Bits 'n' Pieces: Author takes note of WSUV anthropologists' research

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photoBarry Hewlett's Ethiopian doctoral student, Samuel Dira, and his wife and child.

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Barry and Bonnie Hewlett have a unique window on parenthood.

The Hewletts, married anthropologists who teach at Washington State University Vancouver, have hung out with some of Central Africa's most unique inhabitants, the Aka tribe — "what people refer to as pygmies," Barry Hewlett said.

Together and separately, the Hewletts have published many books and articles, and are noted authorities on hunter-gatherer societies and their child-rearing practices and family dynamics.

Now, the Hewletts' research and some of their field photographs are included in the best-seller, "The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?" by noted science writer Jared Diamond. Diamond hit it big with "Guns, Germs and Steel," a study of the influence of ecology and geography on the march of civilization that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and became the basis of a popular documentary film.

Diamond's new book explores some of the places the Hewletts' research has already gone.

"Most of it has to do with the way children grow up in hunting-and-gathering cultures," Barry Hewlett said. "The people I lived with, the fathers do more direct care and are more intimate with the children than in any other known cultures."

Those kids grow up accustomed to many different caretakers, he said, which leads to a strong feeling of security and belonging.

"These children grow up to be very self-aware, very apparently emotionally healthy and balanced — many of the things we desire in our own children here," Barry said. "We can learn from them if we want our children to be self-sufficient and have strong self-esteem."

The Columbian spoke with Barry Hewlett in early March, but now he and Bonnie are back in Africa, with native Ethiopian doctoral student Samuel Dira. They're using a grant from the Leakey Foundation "to go look for a new hunter-gatherer group," he said.

"There are very few left in the world today, but hunting-gathering characterized most of human history," he said. "They're important to our understanding of human nature."

— Scott Hewitt

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.