Humans are an interesting mixture of altruism and competition. We work together well at times and at others we will fight to get our own way. To try to explain these conflicting tendencies, researchers have turned to the chimpanzees and the bonobos for insight.
Once overlooked, researchers are recognizing bonobos as more similar than chimpanzees to humans. Which, considering their reputation as amicable apes, is good news for us.
Unlike the male-dominated groups of chimpanzees, bonobos live in peaceful communities where the chief is female. Indeed, human societies tend to be matriarchal when there is little direct competition for resources.
In bonobo communities, sexual relations play an important role in maintaining relationships and resolving conflicts. For instance, the prospect of food can stir chimpanzees into a hostile frenzy, but bonobos take a more harmonious approach and will gather for what often turns into a polyamorous picnic. There is plenty of sexual play and grooming reminiscent of our own free love movements in hippie culture. While the alpha female is typically smaller than the males, all the females will rally around her to chase the males away should they turn aggressive.
Bonobos are also rather eager to share.