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The Words and Life
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The! Kung people live in remote areas of Botswana, Angola, and Namibia. Some books refer to them as the!Kung San. They live in regions marked with trees but mostly shrubs and grass-covered low hills and horizontal spaces. The !Kungs are hunters, gatherers and survive by gathering roots, berries, fruits and nuts from the desert (Marjorie, 1945). They are able to survive in the harsh environment by adapting to their surroundings. Both genders have an impressive knowledge of the edible foods available and their medicinal and toxic properties. The women have a responsibility of providing the majority of food consumed. They spend days scavenging different distances from the camp. They also take care of the children and perform household chores.
Singing, visiting each other, playing games, and telling stories are the most common leisure activities in this community (Shostak, 2000). They resolve disputes via discussions where the involved parties explain their side of the story until they all agree. Disputes are carried out in such a manner since there is no formal authority figure to rule them, but they govern themselves. Nisa an outspoken, fair woman narrates the story of the !Kung woman to Shostak, the ethnographer. Shostak explains her inspiration to write about the !Kung women has been driven by own feminist tendencies, especially by the mushrooming women’s movement in the west. Many feminists embrace Nisa’s story. This is especially because; it represents a society in which the labor of women is crucial to the economy than that of men. In this community, women discuss openly about sex and the extramarital affairs practiced by both genders.
Nisa starts explaining how a mother stops her child from nursing by applying a bitter herb at the nipple to prevent the child from breast-feeding. A! Kung woman’s breasts belong to the fetus. She says that! Kung people find it dangerous for a child to remain nursing when the mother is pregnant. Weaning, therefore, is encouraged when the child isthree years. The close relationships between children and their mothers give them more power to survive than if they were left unattended. The children spend their time with their mothers, and they benefit fully on total supply of food. She personally narrates her ordeal since the time her mother got pregnant and the beatings she had to endure from her father (Shostak, 2000). This was done to make her forget about her mother’s breast. She narrates how her mother delivered her baby brother while leaning on a tree. Her mother threatened to bury the child immediately after birth, but she was strongly against it. She even promised her mother that she would stop nursing for her to spare the little boy. All through her interviews to Nisa, Shostak aimed at observing women in an unfamiliar culture and determining what regularly binds them in societies around the world. She thus paid attention to the lives of !Kung women especially their menstruation, sexuality, pregnancy, child birth and menopause. The work of gathering firewood and collecting food performed by !Kung women made them powerful and strong.
This results in a high level of sexual equality and thus, the division of labor in this community represents of an intrinsic role of women than what is represented in the western world. In some cultures, people believe that a mother’s influence causes a threat to a son’s ability to gain maximum male status and this made the !Kung boys to be separated from their mothers. The women of !Kung community are extremely keen to discuss their sexual relationship, and that deceit in their marriages is not uncommon. They believe that a woman having sex must satisfy her sexual desires or she risks dying. However, both men and women strive to keep extra marital affairs a secret (Shostak, 2001). Nisa narrates of how her mother had a boyfriend, and they eloped leaving her and her siblings behind to be taken care of by her father. Her father married another woman who was much older. When her mother’s husband died, she went back to them, but ssociety viewed her only as their mother but not as a wife. Women in !Kung society face violence which contradicts the prevailing western view of bush tribes like Nasa’s being exceedingly calm. The fact most notable is Nasa’s daughter being a victim of domestic abuse. Nai gets killed when her husband pushes her down due to her refusal to have sex with him.
Nisa explains how the modern world offered a challenge to the !Kung people and their traditional ways (Shostak, 2001). The Tswana intrudes their way of life and this growing influence is one of the central themes of Nisa. The changes incurred divide Nisa’s life in to two.
In the first half of her life, she does not know any other law of life but hers. On the second part of her life, she gets married to a village man and works for a European woman. This resulted in a conflict between the old, traditional form of survival, which involved hunting and gathering for food, and the current form of food production where they herded animals, and planted crops. The western anthropologists introduce present ideas into !Kung society though their invasion was less compared to that of Tswana people. The anthropologists pay their subjects in tobacco, use tape recorders, cameras (Shostak, 2000). A good example of modernity in !Kung community is when Shostak gets a glimpse on a girl staring at her reflection on the side mirror of the track. This shows new self-perceptions and a new focus on appearance.
Females of the !Kung people go through marriage at an early age since it is sacred at that age. Marriage at that young age would happen with an older man. Some people call this a trial marriage since those women get married more than once. They, therefore, have a right to ask for a divorce and get married to other men of their choice. During this trial marriage, the girls are usually terribly scared to stay with a male companion. A nurse, therefore, is in charge of staying with them until they get used to the male counterparts.
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