The !Kung San are a group of hunter-gathers that make their home in the northern Kalahari desert. Although many ecological and cultural changes have occurred within this group throughout the past thirty years, this article examines the gathering and subsistence patterns that characterize these people. Bentley examines the total fertility rate of the !Kung San and hypothesizes that the pattern of female energetics in their subsistence routine has a direct effect upon their fecundity (1984: 79). His perspective explores the topic of fertility in great depth, and represents a viewpoint that is absent from the text written by Richard Lee, The Dobe Ju’/hoansi. In fact, some of the hypotheses proposed by Bentley appear to contradict Lee’s own research, while others are supported by the findings of Lee.
One question that remains undecided regarding the low fertility rates of the !Kung is the degree to which this is a result of sociocultural means, or an effect of physiological and biological processes. Bentley examines the "intermediate variables" within Bongaarts’ reproductive equation, which is one means of illustrating and quantifying the mechanisms that may cause the low fertility rate, and demonstrates that this research seems insufficient in explaining fertility. Briefly, Bongaarts’ equation incorporates the following variables: total fertility rate, index of proportions married, index of contraception, index of induced abortion, index of lactational infecundability, and total fecundity (which includes fecundability, intra-uterine mortality, and permanent sterility).
In addition to showing that the intermediate variables of Bongaart’s equation are insufficient in explaining th...
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...estyle may consist of foods that are more malleable, therefore reducing the amount of time mothers spend nursing their young.
As the !Kung make cultural transitions into more sedentary lifestyles, fertility rates will presumably be affected. As Lee points out, in village life the men maintain the mobility while the women become housebound, with more of their time spent alone with the children. Thus, a more sedentary lifestyle may lead to an increase in fertility rates and a subsequent increase in population. In fact, the population of Dove has risen from 35 in 1964 to 165 at the time Lee wrote his book (1994: 154). Another result of such changes is that they may lead to the subordination of women. The new emergence of a sedentary lifestyle has implications for overall fertility, but also threatens to undermine the egalitarian values of this group of people.
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