Human Nature

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 351–377 | Cite as

Frequency-Dependent Social Transmission and the Interethnic Transfer of Female Genital Modification in the African Diaspora and Indigenous Populations of Colombia

  • Cody T. RossEmail author
  • Patricia Joyas Campiño
  • Bruce Winterhalder


We present a quantitative account based on ethnographic and documentary research of the prevalence of female genital modification (FGMo) in the African diaspora and indigenous populations of Colombia. We use these data to test hypotheses concerning the cultural evolutionary drivers of costly trait persistence, attenuation, and intergroup transmission. The uptake of FGMo by indigenous populations in Colombia is consistent with frequency-dependent hypotheses for the social transmission of the FGMo trait from the African diaspora population in the period following the era of slavery in Colombia. The prevalence and severity of practices related to FGMo decline with level of sociocultural integration into mainstream Colombian culture. Our results provide empirical support for the cultural evolutionary models proposed by Ross et al. (2015) to describe the transmission dynamics of FGMo and other costly traits. Analysis of costly trait dynamics contributes knowledge useful to applied anthropology and may be of interest in policy design and human rights monitoring in Colombia and elsewhere.


Female circumcision FGM Cultural evolution Social transmission Costly traits African diaspora Colombia 



The authors wish to express their great thanks to the Colombian respondents who took part in this research project, and to the organizations that aided in archival research and provided data. We thank the Human Behavioral Ecology Lab at UC Davis for helpful commentary. Aspects of this research project were funded by UC Davis GSR research funds.

The data on the extent of FGMo in the indigenous populations reviewed in this paper come from publicly available records published by Hospital San Rafael in Pueblo Rico. Census and demographic data reviewed in this paper come from publicly available records published by the Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE) of Colombia. All other primary data utilized in this study are included in Table 2.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cody T. Ross
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patricia Joyas Campiño
    • 2
  • Bruce Winterhalder
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Civil EngineeringLa Universidad Gran ColombiaBogotaColombia
  3. 3.Department of Anthropology and Graduate Group in EcologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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