Kung Essay Research Paper The Kung who

Kung Essay, Research Paper

The !Kung who are called Bushman or San live in and around the Kalahari desert. The Kalahari is one of the largest, continuous sand surfaces in the world, and unlike other deserts, the Kalahari is considered semidesert because the rainfall amounts vary from six to eighteen inches per year (Marshall, 1976, p.62). This semidesert environment shapes the lifestyle and habits of the !Kung. These people endure enormous hardship because of the bleak conditions in the desert, but the desert does provide the !Kung with sufficient food in the form of edible plants high in water content and the animals they hunt. The Kalahari desert receives most of its rain in the months of January through March while the rest of the year is virtually dry. Rain in the desert is not predictable, which means that some regions can receive enormous amounts of rain and other regions none. The !Kung depend on scattered waterholes for their water, and there are three types of waterholes: 1) permanent, 2) semi-permanent, depending on sever droughts, and 3) temporary waterholes which are filled only when it rains. The !Kung are nomadic primarily for environmental reasons, and they have incorporated beliefs pertaining to the environment into their social behavior which serves to bond and strengthen their ties to the land and to themselves. The !Kung are hunters and gathers, which means they have no permanent dwellings. They move seasonally from waterhole to waterhole, but upon returning to a water hole they do not use the same camps because of certain taboos regarding prosperity. They do not reuse abandoned camps because they believe when you make new fires that it is associated with …”fresh hope, fresh chance for good fortune. To build new fires on old sites might nullify the fresh chance and invite misfortune (Marshall, 1976, p.79)”. The !Kung camp in an area that has all the needed resources such as water, plants, and animals to hunt, and they set up this new encampment about a half mile from the waterhole for protection from predators that share the water. The !Kung also move for social reasons to visit other !Kung or to collect or leave individuals in another area. According to Marshall in her book, The !Kung of the Nyae Nyae, the !Kung associate in what are called bands. This grouping is formed from blood relatives as well as through marriage and they generally live in a single settlement and move together for at least part of the year. At the core of each of these camps are two, three, or more siblings and/or cousins, both male or female, who are acknowledged to be owners of a territory’s resources. These owners are related only by blood lines. Each of these territories, or n!ore, contains food and water resources necessary for basic subsistence of the band. These bands are composed of separate families who are related by blood and marriage, but membership within the band is not fixed. People move from one band to another through marriage, death, or relation to another band. Each of these bands numbers from eight to forty-two members, according to the resources of the band’s territory, and no band has a higher rank over another in terms of influence and power. These bands serve the dual purpose of maintaining kinship ties and the necessity of a large group to hunt and gather enough food to survive. Gathering and HuntingThe division of labor is based on age and sex with the adults providing food for dependent children under 15 years and for the aged. Hunting is done by men and gathering by women. The women gather plants and roots every day and these expeditions can last an hour to several hours. While on these gathering trips the women consume part of the food they gather, and the rest is brought back to camp where it is pooled together and then redistributed among the band. Marshall states that “… the ratio of meat to vegetables to be 25 percent meat to 75 percent vegetables (Marshall, 1976, p. 93)”, so gathering vegetable products is extremely important to the !Kung’s survival. The !Kung could not live without vegetation because it offers them the necessary supplies to make what is needed. They construct their huts out of grass and branches; use flexible wood to make bows; use strong sticks for digging; and carve utensils and bowls out of wood. Wood is an essential material that the !Kung need to survive. Not only do the !Kung produce objects from wood, but trees are the home for beetles from which the !Kung extract venom for their arrows. Plants and trees are used for medicinal purposes as well as being used in rituals and ceremonies for protecting people from bad luck. Gathering is done primarily by the women while hunting is done only by the men. Men are not excluded from gathering, whereas women are shunned from hunting because the !Kung “…believe that femaleness weakens the hunter’s prowess and endangers his chance of success, and they practice certain avoidances for keeping femaleness apart from hunting (Marshall, 1976, p. 97).” Women are not allowed to touch the bows and arrows of men, especially when women are menstruating. They believe that women generate a certain weakness that influences hunting during this time, while the !Kung men are believed not “…to endanger the fertility of the land or the growth of the plant foods or the effectiveness of the gatherers (Marshall, 1976, p. 97).”Every adult woman is accountable for gathering enough food for herself, her family, and her dependents. !Kung women do not rely on any assistance unless they are sick or too old to gather, but they do gather in groups because they do not like to be alone. The !Kung use animals for food as well as for clothing and tools. The !Kung do not hunt all types of animals because there are taboos about eating certain animals. These animals are mostly predators and scavengers –lions, leopards, cheetahs, and brown hyenas, among others. Marshall states that the !Kung “shouted vehemently that they would die of starvation before they would eat those bad things (Marshall, 1976, p.127).” The !Kung also avoid meat that they personally distaste. Hunting is men’s work, and it is a major part of their life. It involves their whole life and begins when they are toddlers playing with their bows and arrows. Hunting is important socially as well. When a young man kills his first buck, he is considered ready to get married because now he is “… considered much more favorably as a potential

son-in-law (Lee, 1979, p.240).” This is the case because, “… traditionally, the prime characteristics of a potential son-in-law were proven hunting ability, a willingness to live with his in-laws, and provide meat for them for a period of years (Lee, 1979,p.240).” MarriageMarriage in the !Kung society is primarily arranged, where a parent or other close relative pledges a girl to someone while she is still young. Boys and Girls are not considered eligible for marriage at the same age. Women are not considered an adult or are given the responsibilities of an adult until she reaches her first menstruation, is married, and has had a child. ” Boys, in contrast, are usually not considered eligible for marriage until they are between twenty and thirty, and then only after they have demonstrated their ability to provide for a family by killing a large animal (Shostak, 1981, p.127).” Therefore men are older than their wives by ten or more years, and it is not uncommon for a man to have more than one wife.When a !Kung female experiences her first menstruation there is a celebration ritual performed by the adult women, because, “… the first menstruation is believed to engage powerful spiritual forces identical to those involved in trance medicine (Shostak, 1981, p. 149).” This ceremony continues for three or four days, and ends when the menstrual flow stops. This is the first step towards adulthood for a young woman, and she will be an adult when she conceives. Childhood This culture values children with the highest esteem, and they devote much of their life to their children. They are not known to be very affectionate, but when it comes to their children they reveal their affection openly. Infants are rarely out of contact with the mother. Van Der Post states in his book, Testament to the Bushman, “As babies are not usually carried on their mother’s back, but at her side, and in an upright position, it is only a short stretch to find either beads to play with, or her breast to suckle (Van Der Post, 1984, p. 64).” Bushman babies tend to learn to walk at an early age because of being carried in a upright position. The !Kung children go through a difficult transition of weaning because it is done so abruptly. Weaning is done when the mother is aware that she is pregnant, and it is at this point that she stops nursing the child. At an early age boys and girls tend to separate themselves in their playing. ” As a child begins to be weaned, and leaves its close connection with its mother, it attaches itself not to a group of children of its own age but to a group of children of its own sex but of widely varying ages (Van Der Post, 1984, p. 65).” The games children play at mimicking their parents or that of wild animals, and it is through these games that children learn societal values necessary to be a successful and productive adult. Since this society has no formal written language, the children do not need to go to school. As author Marjorie Shostak states in Nisa, “Because no formal teaching is done, observation and practice are the basis of all learning- It is in these groups (play groups) that children acquire many of the skills that will make them productive adults (Shostak, 1981).”There are specific games that children play that will teach them the basic shills that are needed, like that of accuracy. For this skill “Stick throwing is a game with obvious practical value in training boys in the coordination and accuracy they will need to be hunter (”Viking 1984, p.68) “Training for their adult roles both for boys and girls, may – as with the stick throwing – begin inconspicuously on the form of games that necessary shills. But it may sometimes be continued in a more specific manner, though usually spasmodically. Children learn the skills they will need by some kind of osmosis-by accompanying their parents or other adults and observing what they do, even if they do not appear to be taking any notice. One of the things they seem to pick up most quickly is how to recognize the various plants that are good to eat (Viking 1984, p.69).” But many children to not go out on expeditions with parents of family untill they are in there teens, so they are not responsibly for any food or labor that is of parents responsibility. RespectA major aspect of !Kung society is sharing. Sharing is a way of life for the !Kung because their environment dictates that sharing will benefit the whole group more than not sharing. This is true especially in regard to large animals. If the meat is not shared, then it will go to waste. Wasting food in desert conditions is not wise for the continued survival of the group. The killing and hauling of big game requires more than one person so it is necessary to share this chore in order for a unit to survive (Marshall, 1976, p. 296). This sense of goodwill pervades other areas of the society as well. Any smaller food items do not need to be shared and are not expected to be shared. The people who cannot help themselves are given food to sustain themselves. Other bands do not infringe on another bands water holes or food gathering areas, but all animals are fair game until they are killed. The !Kung also give gifts as a way to relieve tension within the group or groups. ConclusionWestern-style governments that administer law within the Kalahari desert region have forced the !Kung to deal with the outside world and its values and perceptions. The government has tried to assimilate them into western culture by teaching them agriculture and pastoralism, and enforcing laws against killing big game animals. Unfortunately, this has caused a dramatic change in the !Kung’s way of life. Bibliography1) Marshall, Lorna. The !Kung of Nyae Nyae. London: Harvard University Press, 1976. 2) Shostak, Marjorie. Nisa. New York: Vintage Books, 1981. 3) Van Der Post, Laurens and Jane Taylor. Testament to the Bushmen. New York: Viking Books, 1984


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