Kung of the Kalahari Desert Term Paper

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Kung of the Kalahar Desert

The Nyae !Kung tribes are nomadic groups that have lived in the Kalahari Desert in northwest Namibia, the Cuando-Cubanga province in southeast Angola and in northeast Namibia (Jenkins 2001). These nomadic hunter-gatherers have had minimal contact with the outside world but through several hundred years, they developed a survival strategy and has enabled them to life adequately as a separate though primitive society (Berberich 2003). The !Kung people have evolved their own culture, industry, government, language, social norms and housing system.

Oldest historical records bear out evidence of the existence and habitation of hunter-gatherers in southern Africa for thousands of years (Shostak 1981). These Bantu-speaking aborigines were assumed to have begun migrating into the !Kung territory approximately 2,000 years ago and introduced their own vastly different culture into it. They coexisted through centuries, while largely retaining their individual cultures. Drought, the consequences of overgrazing, years of exposure to the features of village life, wages for labor and role models of the outside world combined to lure the !Kung to succumb to change (Shostak).

The San tribes, or Bushmen as the Dutch called them, were the first known people in that Great Rift Valley of Africa. They were first overcome by Cushites, the Nilotes and then by the Bantu peoples (Jenkins 2001). These non-aggressive hunter-gatherers intermingled with the newcomers by intermarriage, but more often, they were killed. The remnants of these tribes today still speak the Bantu language of the dominant tribes and almost all of these San peoples now live in the desert portions of southern Africa. Although approximately 50,000 of these tribes continue to exist at the present time, some reports say that only about a third of them have maintained the original nomadic life style of their ancestors.(Jenkins 2001). Many of them were kidnapped t work in other people's farms or homes, such as black-owned farms in Botswana. They work as unpaid labor and only given food and so they have become very poor and oppressed. What is more lamentable is that they were scattered into groups of a few hundreds to a few thousands and unable to communicate with one another because they speak different languages, which they do not understand (Jenkins). (Shostak 1981)

Settlement and Food Gathering Activities - The original and aboriginal environment of the Kung turned most outsiders off because it was hardy and harsh, but the !Kung could survive because they had been able to adapt to it (Shostak 1981). They set up villages of only 10-30 people, ready to move to another site with their belongings when the water source dried up so they could look for another location. They lived in small huts made of grass in a circle and the doors facing the middle communal area. All activities, except sleep, were performed in this area, such as cooking, socials and play. A fire constantly burned in front of each hut.

In their semi-arid environment, the Kung tribes gathered roots, berries, fruits and nuts from the desert and obtained meat from hunters (Shostak 1981). Kung men and women knew a lot about available edible foods and the medicinal and toxic properties of the different varieties. The !Kung men provided the meat while the women occasional killed small mammals. The men also produced household tools and preserved poison-tipped arrows and spears for hunting. Meat was scarce and hunters had to travel far to find game and when found, it was shared fairly by family members. The game was not just eaten but thoroughly used. The !Kung tanned the hide for blankets and cracked the bones. Games included wildebeest, gemsbok, giraffe, reptiles and birds. They also collected honey.

It was the !Kung women's responsibility to gather plants, roots and wood in groups while the men hunted and checked out snares in small groups (Berberich 2003). The women prepared the food by spending two to three days a week foraging in different distances. They also took charge of the children, gathered firewood, carried water and cooked (Shostak 1981). They often returned with mongongo nuts, baobab fruits, water roots, bitter melon, and !Gwa berries. Children remained at home and watched by those who remained there. Breastfed and nursed children had to be carried by their mother to their foraging and increased the weight women had to carry.

!Kung women could claim with pride that they were able to feed their families by gathering food three days a week. The vegetables gathered by them accounted for 80% of the family diet. In addition to the game hunted down by their men, the !Kung women also captured lizards, snakes, turtles and bird eggs, insects, caterpillars and small animals to supplement their meals (Gadjos 2002). The women freely decided when and where to gather in the same way that men decided on their own where and when to hunt.

Socials -- !Kung tribes would congregate in the shade and talk among themselves. They were a peace-loving people who worked their conflicts out of apprehension towards ill feelings and violence (Berberich 2003). They lived as equals as a preventive measure. Because they were nomads, they had few possessions and, therefore, stealing was quite uncommon. They were cooperative and helpful to one another. They loved to exchange gifts as an important tradition (Berberich). Besides customary chatting in the shade, the !Kung enjoyed singing, visiting, playing games and telling stories (Shostak 1981).

Government and Religion -- The !Kung did not have established political leadership. They governed themselves by group consensus. In cases of disputes, they everyone got involved in long discussions and the parties had the chance to speak out their own thoughts until an agreement was reached (Shostak 1981).

They would travel to visit relatives during or after the rainy season when they could bring enough water for the journey. The settled around a permanent spring during the dry winter months, during which they engaged in ritual dances, specifically the trance dance (Shostak 1981). This dance is a tribute to the spiritual world, which pervaded all the aspects of !Kung life. This spirit world determined health, death, their water and food. The !Kung believed that misfortune, death or illness could be sent by the spirits to a particular person through invisible arrows. But the !Kung believed that they could prevent or stop these adversities. Healers among them could stop or eliminate these invisible arrows that afflicted the victims through this healing dance. The healers danced around the fire until they entered a trance state that activated a force they called n/um. They believed that in that state, the healers could heal everyone gathered around the fire. Men and women could become healers by apprenticing with an experienced healer.

This trance dance was a big social event to the !Kung people when they renewed bonds, visited and rejoiced together. It was a time of song and dance. The women clapped and sang to influence or enhance the n/um power, help the healers activate it and protected the latter from hurting themselves (Shostak 1981).

Dancing in itself was another favorite pastime among the !Kung (Berberich 2003). They danced to seek luck during a hunt, to cure illness, bring rain, and as part of a ceremony. Besides ceremonial smoking, dancing was the only religious ceremony these tribes performed. And besides curing illness, they danced to remove evil spirits from women. The believed that only women could be inhabited or controlled by evil spirits because women were assumed to be weaker than men. During a dance, men would surround a crouched woman and touched her to bring the evil spirit from the woman into themselves. At the height of the excitement, the men would collapse into a trance and they did not feel pain even if they fell into the fire or hurt themselves. Upon waking up, the men would scream and free the evil spirit that they brought in from the woman (Berberich).

The !Kung tribes enjoyed longevity and general health, although they were vulnerable to skin disease and lung infections. They used only a few medicines and usually contained sicknesses through their ceremonial dances (Berberich 2003).

Family Structure -- Meat was traditionally prized and very highly celebrated. Because the men brought it into the village, they enjoyed a wider range of influence and power than the women (Gadjos 2002). They also controlled its distribution. Their superior status derived not only from this ability to bring in the valued food item but also to their greater capacity to protect themselves in the wilderness. The women could not compete with them because they had to stay at home to take care of the children and the home. This differentiation in functions soon became a patter. Men went out to hunt for days at a time, and women staying at home or only briefly if they had to go out. Male dominance was also reflected in the role they took as spiritual leaders and the sole prerogative of initiating sex (Gadjos).

Children, sometimes, accompanied or were brought along…

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