“The Dobe Juhoansi” Richard B. Lee Short Summary

Bushman: a member of a group of short-statured peoples of southern Africa who traditionally live by hunting and foraging. While the term bushman has come to be known as both racist and sexist, it is easily the most recognized term when describing the people living amongst the bush of southern Africa. The San, as they are now known as, are a cluster of indigenous peoples of southern Africa who speak a click language and who have a tradition of living by hunting and gathering.

In the book The Dobe Juhoansi, Richard B. Lee, an anthropologist from the University of Toronto, takes an interesting and in-depth look into the San life by centering his studies on one specific group. Lee?s focus of study takes place on the border between the countries of Namibia and Botswana in an area called the Dobe. Here there live a tribe of people known as the Dobe Juhoansi.

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Lee centers on several important issues of the Juhoansi culture and lifestyle throughout the book. He provides a tremendous amount of information that is broken into twelve chapters that continually draws deeper into the internal thinking of the Juhoansi culture. The method of bringing out this information is delivered first externally with their environment and examples of hunting techniques while moving into deeper issues such as sexuality and religion. Lee also informs the reader on the Juhoansi?s kinship, social organization, marriage, as well as conflict, their politics, and social change.

Lee begins the case study by providing an interesting lead-in as to the trials and tribulations of locating the Dobe people. I thought that this was an interesting device in order to grasp the reader?s attention towards the immense isolation that the Juhoansi remain in. Once contact has been established, Lee delves into covering basic background information such as the environment that they live in including climate, physical features, and settlement patterns. I found this information to be very helpful in my attempt to familiarize myself with the Dobe Ju/?hoansi as to how they live. While Lee covers a great deal of information about the Dobe Juhoansi, I found that the most important issues lie within their subsistence, kinship, and sexuality.

The Dobe Ju/?hoansi are a hunting and gathering group of people, which is thought to be how early man lived. Therefore, it is easy to see why Lee acknowledges the importance of studying the Juhoansi while they are still relatively isolated. Here we are able to view a culture that retains our early ancestral pattern. As recently as 1964, 85% of their calories were the result of hunting and gathering (156). That number has since decreased due to the increased Westernization. The most interesting feature of the Juhoansi foraging is the relatively little amount of work needed to feed a village. As Lee observed on a trip to a mongongo tree, that within a two-hour period, a woman gathered 30-50 lbs. of nuts enabling a person to eat for ten days .

The kinship of the Dobe Juhoansi is very important in creating order to interpersonal relationships, inheritance, and marriage (foreword, v). Lee suceeds where others have failed in that he is able to take a difficult and complex topic (social organization of kin) and create an easier way to understand it. Instead of diving right into the organization, Lee provides a diagram showing what and where the terms are as seen on pages 66 through 69. The most interesting part, in my opinion, was the limited number of personal names. There are only 35 mens names and 32 womans names in use in 1964 (71). In fact 75% of all the men had one or another of the eleven most popular names, while 73% of woman had one of the twelve most popular names (72).

The reasoning behind this was due to the Juhoansi belief that a child must be named for somebody. A first-born son is named after his father?s father, and the daughter named after her fathers mother. Never are parents allowed to name their children after themselves. This varies greatly with our society where it is a commonality.

The sexuality of the Juhoansi is also very interesting. In Juhoansi culture, girls and boys learn and take part in sex at a very early age. Parents and children sleep in the same bed, under the same blanket and sex is performed discreetly as the child sleeps. Sexual play is also considered just another part of childhood. Lee tells the story of one woman and her discovery of sex by playing sexual games with her friends. The woman states that ?most boys and girls will have some experience of sexual intercourse by age 15.

The Juhoansi today are very different from the life lived in the 1960s. The Ju/?hoansi have been in more contact with modernization. Whereas in 1964 hunting and gathering made up 85% of the food calories, now only 30% of the calories come from it. The rest is found in milk and meat from domestic stock, store-bought, or governmental mealie meal (156).

There has also been a rise in their cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. These were uncommon ailments before, but diets of carbohydrates, heavier smoking, alcohol consumption, and changes in lifestyle are the reasoning behind this. Finally, the education level of the Juhoansi is very low. The large majority has little or no schooling and job prospects are low. Poverty remains high with little prospect of change.

The method of Lees book is done very well, in my opinion. He proceeds to ?set-up? the reader with an outline of the Dobe Juhoansi people as well as describing the scene to the reader as if they were a part of the anthropological case study themselves. He organizes the book in a relatively efficient way. I felt it was important to introduce the reader to the people of the Dobe as well as the condition experienced in the African bush.

Lee?s style of writing is also very powerful in gaining the reader?s interest. Unlike Chagnons Yanomamo, this book captures the intrigue of the reader by not filling the book with an assortment of anthropological jargon. Instead, Lee allows the Juhoansi to speak for themselves through their own stories and experiences.

The complex matters that Lee intends to discuss are usually provided with a Juhoansi conversation or story, which helps for the technical jargon to feel more alive and real. The one example where I feel this is most evident is in the chapter of kinship and social organization. Most commonly, this area is considered dull, difficult, and confusing. Lee, however, succeeds in providing some interest on the topic. The story of meeting his brother of the same name is a great example of this.

Overall, I feel that Lee is effective in getting his information across on the Dobe Juhoansi. He is able to grab the reader?s attention and maintain in throughout the book. I think Lee succeeds in his goal of sharing his knowledge of a culture similar to how our own culture may have developed. Throughout the book, the reader will be able to visit the Dobe, its culture, and perhaps grasp a higher understanding of man and his evolution through life.

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