Essay Nisa: the Life and Words of a !Kung Women

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Foraging for wild plants and hunting wild animals is the most ancient of human subsistence patterns. Prior to 10,000 years ago, all people lived in this way. Hunting and gathering continues to be the subsistence pattern of some societies around the world including the !Kung. The !Kung population is located in the Kalahari Desert, in isolated parts of Botswana, Angola, and Namibia. The !Kung live in a harsh environment with temperatures during the winter frequently below freezing, but during the summer well above 100F. The !Kung, like most hunter-gatherer societies, have a division of labor based mainly on gender and age.

(Body) Gender in the Division of Labor For the most part in the !Kung society the men do the
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As boys get older they improve their aim by throwing sticks and wooden spears. Their mastery of animal tracks, and their ability to identify the hundreds of plant and animal species in the environment is a slow process, acquired through practice and observation. Much of this knowledge necessary to success in the hunt is learned from discussions of present and past hunts. Around the age of twelve boys are given their first quivers with small bows and arrows, and begin to shoot birds and rabbits. Next they will accompany their fathers, uncles, and older brothers when they go out to hunt. A boy is likely to kill his first large animal between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. The !Kung recognizes this event as a milestone and performs two separate ceremonies to celebrate the killing of the first male and the first female animal. Small ritual tattoos are administered and additional small cuts are made to ensure, symbolically, the strength and success of the boy's future as a hunter. Although now considered eligible for marriage, he may not actually marry for as long as ten years. By the age of thirty a man enters the most productive period of his hunting career, which will likely last for at least fifteen years. It is only in their mid-teens that girls begin to accompany their mothers regularly on gathering expeditions and to collect wood and water. When younger children accompany their mothers in gathering expeditions they contribute almost nothing