Killer whale pods, elephant herds and human families are often led by the family matriarch. The matriarch is the oldest and wisest female who protects her sons who will carry on her DNA and knows where to find food even in the poorest years. It turns out that their amassed wisdom promotes the survival of the family in lean times.
In drought, the killer whale matriarch knows where to find the salmon that comprise 90% of the killer whale diet. The elephant matriarch knows where to find the 300-400 lbs daily of grasses, barks and roots needed by each elephant in the herd. Elephants are known for their memory and it is their memory which helps the oldest female lead the herd tens of miles to a distant water hole necessary for survival.
A recent study published in “Current Biology” March 3, 2016 studied the whale clans in the Pacific Northwest to understand if there was an evolutionary reason for menopause. Only humans, pilot and killer whales live half of their lives beyond reproduction. If older women who don’t reproduce and replenish the family weren’t critical to the genetic survival of the species, they probably would not have survived.
Over the last 40 years, the scientists have followed the whale clans J, K L and noticed that the females usually lead the hunt for salmon and in the drought or low salmon years they have the oldest matriarch lead the hunt.
Read more about The Mystery of Elderly Animal Matriarchs Here.
So what can this tell us about human grandmothers. Anthropologists who have studied women in hunter gather societies have developed the “grandmother hypothesis” . This is an explanation for human longevity and the increasing survival of an individual’s DNA. Grandmothers were always the most robust foragers and find additional food to insure the survival of their offspring’s children, their grandchildren.
So what implications does this hypothesis have for modern times. Of course, we think of those grandmothers raising their grandchildren when their children are unable to do so. Many grandmothers play a vital role in their grandchildren’s lives as a primary daytime caregiver while their children work. But all grandmothers play a vital role as the matriarch of their clan. Elephants live into their 60’s, whales and humans can live into their 90s. This is an amazing amount of accumulated wisdom. We can learn so much from our female elders.
Here are some suggestions for honoring this wisdom and passing it on to our children
1. Stay in close connection through multigenerational family meals and vacations
2. Sit with your matriarch and identify old family photos
3. Record your matriarch sharing her childhood memories
4. Ask your mother and grandmother about thier parents’ lives
5. Ask about the country your ancestors were born in
6. Write down family recipes and share family favorites
7. Make sure that grandchildren have plenty of quality time with grandma
8. Learn family songs and share them
9. Ask for advice; grandmothers have a wealth of wisdom to share
10. Make sure that your matriarch has an important role in your family
After a computer simulation determining the effect of a grandmother on her clan, researcher Kristin Hawkes from the University of Utah defended her “grandmother hypothesis” …
The simulations show, “That just a little bit of grandmothering is enough to account for the differences in life history between us and our closest living relative,” Hawkes said.http://scienceline.org/2013/02/revisiting-the-grandmother-hypothesis