Colonialism has left lingering negative effects nearly everywhere it has been practiced, and particularly in Africa. The film N-ai, the Story of a ?Kung Woman by John Marshall is a documentary that clearly shows the legacy of colonialism and the perpetuation of ethnocentrism and an unjust social order. When determining how to proceed, and what recommendations to make the governmental and non-governmental groups working in Namibia, it is critical to understand the background and legacy of colonialism in this part of Africa. Only by learning from the mistakes of the past will it be possible to envision and create a bright future for all residents of the region.
As N!ai states in the documentary, "Before the white people came, we did what we wanted." This is a deceptively simple statement, but one that reveals the complex current relationships between the residents of Namibia and the foreign interests that continue to impose their will on the people. Before the white people came, the !Kung people led a simple life. Food was easy to come by, because a manageable population and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle minimized social conflict while maximizing the availability of food. Doing "what we wanted" means the absence of political, social, and economic oppression.
Unfortunately, much damage has already been done. The !Kung community, and that of the Ju/'hoan tribe, has been altered perhaps irreversibly. People like N!ai have been forced to live a sedentary lifestyle wholly natural for the European, but completely unnatural for them. The social order of the Ju/'hoan has been upset, and so too, has the environmental order. Shifting from a hunter-gatherer to a sedentary lifestyle will impact the land and the availability of local foods.
This report outlines recommendations for how to proceed. With arguably good intentions, some governmental and non-governmental groups seek to "modernize" and "civilize" the !Kung by ensuring the availability of flowing water, permanent housing, farm animals, and medical supplies. On the surface, these elements are good for the people. It is not our intention to deny the Ju/'hoan anything, but to cease interfering in their lives by offering them opportunities for self-determination.
Recommendation: Consult, Consult, Consult
No organization, especially those not culturally connected with the !Kung bushmen (or the Ju/'hoan tribe in particular) should carry out any initiative without first consulting the people whose lives are affected. Therefore, the first step in the process of healing will be to create a database of individuals who are willing and able to offer consultation services to our organization and any other organization involved in improving the community. The individuals listed in the database should be selected on the basis of their willingness, but also on their respective status within the community. From this database, we can create teams that always have a Ju/'hoan member serving to represent the community. It should be mandatory that no meeting be held, and no decision made, without the presence of a local.
Ideally, the consultants will be diverse in terms of age and gender and all will be Ju/'hoan individuals. Individuals like N!ia would be perfectly suited for inclusion in the database, because of their familiarity with the motives and methods of the whites. Throughout the pre-planning, planning, implementation, and evaluation stages of the program for community improvement, consultation will be ongoing. The Ju/'hoan consultants are permanently parts of the team, and are indispensible to its operation. Foreigners will come to view our role as that of facilitator, coordinator, helper, and consultant rather than as being in control of the region, the land, and especially, the people. Relationships with the Ju/'hoan will be conducted with respect, and we shall defer to the wishes of the community. Ideally, a spirit of collaboration based on shared goals will emerge.
Recommendation: Feasibility Report on Dismantling Government Camps
The film N-ai, the Story of a ?Kung Woman unequivocally reveals the problems inherent in the government camps. They have fractured a delicate social order, and have threatened to obliterate Ju/'hoan culture entirely. Before that culture is extinct, it is our duty to find out if it can be salvaged and if so, how. The scourge of cultural imperialism must be stamped out. We can no longer assume that the European model works everywhere and for everyone. Western modes of business, communication, and management have failed the Ju/'hoan.
Unfortunately, it might not be possible to reverse the damage. Young people who grow up on the camps will be unsure of how to hunt and gather food; in some cases, hunting and gathering is no longer possible. As the film points out, horses have been banned. The natural order of things has been tampered with, and reverting to it could be impossible. A feasibility report will show if dismantling the camps is (a) desirable for the people; and (b) feasible. Questions like, "Will traditional community leadership and social structure be re-established?" And "How will people actually transition from the camps to the bush?" need to be raised and answered. Now that money and other elements of transaction have been introduced, will it be possible to revert back to a looser, more informal system?
Consensus is also important. How many people support life in the government camps? N!ai clearly sees the drawbacks of the camps, even as she understands how to survive in them. Her poignant reminder of the death of her society -- a dire warning at the end of the film -- shows that it might not at all be possible to migrate the Ju/'hoan people back to the way they were before the whites came.
Recommendation: Environmental Surveys
Future success of the Ju/'hoan community and the lands it depends on for survival requires an in-depth understanding of the local ecology. It is important to know what damage, if any, has already been done as a result of the forced relocation of the Ju/'hoan people, the insistence on a sedentary cash-crop diet, and the upsetting of the natural order of hunting and gathering. Hunting and gathering has a relatively small ecological footprint, theoretically. Data from the environmental surveys can be used to propose changes in how the Ju/'hoan decide they want to manage their community, as it is going to be suggested that they determine their own future by deciding whether or not to return to a traditional lifestyle.
Recommendation: Addressing Opposing Concerns
Both foreigners and Ju/'hoan are interested in some of the benefits of modern civilization such as access to medical supplies. Access to water must also be ensured, and will be assessed based on the environmental surveys. Yet most of the opposing concerns can be met judiciously via a win/win situation. A win/win situation will offer options for education and advancement to those who choose to leave the Ju/'hoan community, but will also allow the opportunity to return to the traditional ways that did not require such things.
One of the most important arguments in favor of the government camps is related to gender issues. In N-ai, the Story of a ?Kung Woman, gender issues are explored with sensitivity. It can easily be argued that the Ju/'hoan concept of gender, Ju/'hoan gender roles, and Ju/'hoan gender norms are no more patriarchal or sexist than those that exist in Europe. Therefore, no argument in favor of the camps can be made based on gender issues alone.
One scene of N-ai, the Story of a ?Kung Woman shows the filming of the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy. This clip reveals the deepest prejudices and ethnocentrism that characterizes the white attitudes towards non-white Others. The director of The Gods Must be Crazy has a preconceived notion of what "bushmen" are like, and how they should act. When the bushmen do not conform to his expectations, the director scripts their actions and words. The director wants the bushmen to be caricatures…
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