Essay, Pages 5 (1216 words)
Commonly referred to as Bushmen by the general public and thought of as being harsh wild people that live in the “unlivable” Kalahari Desert. The Ju /’hoansi tribe native to the southern African desert, located along the border of Namibia and Botswana, have been misunderstood and stereotyped for a long time. This is until a man by the name of Richard B.
Lee came along and wrote an ethnography about the local systems of the Ju and completely changed how an outsider might view this rural tribe, along with being a fine example of proper long-term field research in social anthropology.
“The Dobe Ju /’hoansi”
This highly regarded book on the Ju /’hoansi is titled “The Dobe Ju /’hoansi. ” Although Lee states in the preface to the first edition that a book like this, “can only hint at the fragility of this quality of life”(Lee 2003: xi) it can also scream- understand these people more thoroughly because of how unique and fragile their lifestyle actually is.
This paper is going to take a look at what exactly makes this particular material something worthy of critically analyzing in cultural anthropology.
Questions that would need to be examined to analyze critically from an ethnographic standpoint would consist of; what are some goals by the author? what role does the structure play in sequencing? Is there a particular method used? What kinds of theories are addressed? As the dissection begins an important topic to embark on is the function of the book. Richard B. Lee had an unmatched desire to learn how this culture has survived and how a holistic approach can redefine previous notions on how the Ju /’hoansi live.
The structure of the book
The book is structured into thirteen chapters strategically sequenced to become more in depth the more you read. Lee states, “we have to be careful to avoid the twin pitfalls of racism and romanticism” (Lee 2003: 3) expressing his meticulousness in his research, but also being the most non-objective a person from America can be. Although Lee is an outsider to the Ju /’hoansi, the ethnography is written with an emic perspective. But how is this performed?
A large contributing factor has to be the desire and efforts put forth by Lee to not only see the Ju lifestyle, but to feel it. The desire and effort by Lee is conveyed in a quote about him getting initiated into a family’s kin by saying, “I signified my pleasure with the turn of events. Here was a whole family to be a part of, one with genealogical links to throughout the Dobe area. ” (Lee 2003: 60) Lee started to become a member of the Ju /’hoansi as a tool to learn more about the culture they live in.
After Lee was given a name, /Tontah, by the adoptive family it led him to believe that, “It was clear I had a lot to learn about the kinship system and social organization. ”(Lee 2003: 60) Lee’s subjects are portrayed as having individual personalities rather than grouping the whole tribe based on a few personalities. This sums up how Lee approached his work and how with the emic perspective he was able to uncover much more than from an observational standpoint.
The Great Kalahari Debate
Regardless on Lee’s expressed neutrality in The Great Kalahari Debate his book has been prompted to the front lines of the clash between traditionalists and revisionists. Being used as the poster book for the traditionalist side Lee obviously demonstrates the holistic approach by stating that no one “had bothered to systematically ask the Ju people themselves for their views of their own history. ”(Lee 2003: 213) This attitude combined with the extensive amount of time spent doing fieldwork immediately represents the diachronic illustration of the Ju people.
Although the set timeline was specific to the lifestyle observed during the time of Lee’s fieldwork trips to the Kalahari, the context remains diachronic due to the interest in political and social history to understand the present. Also, Lee goes on to talk about changes in the Dobe area that have affected their autonomous lifestyle, mainly the westernization and conformity with the Tswana blacks to become more sedentary. When Talking about the changes Lee says, “Sharing has declined and further interpersonal conflict, fueled by alcohol, seems even more frequent” (Lee 2003:167).
Lee states, “Like other foragers they are becoming a part of the modern world. ”(Lee 2003: 167) The continuation of lengthy fieldwork into the present from three decades ago further reiterates the diachronic study. Other anthropologists have tried to understand the Ju /’hoansi both before Richard Lee and after. The total etic perspective used before the research of Lee proved to be very inaccurate and merely touched the surface of intricacies that are involved in the culture of the Ju/ hoansi. This also raised bad stereotypes resulting from assumptions.
After his research there have been archeological finds that states the Ju might not be who they say they are, which spawned the Great Kalahari Debate. But in regards to the debate it’s hard not to side with the person who has spent over 50 years traveling back and forth from the Kalahari, holistically incorporating many different methods of ethnography. Participating is one method used, illustrated by Lee joining the kinship of one particular group, “The name stuck. Soon people all over the Dobe area were calling me /Tontah” (Lee 2003: 59).
The interview method
Another ethnography method incorporated is observation which is expressed when Lee is talking about how many mongongo nuts a women can gather in a day along with the amount of time spent doing so, “By two o’ clock everyone was finished; they dumped their final few onto the pile, which looked enormous to me”(Lee 2003: 39). A third method is statistical, Lee uses statistics to evaluate the caloric intake to the work load, “the womens loads weigh 30 to 50 pounds each”and, “That worked out to about 23,000 calories of food for each women collecter” (Lee 2003: 38).
The interview method is prominently used by Lee, this method is very resourceful when he is explaining the marriage-by-capture ceremony, /Twa says when asked by Lee about the capture part of the ritual, “with some girls it is necessary to carry them bodily to the hut on the back of one of the women(Lee 2003: 80). If the task of researching the Ju /’hoansi was given to me I personally would approach the people and their culture very similar to the way Richard Lee did it. I am a very hands on learner and need the experiential learning phase to be the most significant aspect to my studies.
The way the Ju /’hoansi interact with my presence accounted for, and cross comparing it to the way the Ju people interact with each other when my presence is absent. How do these two things contradict? What is my influence on the way they speak? Do you talk the same way to your mother as you would a college buddy? People, no matter what kind, will always speak differently to some one of any importance, but what do they talk about to each other? These are the types of questions that spark my interest and are easily applicable to fieldwork.