In the dark days before the dawn of the information superhighway, we relied upon storytelling to connect us and nurture our friendships. We would sit drinking coffee (later in life it was alcohol), recounting shared behavior that barely qualified us as silly monkeys. The same stories would be paraded out between us, contradicted, and reworked from everyone’s perspective. This was the soul-sustenance that bound us as family and friends. The recounting of mutual mundane adventure reaffirmed our relationships.
A few older generations of Hawaiians use an interpersonal ritual called Honi, which I have only seen a few times. Honi is an older tradition where two people would place the sides of their noses together and breathe, exchanging the “breath of life” and spiritual power between them. In practice, when friends and loved ones would meet after an absence, they would put their foreheads together and hold each other. Sometimes they closed their eyes. Sometimes they would place a hand on the back of each other’s heads and just remain there for long minutes breathing in each other’s scents, refreshing each other in their physical senses. They would remain silent. They would ignore the world around them and just remember on a truly basic level, “you are of my kind”. I saw this on the West side of the island of Kauai. This place maintains the most contact with the people who live on the dry island of Ni’ihau. The residents of that island are engaged in primitive traditional Hawaiian living and culture. They speak Hawaiian as a primary language and still affirm their bonds with this endearing ritual.
Humans (and all vertebrates) have a group of genes that play a role in our immune systems by recognizing antigens. A group of genes present on the surface of our cells called the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC), acts as a mediator for acquired immunity to pathogens in our bodies. They help to recognize and identify things as “self”, or “non-self” on a molecular level. It has been suggested that our sense of smell helps us personally identify individuals based on their MHCs. In studies involving MHCs, participants were asked to rank the odors of t-shirts worn by the opposite sex according to pleasantness. The participants significantly chose the odors of people whose MHCs were least similar to their own. This would suggest that the offspring from that couple would have a greater immunity to diseases through the genes passed on to them. From an evolutionary standpoint, this means that we are geared to recognize and mate with people who’s genetic makeup would give our children a higher chance of survival. Perhaps the ritual of Honi facilitates individual recognition on a molecular level. I remember discussing MHCs while tutoring a dear friend of mine in zoology early in my college education.
Everyone has a friend named Jen. An incredibly boisterous and flamboyant Hispanic gentleman once highlighted this for me when I introduced him to my own friend Jen. He exclaimed, “Oh, she’s your MFJ!” My Friend Jen (MFJ) has remarked on a number of occasions that I should write a book. I do relish MFJ’s loving encouragement in this. I also believe that people generally have a greater need to write than they do to read what other people have written. I don’t know that I have anything so important to say that I think other people should go out of their way to read it. We’ve moved on in life, in circumstances, and in the way that we reaffirm our bonds through storytelling. Now that we connect in a more ephemeral way through social media, I find myself missing the old conversation-into-the-night/companion-sniffing rituals that made my relationships what they are.
Maybe there are further unseen interactions that can explain why MFJ sometimes demonstrates an inexplicable and instant dislike for certain females upon meeting, yet later develops powerful and lasting friendships with them. Maybe there is a molecular basis for this changing bond, which is developed through time spent together in each other’s scents. Maybe the rituals of drink and story helped. The great thing about stories and science is that they both change as we learn more. We are coming to terms with new and different methods of communication. We are relying on techniques for reaffirming our bonds on a regular basis that are instant, quick, and less substantial. I don’t feel that more frequent interactions through technology provide the same quality of connection as actually showing up for our relationships. Like it or not, we are engaging in faster-paced lives. I don’t have regular exposure to MFJ’s MHCs (or many of my loved ones). Physical distance, complicated lives, and successful careers have bungled the rituals we have always relied upon to maintain the strong bonds we hold dear.
|Remedy, or Fascist intimidation?|
So, I’m starting a blog. The Internet being what it is these days, I expect this statement to have an equal effect as stating, “I’m giving away castor oil”, or, “I’ve made some fruitcake”. Few people will know what to do with these. Fewer still will have any practical use for them. It turns out that castor oil has a wide array of uses ranging from food additives, industrial lubricants, and food grain preservatives, to laxatives, and plastic manufacture. Apparently it was used in Fascist Italy as an intimidator by being force-fed to victims in combination with bludgeoning. Fruitcake is just inedible, and may be used as a bludgeon itself. In any case, I’m taking the time to write here. Maybe it will help reaffirm our relationships. Maybe it will simply be a diuretic.
In accordance with the dating habits of my 19-year old self, I am not committing to anything here. I may not post often, but when I do, I’ll really mean it. Take the time to comment, especially if you remember things differently.
Thanks for stopping by.
© Chris Reeves: Seemed Like Good Science at the Time, 2012.