Sample Descriptive Essay: The Dobe Ju/’hoansi

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The social order, the form of social cooperation is defined by economic relations, economic level, system of power, system of values and ideas. Besides these internal factors, there are also influences from abroad, which is significant feature of modern world. The society is a complex polysyllabic multistage system, composed of its elements and their internal relations. Such a change of views may be linked with the technical and social, cultural and political progress of XX century, with acceleration of development process.

The cultural complexes, the group composition, the mutual relations between people are undergoing to constant changes. This has an impact on alteration of society, its politics, the mode of human life. It is evident, that the human progress in XX century was much more significant, that all the previous mankind development. Growing speed of social changes process is a consequence of social development, but it also gives an impetus to further progress. It is important, because the main particularity of Ju/’hoansi tribe is its backwardness in comparison to modern American society.

This tribe is situated in areas of Botswana, in the northwest Kalahari Desert. They speak a language that is infused with a series of clicks, represented on paper by exclamation points and slashes. They rely on the nuts of the mongongo, an indigenous tree, as a staple of their diet. Meat provides about 30 percent of their food. They also eat a variety of plants and small animals. Occasionally one of the men will kill a larger animal, such as an antelope. According to Shostak[1], Ju/’hoansi women contribute the majority (from 60-80 percent by weight) of the total food consumed. Monogamy coexists with polygamy and divorce is not uncommon among theJu/’hoansi. They have a post-partum sex taboo, incest taboo, and arranged marriages. Despite a fair amount of equality between Ju/’hoansi men and women, there is an interesting phenomenon with regard to marriage. It is known as the marriage-by-capture ceremony.

The Ju/’hoansi marriage ceremony involves the mock forcible carrying of a girl from her parent’s hut to a specially built marriage hut, and the anointing of bride and groom with special oils and aromatic powders. Unlike our western fairly tales in which the couples live happily ever after, Ju/’hoansi marriages start on a stormy note and continue in that vein for weeks or months after[2].

Despite what might be interpreted as a rather sexist ritual, the Ju/’hoansi actually have quite a lot of equality between the sexes. The women are given a fair amount of authority and responsibility and do more food gathering than the men.

Another intriguing paradox of Ju/’hoansi life is the way men act and are treated after they have gone hunting. In a strange ritual known as insulting the meat, when a man hunts and kills an animal, especially a large one, he is expected to act extremely modest and to minimize the importance of his contribution to the tribe. In addition, the other tribe members insult his kill by proclaiming how small and worthless it is. It may be illustrated by quoting a tribesman named Gaugo (say that a man has been hunting, he must not come home and announce like a braggart): “I have killed a big one in the bush!” He must first sit down in silence until I or someone else comes up to his fire and asks, “What did you see today?” He replies quietly, “Ah, I’m no good for hunting. I saw nothing at allmaybe just a tiny one.” Then I smile to myself because I know he has killed something big[3].

This continues with the insults of the others. You mean you dragged us all the way out here to make us cart home your pile of bones? Oh, if I had known it was this thin I wouldn’t have come. People, to think I gave up a nice day in the shade for this. At home we may be hungry, but at least we have cool water to drink[4].

Lee explains that the goal of all the joking and insults is to prevent the hunters from becoming arrogant. It is a leveling mechanism that promotes an egalitarian society[5].

Shostak went to the Kalahari in hopes of finding one woman who could give her a personal account of what life as a Ju/’hoansi woman is like[6]. She interviewed a number of Ju/’hoansi women, but had not found what she was looking for until she interviewed a middle-aged woman named Nisa. “I was struck by her gifts as a storyteller; she chose her words carefully, infused her stories with drama, and covered a wide range of experience.” Shostak did fifteen interviews with Nisa, resulting in thirty hours of tape in the Ju/’hoansi language.

Nisa is a 50 year-old woman whose willingness to speak about her childhood and life gave Shostak a solid basis on which to write her book. Through the interviews, Nisa shares intimate details of her life but, interestingly, Shostak has some question as to the validity of some of Nisa’s stories. To make her story lively and dramatic, she often assumed the high, somewhat insistent voice of a young child, as though trying to describe the events of her childhood through the eyes of Nisa, the little girl. It is probable that these early accounts are somewhat exaggerated ­ a combination of actual memory, information about her childhood related to her when she was older, generalized experiences common to the culture, and fantasy.[7]

Shostak explains that Ju/’hoansi children have the nearly exclusive attention of their mothers for 44 months, 36 of them with unlimited access to the food and comfort afforded by nursing.” Nisa tells of her obsession with nursing and the terrible rejection she felt when her mother became pregnant with her little brother and insisted that she stop nursing. She goes on to imply that her mother is planning to kill the baby so that Nisa can continue to nurse. Nisa begs her mother not to kill the baby. So much of this seems questionable. Infanticide is rare among the Ju/’hoansi and it is unlikely Nisa’a mother would have actually gone through with murdering her child[8].

A fascinating aspect of Ju/’hoansi life is the strong belief in the gangwasi. These spirits of recently deceased Ju/’hoansi are considered to be responsible for illness and misfortune. Lee explains that if herbs, spells, potions, etc[9] don’t cure ills, the resort to a healing power known as n/um. It is interesting to note that n/um is not only available to shaman or special medicine people, but is available to all who want to learn to use the power. As Shostak explains, “N/um reflects the basic egalitarian nature of Ju/’hoansi life. It is not reserved for a privileged few: nearly half the men and a third of the women have it.”[10] The healing happens while the healer is in a trance state. At this time, healers claim to be able to see things that ordinary people cannot. The healing trances take place at all-night dances, the major ritual focus of the Ju/’hoansi in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. There are both men’s and women’s dances and new manifestations of n/ um with new rituals are constantly appearing as young healers experience revelations during dreams, trances or illness.

In addition to the gangwasi, there are two other gods: gangwan!an!a, a big god and  gangwa matse, a small god. There is a contradiction amongst the Ju/’hoansi, while some believe that gangwan!an!a is responsible for good and the other – for evil, and others believe exactly the opposite.

Now that the Ju/’hoansi have been studied by a number of anthropologists over a period of years, there must be some western influences that have been adopted by the Ju/’hoansi. Although the customs and beliefs have probably remained similar to what they were 20 years ago, it would be interesting to go back and see what kind of impact western culture has had an on present day.

It is obvious that there are significant principles of social development in this tribe, so, the main difference between Ju/’hoansi and modern American society is in different factors, which can be used in this comparing process. In fact, when American count the incomes from Internet, the Ju/’hoansi people is disturbed with how to live one more day. This is a steady of social development, which was passed by European people ten-fifteen thousands years ago, and it’s useless to speak about it now. And because of absence of common factors it is impossible to compare the social order oftwo nations, of two cultures. It may be only said, that American and European people is much, much more developed.

List of notes:

[1] “The Dobe !Kung: A Comparative Ethnography” –by Stephanie Segal, 1998.

[2] “Nisa The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman” – by Shostak, Marjorie, 1981.

[3] “The Dobe Ju/’hoansi” – by Lee, Richard B, 1993.

[4] The same source.

[5] The same source.

[6] “Nisa The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman” – by Shostak, Marjorie, 1981.

[7] The same source.

[8] The same source.

[9] “The Dobe Ju/’hoansi” – by Lee, Richard B, 1993.

[10] “Nisa The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman” – by Shostak, Marjorie, 1981.

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