Are there inherited tribal fears?

Baby monkeys have been observed to cry out in fear when sighting a snake for the first time. The explanation? Instinct! No denying that. How did that instinct arise? Through its ancestors’ learning, and which has been transmitted through the generations without affecting the genome; through epigenesis. This is comparable with Lamarck’s theory about the inheritance of acquired (learned) characteristics, generation by generation.

In a somewhat comparable manner, an older relative of mine in Malaysia placed a large handkerchief on his head when very, very slight rain fell. No other relative present at the funeral we were attending did that. Since I had played hockey through cold winter drizzles in Melbourne, and (once) through a light fall of snow in colder Hobart in Tasmania, I too ignored the Malaysian drizzle.

Yet, I remembered that, in my boyhood, I and my cousins were never allowed out even in the lightest of rain. On the other hand, we had watched with envy Indian boys playing happily in the rain. Since my handkerchief-relative had (so I believe) been born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), I have wondered whether there is a tribal memory within the older Ceylon Tamils which associates pestilence (or disease) with rain.

I can understand that (perhaps) some of us will fear an unspecified danger from the sky, while the majority know nothing about this danger – except that one might catch a cold or fall ill by becoming wet. The idea of a collective amnesia is not persuasive; what you do not know cannot be blamed for some allegedly deep collective wish not to remember. This is not comparable to an instinct.

Was there a tribal fear underpinning the claim by some Australians in the 1950s that the Martians will attack us? Or, was that fear triggered by the Roswell Incident – an alleged ET crashing in Mexico? The claimed fear that Indonesia will attack Australia one day; is that any more than the projection of prejudice by many Christians against Islam?

Indeed, is there any substantive evidence of an inherited (not a learned or taught) tribal fear, comparable to the instinctive fear of snakes displayed by baby monkeys?

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