Lethal coalitionary aggression and long-term alliance formation among Yanomamö men.
Some cross-cultural evidence suggests lethal coalitionary aggression in humans is the product of residence and descent rules that promote fraternal interest groups, i.e., power groups of coresident males bonded by kinship. As such, human lethal coalitions are hypothesized to be homologous to chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) border patrols. However, humans demonstrate a unique metagroup social structure in which strategic alliances allow individuals to form coalitions transcending local community boundaries. We test predictions derived from the fraternal interest group and strategic alliance models using lethal coalition data from a lowland South American population, the Yanomamö. Yanomamö men who kill an enemy acquire a special status, termed unokai. We examine the social characteristics of co-unokais or men who jointly kill others. Analyses indicate co-unokais generally are (i) from the same population but from different villages and patrilines, (ii) close age mates, and (iii) maternal half-first cousins. Furthermore, the incident rate for co-unokai killings increases if men are similar in age, from the same population, and from different natal communities. Co-unokais who have killed more times in the past and who are more genetically related to each other have a higher probability of coresidence in adulthood. Last, a relationship exists between lethal coalition formation and marriage exchange. In this population, internal warfare unites multiple communities, and co-unokais strategically form new residential groups and marriage alliances. These results support the strategic alliance model of coalitionary aggression, demonstrate the complexities of human alliance formation, and illuminate key differences in social structure distinguishing humans from other primates.