The book “Nisa: The Life and Words of a Kung Woman” written by Marjorie Shostak is a magnificent book that depicts essence of being a woman amidst culture, change and life. Its original words are in Kung language but the author enthusiastically transcribed it in English. Readers will find themselves enticed by the beauty of ethnography and its impact throughout generations. The main character Nisa is an extraordinary woman since she reveals her feelings and experiences without hesitation. She carefully narrates her journey towards discovery of life as a Kung and as a woman of her generation.
The author made the book in such a way that it will present the readers with very informative account of the way of life of the people belonging to the! Kung tribe. This group of people lives in the African Kalahari Desert, and lead a nomadic way of life. Through Nisa, the author of the book is able to give a clear picture of the culture, social organization, and the practices of the! Kung people. The book focuses on Nisa, who is a woman from the! Kung community. Nisa gives an account of her life, and she is the person through whom Schostak manages to communicate to the writer.
The book can be considered as an anthropology trip, which examines the lifestyles, the rituals, and the existence of the! Kung people or tribe. Through Nisa’s words and emotions, the reader can understand clearly about the ! Kung people. The book presents certain key concepts such as the gender relations, foraging, exchange, and the ethnographic practice. The ! Kung people culture has developed to adapt to the Kalahari Desert environment. The need for the tribe members to make a living has made the people to adopt a certain kind of lifestyle. The!
Kung people employ certain organizational and adaptive strategies in order to deal with environmental pressures such as resource distribution and draught. The! Kung people culture and social life has been shaped by various factors such as consumption and production. In this paper, these issues will be discussed where the impressions of the book will be put into consideration. Discussion Marjorie Schostak uses one character to give the ethnographic story of the! Kung people. The culture of the tribe is discussed through the events that surround Nisa’s life.
The method of story telling that is used in the book is different from that of the westerners. Through the repeated phrases in Nisa’ narration, the different concepts in the book are brought out. The ideas that are presented through the narrative are also very vital in bringing out certain concepts about the! Kung tribe. The people’s gender relations, exchange, foraging, and ethnographic practice are all embraced in their culture and way of life. The culture of the! Kung based on the book has developed to assist the people to adapt to the harsh environmental conditions, the reason being that it’s a desert.
The! Kung people cultural means of searching for food is that of hunting and gathering. Due to the scarcity of food resources people have to search for food from different areas of the environment (desert) in which they are living in. Considering that they have a nomadic way of life, they have to move to new areas and for long distances. This brings in the concept of foraging. The people need to move and search for food. This can be looked at as foraging where people are moving around seeking the necessary resources.
This way of life and the environmental conditions is very tough for the people since it denies them a continuous food source. Food becomes scarce in one area necessitating the people to seek more resources in areas that have not been exploited. The! Kung people face very tough challenges which include draught. The issue if resource distribution has shaped the cultural norm of the! Kung, where sharing is encouraged in all members of the community. The people address the prevailing challenges by adopting both organizational and adoptive strategies.
One such strategy is lack of private ownership of property. In this case, any member of the community is not allowed to own property. This prevents controlled use of the resources by certain individuals. The scarcity of resources does not encourage this kind of social set up. To encourage equality when it comes to the control and use of resources, the! Kung cultural practice advocates against private ownership. The tribal socialization discourages selfishness, where private ownership may act as a means through which people may not be willing to share the available resources.
Nisa’s account of her life history reveals the socialization process in the! Kung tribe. The socialization process that exists in the tribe aims at turning the members of the community into more productive and adaptive people in the society. The! Kung people view sharing as being of very high value in the community. This is seen in the book whereby this culture triggers Nisa to steal and hoard food. She is punished by her mother as a way of reinforcing the culture of sharing in her. The book succeeds in showing the reader how important the culture of sharing is to the community.
The concept of gender relations is brought out in the book through Nisa’ narration, whereby the relation between men and women is clearly explained. In the book, the! Kung women enjoy relative equality with the men. Though not completely equal, the women are given some privileges which are similar to those of men in some ways. The gender relations are affected by the! Kung people hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This is because, just like men, women are seen as economic providers due to their involvement and commitment in the gathering of roots and vegetables.
The men are also involved in providing food through hunting. This makes the recognition of women to be similar to that of men based on their role in providing food. The! Kung people social organization and principles are exposed by Nisa’ life accounts, where she gives a lot of stories or instances on sexual intimacy. There is a high frequency in the number of times where intimacy is mentioned. This brings out the concept of gender relations when it comes to their role in sex. The women just like men are involved in certain sexual behaviors that aim at igniting back the fire of sexuality.
Both women and men are allowed by the culture to take secret lovers even when they are married. The women are viewed by the! Kung culture as a symbol of sexual vitality. Although women can take secret lovers, they have a responsibility to their husbands first as the first priority. The women have duty to love and respect their husbands. The men on the other hand are expected to take care of their wives and to look upon them as very important to the men. A woman plays a very important sexual role in the society. She is viewed as a source of life for a man because she takes care of the sexual needs of a man.
In addition, a woman is considered to be capable of bringing life back to a man through her sexual ability. The! Kung people view sex as a wonderful gift from the gods, and just like food, it sustains life. The book uses symbolic behavior in people to explain how important the issue of sex is to the! Kung. The use of pornographic gestures and sexual jokes aims at dispelling tension in the society. The role of women and men in sex influences the gender relations. The ethnographic practice of the! Kung is discussed in Nisa’ narration. The external factors that may affect the!
Kung people social set up are presented in the book. Despite holding their traditional lifestyles, the people’s lifestyle seems to be changing due to the interference of the other tribes. The book creates the impression that the! Kung people culture and lifestyle has been subjected to changes due to the other tribes interaction with the! Kung. The traditional culture and social organization is changing. The interference has made it very difficult for the! Kung people to maintain their traditional way of life. For example, the women reproductive rate and their role as gatherers seem to be decreasing.
The community members have then become more dependent on food sources that are new, agriculture, as well as animal husbandry. The changing traditional lifestyle is in turn threatening the status of the women in the society. This is because, the role that earlier gave them the status is changing. Human emotions are portrayed in the book through Nisa’s life experiences. These emotions are embraced in the culture of sharing, gender relations, and the social organization of the people. Through Nisa’s narration, human emotions such as fear, happiness, regret, grief, guilt, love, and hate are brought out based on the experiences.
This proves to the reader that the! Kung people have human emotions just like the rest of us. On the contrary the! Kung’s people way of life still possesses various differences from the western way of living. Schostak’s book gives details that paint a clear picture of the! Kung people culture, lifestyle, and social organization. The general description on Nisa’s life in every chapter is very instrumental in describing the life of the! Kung people in the Kalahari Desert. The book combines ethnographic descriptions and oral history interpretations in order to provide an ethnographic story of the! Kung tribe. Conclusion
Marjorie Schostak as an author has provided us with a great ethnographic work through Nisa: The Life and Words of a! Kung woman . The book is essential in imparting knowledge about the! Kung tribe, and a learning experience for other authors who may be interested in writing ethnographic work. The book creates impressions that help the reader to understand well the different concepts in the book. Nisa is very instrumental in providing the author with the necessary information about the tribe. The main character Nisa is an extraordinary woman since she reveals her feelings and experiences without hesitation.
She carefully narrates her journey towards discovery of life as a Kung and as a woman of her generation. The author made it possible to achieve her goal of making readers aware about the vitality of Ethnography as it relates to life. The book gives prior importance to the study of sex and gender in every society and how it changes over time. It is a book full of insights and revelations based on factual and ethnographical evidences. It is highly recommendable for students and other people who wish to discover more about life. Works Cited Schostak, Marjorie. (2000). Nisa: The Life and Words of a! Kung Woman. Harvard University Press.
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