ANTC41 - Lecture 6 - Ju/’hoansi.docx
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ANTC41 - Lecture 6 - Kalahari Desert (Ju/’hoansi people of Namibia and Botswana)
The Ju/’hoansi people are located close to the border between Namibia and Botswana
The Ju/’hoansi were originally known as the !Kung Bushmen, however this is not an accurate term. The !Kung
were actually the people who lived to the west of them, the group studied refer to themselves as the Ju/’hoansi.
The term bushmen was sort of insulting. Bushmen was replaced by San (people who practice hunting and
gathering in regions of Africa).
Richard B Lee began his fieldwork in 1963 and has been there 20 times thus far.
Genetically the Ju/’hoansi people represent some of the oldest human strains in the human genome. Not
everyone looks at them in the same way. There are alternative approaches to studying them. They could
represent a hunting and gathering way of life and up until 10,000 yeas ago hunting and gathering was the
universal mode of human existence.
We could learn lessons about alternative ways of living (different from our industrial society). The Ju/’hoansi
have shown cultural continuity for thousands of years, here we as a species, are concerned about our species’
long term survival (climate change, population growth and so on), this lifestyle has allowed them to persist for
over a millennia, so what are they doing that has allowed them to survive over long periods of time
successfully? There are people who live lightly on the land (don’t plant crops and they don’t domesticate
animals other than the dog) and are able to sustain themselves for long periods of time.
Biological anthropology – you can see the Ju/’hoansi people as models of ways of livings that give us insight to
the deep past (prehistory), this step could be taken with certain safeguards because we must always remember
that the Ju/’hoansi are as human as we are and their history is just as long as any other human group.
So there are multiple ways of approaching the Ju/’hoansi, they can even be studied to show one form of
adaptation to living in arid lands. In the 60’s the land looks like a vast, relatively empty land that is about
11,000 square kilometers that is inhabited by around 500 Ju/’hoansi (low population density).
The area is about 11 meters above sea level so it is a high desert. It is a system where you have parallel dunes on
the landscape. There are molapo (river valley) between the dunes. It is a semi-desert environment and there’s
only about 350-450ml of rainfall per year. There’s year-to-year variation.
Mobility is a key part of the adaptation. In the winter months they live in these pretty substantial villages where
they live next to permanent water holes (there are about 9-12). When the rainy season begins they go out into
the interland and disperse. They find hundreds of little water pods. They then fill ostrich eggshells with the
water (water canteens). The camps are temporary as well (occupied for a few weeks or months). Mobility is
extremely important for hunters and gatherers.
There’s a year round routine of work, women go out and gather in groups of 3,4 or 5. They spend about six to
eight hours gathering and then they return. Life for these people is not a constant struggle for existence. The
women only work two or three days a week and spend the rest of the time in leisure activities.
The mongongo trees provide nuts that make up about 40% of the vegetable diet. She can carry about 25-35
pounds of nuts back home. The nuts mature in May and can be collected on the ground for the entire year
because they have a very hard shell. The cracking method used has been around for 1-2 millions years but it
hasn’t been improved on (smashing the nut with a stone). Modern technology such as the nutcracker doesn’t
crack these nuts. There are about another 100 species of plant food. The Grewia berries is a genus that consists
of 9 different species that mature at different times of the year. You could easily collect 50 pounds of these
berries in a single day. The baobabs exist in the desert and they produce fruits and nuts, which is a major
source vitamin C. You can find truffles as well (quite easily). Truffles are expensive, the Kalahari truffle taste
similar to French truffles.
Gathering provides 60-80% of the food. Men usually go hunting alone or with one other person. They have a
remarkable ability to read animal tracks. They are able to tell how recently the animal travelled there, the age
of the animal, the sex of the animal and well as the species. Usually the animals that are hunted and brought
back include small antelopes, and warthogs. Large animals such as large antelopes, kudus and gemsboks are
more rare. Men’s work is only about 25% successful. When women go out for gathering it’s a hundred percent
successful. The meat from game animals provides essential nutrients (high quality proteins and amino acids).
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