their genes that favored longevity, so over the course of thousands of generations, the species as a whole evolved longer lifespans.

But why would females evolve to only ovulate for 40 or so years into these longer lives? Hawkes and other advocates of the hypothesis note that, without menopause, older women would simply continue to mother children, instead of acting as grandmothers. All children would still be entirely dependent on their mothers for survival, so once older mothers died, many young offspring would likely die too. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes more sense for older females to increase the group’s overall offspring survival rate instead of spending more energy on producing their own.

Hawkes goes one step further, arguing that the social relations that go along with grandmothering could have contributed to the larger brains and other traits that distinguish humans. “If you are a chimpanzee, gorilla or orangutan baby, your mom is thinking about nothing but you,” she says. “But if you are a human baby, your mom has other kids she is worrying about, and that means now there is selection on you—which was not on any other apes—to much more actively engage her: ‘Mom! Pay attention to me!’”

As a result, she says, “Grandmothering gave us the kind of upbringing that made us more dependent on each other socially and prone to engage each other’s attention.” This trend, Hawkes says, drove the increase in brain size, along with longer lifespans and menopause.

The theory is by no means definitive, but the new mathematical evidence serves as another crucial piece of support for it. This could help anthropologists better understand human evolution—and should give you another reason to go thank your grandmother.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/new-evidence-that-grandmothers-were-crucial-for-human-evolution-88972191/#1BUKYBBHQGyOuiy5.99