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In the book, “Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman,” written by Marjorie Shostak; is a culturally shocking and extremely touching book about a woman who had gone through many struggles and horrific tragedies in her life. This book also emphasizes the perspective of most of the women in the society. There are many striking issues in this book that the people of the !Kung tribe go through.
Marjorie Shostak, an anthropologist who had written this book had studies the !Kung tribe for two years. Shostak had spent the two years interviewing the women in the society. The !Kung tribe resided n the Dobe area of Northwest Botswana, that’s infused with a series of clicks, represented on paper by exclamation points and slashes. Shostak had studied that the people of the tribe relied mostly on nuts of the mongongo, which is from an indigenous tree that’s part of their diet.
Shostak, out of all the women in the tribe had made close connections with a fifty year old woman with the name of Nisa. The woman, Nisa, is what the book is about. The book is written in Nisa’s point of view of her life experiences while growing up in that type of society. Nisa’s willingness to speak in the interviews about her childhood and her life gave Shostak a solid basis on what to write her book on. Nisa’s life was filled with tragedies. She had gone through certain situations where Nisa loses two of her children as infants and two as adults. She had also lost her husband soon after the birth of one of their children. According to Shostak, “None of the women had experiences as much tragedy as Nisa…” (Shostak, 351).
Shostak, when interviewing Nisa, considers that in the beginning of the book, Nisa seems to exaggerate the stories from when she was an infant. Although the stories are exaggerated by Nisa, a lot of women can relate to her life even with the geographic distance between them or if the society is completely different. Women of the same age can relate to Nisa, or if they went through the same situations like her. Certain women, even in America, have gone through a situation where they had to bury their own child or if they have lost a husband.
This book had first started out by introducing the readers to what this book is going to sound like, which was the Introduction.
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The roles of the male and female of the !Kung tribe are different. The males of the tribe have to go out hunting for food so he could support his family. If the male, when going out hunting and he catches a large animal, it is considered to be wrong to brag about the size of the animal. Each male, after hunting has to be humble when catching a large animal. The male often hold positions such as a spokesperson for a certain group or as a healer. If the male is a healer, he has a much greater authority over many of the people in general of the tribe.
Women, although still equal to the male have a great responsibility of taking care of the family. In the !Kung tribe, the sex of the child does not matter, but in certain cultures, “A mother’s influence is thought to pose a threat to her son’s masculinity or ability to attain full male status, and boys are separated from their mothers to counteract this feminizing influence (Shostak, 214).” In the !Kung tribe, both the boys and the girls are allowed to sleep beside their parents, it wouldn’t matter if a boy sleeps with his mother. The only time that the boy child is being separated from the mother is when there is a ceremony being held for the boy around the ages of fifteen and twenty. The ceremony is called “Choma,” which is a male initiation ceremony. What happens here is that the boy experiences famine, cold, thirst, and fatigue from dancing at the ceremony.
Parents in America are not completely different from the parents of the !Kung tribe, although there are shocking differences. What is different from the parents of the !Kung tribe to the parents of America is that they would not bury a child or that would be considered murder in America. If that is done by a parent of the !Kung tribe, then that is considered to be normal because the parent, if he or she has another child and the child is getting sick, they would pay closer attention to the sick child than the child that is in the womb. Parents in America make sure that they pay attention to all of their children, if they don’t, the child would end up growing up a certain way, and that is what makes society in America.
Nisa’s life, when compared to other females is extremely tough since she had gone through many horrific tragedies. As Shostak had mentioned, not many females of the same tribe have experienced what she had through out her life. Average females of the !Kung tribe go through marriage at a young age. Marriage is a sacred thing that starts when the females are very young. If a female gets married at a very young age, they would be with an older man, this is more like a “trial” marriage. It’s called a trial marriage because the females of the tribe get married more than once. If they do not like the person they are with at that time, they have the right to divorce. Nisa speaks of her many marriages and how they worked out and why they turned out that way. Nisa was married for the first time at a very young age. She had not even gone through menstruation yet, knowing this fact, Nisa was probably around ten years old when she had gotten married. This is shocking because when talking about marriage at such a young age, it’s called “child marriage,” however; there it is just called a “trial” marriage. That is the way that it is in her culture. A woman marries an older man when she is very young. Sometimes the girl is too scared to stay in their new home alone together right away. Because of the fear of the girl a nurse would come and stay with them for a short period of time until the girl’s comfortable with the male.
Marriage in America is very simple, a person usually falls in love with someone and then marries them, or if they do not find any one as a companion, an arranged marriage or “blind dates” are being made by the parents so they could get married sooner. Marriage in America is varied because of the different culture, but the only way it is different from the !Kung tribal culture is that no one gets married at such a young age. The normal way to get married is to fall in love in America.
By understanding the economics and gender behavior of this tribe, we can see how they function in the scope of a larger American civilization works. The people of the !Kung tribe have many similar customs as a Westerner but they are different in many ways also. Shostak had spent a good amount of time to find out the similarities and differences of tradition and customs being done in the Dobe area of the Kalahari desert compared to Western cultures, or more modern places.
Shostak, Marjorie. 1945 - Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.