In this paper I am going to discuss the book Nisa The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, by Marjorie Shostak. In doing this I will describe the culture of the !Kung people, a small hunter-gatherer tribe in Africa. Then I will go on with telling about their sociocultural systems that I have read about in this book. To rap things up I will tell my prediction where the !Kung population is headed into the future. I will use explanations from the book to help me describe my prediction.
!Kung culture is a very simple culture. The norms in this society are hard to define; norms are shared rules that define how people are supposed to behave under certain circumstances. Take marriage for example In the book Nisa explains how a women can marry more than once in her lifetime, a !Kung girl is actually married several times before she stays with one man. These appeared to me as trial marriages, the women are too young to want the marriage and usually are the ones to end it. Even after long marriage involving children things such as death and divorce/ separation occur and a woman finds a new husband. So as you can see the norms in the !Kung culture are much different than that of our own norms.
Even when marriage is involved the idea of having lovers was not shunned. Although some women do not engage in this act, it is a very common thing among the !Kung. The norm here is to have a lover to keep that young playful and loving attraction alive with someone, even after things have began to settle with your husband. Nisa explains, ?Even my mother had lovers. I’d be with her when she met them. But my father, if he had them, I didn’t know?? She recalls many situations like this, as do most !Kung children. ?I remember, when I was still small, seeing my mother with one man. He met her, took her, and made love to her. I sat nearby and waited. When she came back carrying firewood, I thought, ?I am going to tell!? Then I thought, ?Should I tell Daddy or shouldn’t I?? But when we arrived back at the village, I didn’t say anything. I thought if I told, my father would kill my mother.? Most children fear their father’s beatings, therefore, will not tell on their mothers.
Values, standards by which a society defines what is desirable and undesirable, in !Kung society mainly involve things dealing with sex. The sex they value is not the same sex that our society views it. It is not about looks or big breasts or broad shoulders. They place no value on looks, although Nisa does comment on good-looking people, there is no comments made directly towards ugly people. They do not emphasize on people’s bad looks; therefore, they do not have to feel self conscious of their looks. When derogatory comments are made it’s about peoples genitals. Once when she was too young to have sex she would decline sex play by saying, ?You, Tuma, you’ve got an enormous penis! I don’t want to be with someone like that!? He said, ? We’re going to play and have sex with Big-Vagina over there.? He meant me.? They used this as a way of insulting each other. When it comes to sex having big genitals is a bad thing, therefore, the values in the society are much different from our own.
The socialization/ enculturation process of a new !Kung child starts at day one. Enculturation is the process of social interaction through which people learn their culture. When the mother is feeling well enough after the birth, which is usually a few days or as soon as the milk comes in, the baby will go gathering with the mother. That there involves a large part of the culture of everyday life. Although not much is expected of the !Kung children their curiosity makes up for it. Children are willing and eager to learn to hunt and gather, as do the adults. Young males are able to learn about hunting by following their fathers on a hunt. They carefully watch their fathers hunt and learn from them the skills to make a good kill, although some experience is necessary. So from day one the child is taught the norms, values, and beliefs of the society.
Social structure, the sum of the patterns of relationships within a society, as presented in Nisa shows that much goes into a society. The only recognized status, a recognized position that a person occupies within a society, is that men actually go out and hunt for food. Both women and men gather food, but the men actually organize hunts. All !Kung people are equal and even when it comes to the religious healers men and women are equal, although most healers are men. Even down to raising children both sexes are equally involved. This keeps the society equal, there is no headman to make a ruling, and everyone has an opportunity to have the same chances.
In families the mother and father have equal roles. They both provide food and they both support their children. Their decisions about their children are always equal, although it seems that the mother gets the final say in what the final decisions are. The men on the other hand often beat their wives if they feel it is needed. One time after her husband caught her with a lover her lover was beat, then hours later she was beat. She describes, ?When he finished, he came back again, grabbed my arm, and hit me?my back, my body, all over. He hit me until my back started to swell again and it stood out, as before. The headman said ?Enough! You’ll kill her.? In most cases if the beating gets too bad and out of hand others in the village step in and stop the husband, in this case it is the headman of her husband’s tribe. So in a way each gender has his or her own kind of power.
The religious trance dances are taken very seriously, and religion is a large part of !Kung culture. In some cases it is a matter of life and death. Both men and women have the chance to become a healer and enter trance. When you first learn how to go into a trance a drug is taken to induce trance. Women feel that this is very painful and in turn don’t want to become healers. Also it is considered bad for you to trance while you are either pregnant or breast-feeding, which makes it difficult for women to be healers. But they still do it and can if they want to. Most trance dances are healing ones and last anywhere from one to five days. They report that they talk to God to ask for a person’s soul back. The !Kung truly believe that this works, unless the God won’t give the soul back. Then the ill person dies soon after the trance. Being a healer would be considered an achieved status, a status that results at least in part from a person’s specific actions.
?Interceding with the spirits and drawing out their invisible arrows is the task of !Kung healers, men and women who possess the powerful healing force called n/um. N/um generally remains dormant in a healer until an effort is made to activate it.? Shostak explains what the meaning of n/um.
Nisa tells about the healing experience, ?N/um is powerful, but it is also very tricky. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t, because God doesn’t always want a sick person to get better. Sometimes he tells a healer in trance, ?Today I want this sick person. Tomorrow, too. But the next day, if you try to cure her, then I will help you. I will let you have her for awhile.? God watches the sick person, and the healer trances for her. Finally, God says, ?All right, I only made her slightly sick. Now, she can get up.? When she feels better, she thinks, ?Oh, if this healer hadn’t been here, I would have surely died. He’s given me my life back again. That’s n/um?a very helpful thing.?
?I know how to cure people to drum-medicine songs. An elderly uncle taught me a few years ago. He struck me with spiritual medicine arrows; that’s how everyone starts. Now when the drum starts sounding, ?dong? dong? dong,? my n/um grabs me. That’s when I can cure people and make them better.? As said by Nisa.
Trances don’t seem as important anymore since the !Kung culture has been entered by different tribes. When Shostak was doing her research the !Kung people would go to her for things such as tobacco and medicine. Nisa goes to get her husband and niece medicine because she thought a trance dance would not help them. The !Kung culture has started to diminish in this sense. More and more people have begun to live on their land and have the !Kung work for them. This is pulling them away from their hunting and gathering background.
The older people such as Nisa choose to stay in the bush and stick to the old way of life, but the younger !Kung has begun to go to school and make money. If this continues to happen the !Kung culture will become extinct. ?Working for the Hereros isn’t good. I won’t do it again you don’t get enough for your work. They only give you food. They don’t give you money to buy blankets or clothing.? Nisa feels the other tribes cheat her.
In conclusion I feel that the !Kung culture is very endanger of becoming extinct. We can find out a lot of things from these people. Life does not need to be so complicated as we now have it. Once they have become industrialized there is no going back to the simple bush life. They will soon forget what it foods are good, what game in near by and how to survive against predators. So my theory is that they will loose the innocence of their simple bush life, and eventually become more industrialized.
1. Shostak, Marjorie, Nisa The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, 1981, Harvard University Press, Cambridge , Massachusetts
2. DeCourse, Christopher R., Scupin, Raymond, Anthropology a Global Perspective, 1998, Prentice-Hall Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey