A new study has revealed an exceptionally high rate of extra-pair paternity among the Himba, a tribe in Northern Namibia. On the flip side, this is hardly a cause for frequent paternity related controversies, as the study also found that the men and women of the tribe have no problem telling who fathered their children.
Extra-pair paternity refers to a situation where a child is born to a married couple, but the husband is not the biological father.
In the recent study, University of California, Los Angeles professor of Anthropology, Brooke Scelza and her team published in the journal Science Advances, using data from a long-term anthropological study in Namibia with Himba pastoralists, it was found that Himba have the highest recorded rate of extra-pair paternity.
They found a 48% extra-pair paternity rate among Himba, far above the 1% to 10% range previously thought to be typical for humans. They also found that having children with non-marital partners was widespread among this group, with as high as 70% of the couples having at least one child who was fathered by someone outside the marriage.
However, her team also found that Himba men and women are highly accurate at detecting extra-pair paternity in their children. According to Scelza stated that men may not only are aware of this pattern, but may have a system of social norms that support the practice.
The findings, according to the team may have given geneticists and sociologists the room to think more broadly about human fidelity and paternity.
“Himba have strong beliefs about the importance of social fatherhood, that a child is yours if it is born to your wife, regardless of paternity,” Scelza stated in the report by Science.
According to her, both the stigma that typically surrounds women having multiple partners and the bias that might lead to children being mistreated are markedly lower among Himba than they are in much of the rest of the world.
For this study, Scelza and her team, in collaboration with the community, designed a novel double-blind method of analysis, so that none of the researchers was privy to both genetic data and individual-identifying information, after receiving ethical approval for the study from Namibian Ministry of Home Affairs and the University of Namibia, as well as UCLA and the State University of New York’s Stony Brook University.
This research, while focusing on a small group, provides a new perspective in the study of human reproduction, Scelza said.
Extra-pair paternity was thought to be rare among humans. In the past, geneticists have estimated the extra-pair paternity rate in populations from the Netherlands and other European-descent communities with the rate in these societies to be extremely low, from 1% to 6%.
Over the last decade, more social scientists have begun to focus on diversity and inclusivity when it comes to research samples, rather than focusing solely on people from Western societies.
Scelza has been working with the Himba people for 10 years. A previous study published in Nature Human Behavior about infidelity also included Himba.
Full research found here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/extra-pair-paternity