The Dobe Ju/'Hoansi Paperback – Feb 27 2012
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Preface to the Fourth Edition. 1. The Ju/'hoansi. 2. The People of the Dobe Area. 3. Environment and Settlement. 4. Subsistence: Foraging for a Living. 5. Kinship and Social Organization. 6. Marriage and Sexuality. 7. Complaint Discourse: Aging and Caregiving among the Ju/'hoansi. 8. Conflict, Politics, and Exchange. 9. Coping with Life: Religion, World View, and Healing. 10. The Ju/'hoansi and Their Neighbors. 11. Perceptions and Directions of Social Change. 12. The Ju/'hoansi Today. 13. Tsumkwe at 50: The 2010 Social Survey of a Namibian Ju/'hoansi Town. 14. Anthropological Practice and Lessons of the Ju/'hoansi. Postscript: The /Gwihaba Dancers. Appendix A: Eating Christmas in the Kalahari. Appendix B: The Kalahari Debate: Ju/'hoan Images of the Colonial Encounter. Glossary of Ju/'hoan and Other Non-English Terms. Films of the Ju/'hoansi: An Annotated List. References Cited and Recommended Readings. Index. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Jenny Lee is a writer and producer on the new ABC Family sitcom Young & Hungry. She was also a writer and producer of the TBS sitcom Ground Floor and the Disney Channel's number-one-rated kids' show Shake It Up for all three seasons. The author of four humor essay books, Jenny is also the author of Elvis and the Underdogs. She lives in Los Angeles with her 110-pound Newfoundland, Doozy (and yes, it's a toss-up on who's walking whom every day).
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The first half of Lee's ethnography focuses mainly on the past and the "present", circa the 1960s, when Lee himself spent time living with the Ju/'hoansi, a practice known as participant observation. The first major element Lee expounds upon is the harsh environment in which the Ju live. The climate consists of very warm, rainy summers (86-104 degrees Fahrenheit) contrasted against moderate, cool winters with no rainfall at all. Because the amount of precipitation can vary as much as 500 percent (Lee 29), droughts are frequent. The severe weather patterns combined with the unforgiving Kalahari Desert influence all other parts of the Ju/'hoansi way of life.
The Ju people are classified by archeologists as hunters and gatherers, moving around multiple times per year instead of living in permanent settlements. Skilled adults can identify as many as 100 species of edible plants (Lee 43) and can "deduce many kinds of information about the animal he is tracking: its species and sex, its age, how fast it is traveling, etc" (Lee 50). The author discovered that the Ju only have to work about 20 hours per week to hunt or gather enough food to sustain the population (Lee 54). I was amazed at this statistic, having previously thought that hunting and gathering took up many more hours per week to feed an entire band.
Lee moves on in the ethnography to discuss the intricate kinship connections the Ju share. Even though groups or camps only consist of about 30 members at a time (Lee 61), they are constantly changing so that the relationships are complex and spread throughout the entire Dobe area. Individual camps are usually made up of core siblings, their spouses, any siblings of their spouses, and finally the spouses of these siblings. The overarching principle of sharing is visible through the social organization of the Ju. Name relationships and kin relationships seem to tie everyone to everyone else in this egalitarian society.
The customs surrounding marriage and sexuality are next in the book, followed by an explanation of the "complaint discourse". Both chapters are very interesting in that they reinforce the classless and equal nature of the Ju/'hoansi society. The second half of the book shifts in focus from the way things have been to how times are changing in the lives of the Ju as more organized institutes, like the states of Namibia and Botswana, encroach upon the ancient tribes.
The most significant change of the Ju culture has been from hunting and gathering to settled farming and the raising of livestock. By planting crops in one area, the mobility of the population is restricted. "It is not as easy for family members to go on an extended foraging trip or to pay visits to relatives at distant camps" (Lee 158). Other Ju/'hoan people have found new ways to make a living in mining, craft making, or well digging. These factors, as well as many other issues have had many repercussions, but the most important effect is the breakdown of sharing among the Ju, a practice and ideal that sustained the culture for hundreds of years. This shift in beliefs and social principles will definitely cause problems for the future survival of the Ju/'hoansi.
Richard B. Lee's accomplishment here is to balance a scientific and human approach. Realizing how strongly a physical environment can impact a culture, Lee smartly and dispassionately details the basic facts of the Ju/'Hoansi's past and current situation - the geography and ecology of their home in the Kalahari desert, their food supply, etc. On this canvas, he paints a picture of the culture of this people. This sweeps from the physical layout of their camps to their language (including a thorough exposition of those interesting click consonants) to their handling of mortality and sexuality to the privileges and "complaint discourse" of older members of the society. Then Lee qualifies this whole portrait by describing recent developments, including enroachment of other cultures, erosion of the traditional lifestyle, and the dispossession and advocacy that has defined the Ju's recent relationships with the Namibian and Botswanan governments.
What amazed me about all this is that Lee remains tenderly human during this rich exposition. He writes of the Ju with great respect and humbly describes vigniettes of his interaction with his subjects - like when he got his pet name and when he had crushes on various native women. He avoids sentimental exoticism when describing how the culture began to fall apart due to pressures on their territory from Black herders. Instead, he documents the painful transition with precision and observational detail and even finds sources of hope. For example, he connects Ju women's lower-than-average HIV infection rates with the culture's respect for women, arguing that Ju women's assertiveness make them more likely to insist on condom use. Also, rather than arguing that only the old way could be good for the Ju, Lee looks forward, advocating the Ju's integration into the larger society and adaptation of modern land-use patterns.
In this book, Richard Lee shows himself to be one of the rare anthropologists who do a good job portraying their culture of study but resist the possessive urge to lament its change and adaptation over time. For me, it recalls many happy hours reading in college, taking in the sunshine while struggling through all the click consonants. I heartily recommend it.
Throughout the book, Lee portrays accounts referring to his personal experiences in Botswana. The story that is most prominent describes how Lee took a select few of the tribe to a mongongo grove so the people could pick nuts. And they did- they pick enough food to tame the hunger of ten people for fourteen days. This is extremely significant because the action of these individuals is the quintessence of what a hunger-gatherer really is. When foragers have the resources to get as much food as they can get their hands on, they would never pass it up, because there is no certainty of when the next abundance of nutritious food will be present.
The novel stresses the message that the Ju/'hoansi were extreme believers in allocating whatever they obtained with the rest of the village. They recognized over 100 kinds of wild plants as edible, ranging from what Lee deems to be as primary, minor, major, supplementary, rare and problematic. He explains exactly why mongongo is the most common element of their diet- because it is easily found, and is highly nutritious. The most proper demeanor for a hunter is to be modest in the Ju/'hoansi tribe. Although the Ju/'hoan believe they are doing well for themselves, Westerners think differently. They insist that their society is bound to fail because of their "steady work, steady leisure and adequate diet" (58). Another social aspect of the Ju/'hoan is that they have arranged marriages, that are decided when a child is born. The villagers have the utmost respect for the elders. Groups of people, not individuals own the land in a village and there is no headman or chief among the Ju people.
In the second half of the book, we learn of the cultural alterations that the tribe experienced. When social changes developed, education became more common, however the Ju/'hoan were very suspicious of the introduction of the scholastic system. Prior to the emergence of the education system, the Ju/'hoan had no perception of geography- they were unaware that they lived on a large body of land called Africa or that the large land of water located to the West was in fact the Atlantic Ocean. The Ju/'hoan culture soon became dependant on craft making as well as the buying and selling of beer. Today, the Johan have decreased their reliance on sharing, thus increasing the level of poverty. The development of the construction of their houses changed- they were now building semi-permanent mud-walled houses. In the 1990's the government stepped in, veering development towards the right direction, and even created drought-relief programs to help supply food. The emergence of other societies to the once nomadic life-style of the Ju/'hoansi tribe, has no longer placed them in solidarity, but has introduced new aspects of culture- some being beneficial to the Johan, and others leaving their traditions behind.
I really enjoyed learning about the Dobe Ju/'hoansi people. The book I think did a wonderful job of covering who the people are and how the live their day to day lives foraging. The only thing I think that Lee could have added was some more history of the people of the bush but there are other anthropologists that can be read to explain the history a little more in depth. The ethnography kind of skipped around a little bit because his transitions just went from one aspect of life to another then added old topics back into the new ones. I would definitely say that the book as a whole accomplished what it was meant to accomplish. I learned a lot about the Dobe Ju/'hoansi and how they live and survive as a hunting and gathering group.