Adaptive Advantages of having a Big Booty

I was recently reading about an ethnic group of South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana, sometimes known as “Hottentot” people.  This term was introduced by the colonizing Europeans and  is meant to mimic the sounds of their language; a more correct term would be Khoisan.

The Khoisan people are actually two peoples who share some similarities, which, together, make them distinct from the Bantu people.  I’m interested in one of the groups, the foraging San, which themselves can be split up into smaller ethnic groups who speak different (but related) languages.

The San people are still around, but because of industrialization, loss of habitat, and political turmoil, very few if any are still practicing the hunting and gathering method of subsistence of their recent ancestors.  That doesn’t mean we should think of them as less “authentic”: cultures change and always have.

In the past, the nomadic San people would forage for their food, using knowledge of the environment that was passed down for generations.  Hunting and foraging was difficult, and in some cases, depending on the environment, people would be forced to go days without food.

Over time, women and some men adapted to this condition, virtually turning their butts into a camel’s hump:

This condition is known as Steatopygia, and up until the past century it was quite common in San women (it also happened in men, but that was rare.  Presumably men adapted in other ways or their bodies weren’t as stressed).

A stetopygous bottom came with many advantages.  San people have lanky bodies because this makes it easier to cope with the heat.  They also walk long distances, over which women may also be carrying young children.   And as I previously mentioned, they’d go days without eating.

Storing fat in a centralized location like the rear end allowed women to carry their body fat- which they needed to survive the periods without food – without impeding locomotion or grossly expanding their overall figure (being overweight would make it impossible to cope with the heat).

It also helped them carry their children!

Steatopygia is not limited to Khoisan women or women at all; it has been observed in many different ethnic groups across Africa.

In many societies, including our own, large, steatopygous behinds are associated with beauty.


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