This is a short story and a short introduction to one of the newest Kanyawara chimpanzees.
Omusisa was one of my original study chimpanzees, entering the data as a juvenile when I started here five years ago. She’s used to the camera- she’s even relatively internet famous as our exemplar doll-playing, stick-carrying juvenile- so she features heavily in my pilot data. She aged out of my dissertation data when she experienced her first maximal swelling. On that day she officially graduated from juvenility into adolescence and became too old for my study.
Of course, the whole process had been gradual despite the abrupt cut-off. She had gradually been spending more and more time away from her mother to hang out with adult and adolescent males. Less time playing with her age-mates and more time grooming with older chimps. Though she was still quite small in size, she was growing up socially slowly by slowly till it finally culminated in her first swelling. And then suddenly she was all grown up and all the males noticed. With her swelling she became immediately popular, drawing far more male attention than is usual for a young, nulliparous female. We wondered if the males would fawn so much over her when she emigrated to a new community sometime over the next few years.
But instead of emigrating, she surprised us all with a holiday baby!
Normally, we’d have at least suspected what was about to happen but all of our attentions including mine, were on a different female named Leona. The males had been fawning and fighting over her for months and we were sure that she was finally pregnant. Though I wasn’t there to watch whether or how much her belly grew I was convinced, approaching the end of the year, that she must have been ready to pop any minute… we were so caught up in baby watching Leona that we lost track of the subadult females. And we certainly were not expecting one of our own natal females to stick around and give us such a wonderful present!
There are other things here too. Something inspiring and poetic about beginnings and endings, and cyclical time. Something sarcastic about one of “my” study babies making a baby before I could finish my dissertation. Something deeply profound about how privileged and lucky I feel to see this many milestones in a chimpanzee’s life. But simply, Owemji is an adorable, squirmy little chimp comprising a wonderful plot twist, a jaw-dropping surprise, and his namesake phrase.
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This blog is a forum share my personal experiences as a field researcher and traveler.