Kung and Other Bushmen Tribes

Most contemporary foraging groups, such as the !Kung and other Bushman tribes, are viewed as a “primitive” people. Some have even gone as far to say that they are “the last representatives of the stone age.” While it is true that these people have the most similar culture to what we believe primitive persons to have had, the analogies they can provide us with the people of the past are very inaccurate. These comparisons are so unrivaled due to factors such as time and the wrong sense of view many people have on them. Another reason that we cannot compare the !Kung of today to the people of the past is because they are now advancing in society with the use of technology. I believe that the !Kung tribe is not comparable to the early people of their culture and that they are just the same as us minus our technology, which in no way makes them ‘primitive’ people.

First of all, every culture varies in traditions over time. According to Shostak, it is true that the !Kung people still have traditions that have been passed down for hundreds of generations such as their poison arrows, their trance ritual, their wide knowledge of over five hundred species of plants and animals—knowing which are edible, harmful, cosmetic, and medical. Who are we to say that these traditions have not been altered in the past ten thousand years? Howell declares that the !Kung were a very studied group including their language, culture, and economic organization. Although they have been extensively studied, Howell also proclaims, “It is surely illegitimate to use them as though they are the prototypical hunter-gatherers, knowledge of whom tells us all we need to know in order to apply the ethnographic analogy to models of prehistoric life.”

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Wild, maniac, unsophisticated, uneducated, vulgar…these are all words that come to mind when I think of prehistoric or primitive. Obviously the !Kung tribe have grown with the rest of society. How are we to say what the differences of prehistoric life was to the modern day !Kung tribes? Human error would play a huge role in our “assumptions” of the !Kung. For example, we might turn around to be just as wrong as the article of the Nacirema. Obviously, there is already a misconception about the bushman. For example, in McNeil’s essay, he comments on how a woman was speaking to a bushman and demanded to see one.

When he explained to her that he was indeed a bushman she said, “No, a wild bushman, with a tail.” Lee states that the bushman represent “the basic human adaptation stripped of the accretions and complications brought about by agriculture, urbanization, advanced technology, and national and class conflict—all of the ‘advances’ of the last few thousand years.” Lee is being very ethnocentric in this statement. He is basing our technology on the !Kung lifestyle. Webster Dictionary states technology as “a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge.” According to this definition, the !Kung have a very advanced technology.

They have proven that they can accomplish tasks using very precise processes, methods, and vast knowledge. It is not ‘our’ technology, but they have proved that they do not need ours to survive. It is their own form of living, which makes them a unique, separate culture. This in no way makes them animal like, wild, or undomesticated. In fact, the bushman have developed techniques that are obviously creditable due to the fact that they survived this way for so long. In addition, they have the same kinship-if not stronger-than our own. They can handle disputes without a leader and are very fond of working together as a team. In this aspect, they don’t need our methods of living.

Our methods though, is exactly what the !Kung are getting involved in. According to Howell, most bushman are settled on “settlement stations” with European farmers and cattlemen. They also speak several languages, use store bought clothing, food, electronics, and inoculations. They attend school and experience taxes, jail, even subordination. This “arrival” to what we consider the modern world is completely changing the culture of the !Kung, and at the same time one more reason why they cannot be labeled as primitive. To make matters worse, there are persons who want to save these “primitive” people and set them up in zoo like settings where they can be monitored! In this situation, the bushman would be treated as animals, and the very fact that people are considering this process proves that they are seen as animals already.

This again shows ethnocentrism on behalf of those who are in favor of setting them up. And what culture would it show? According to the New York Times article, the !Kung trick tourists: “we change into beaded loin clothes. Skin quivers, bows and spears appear, and we lead people on a two hours track across the field.” The bushman are pretending to be people they are not, giving the tourists what they want. This also gives tourists the wrong impression and significantly aids in the ignorance of the !Kung. This would be devastating to their culture. Culture, after all, is associated with the changes a society goes through over time. If these ‘prisons’ were to be set up, the culture would be forced and therefore in no way a comparison to early persons.

Obviously, the !Kung have a very unique culture compared to how we live our lives. They in no way, however, represent what the culture of early persons to have. They have their own culture, unique to their society, and like ours…ever changing. What most people consider “primitive” is an ethnocentric remark to the difference of their culture to ours. The !Kung just have their very own technology, which is very efficient seeing that they survived this long. Due to time, ignorance, and the bushman’s leaning towards our methods, they in no way can be compared to early people by means of their culture. The !Kung Bushmen are living their own lives now, in the present, therefore they can be in no way considered ‘people of the past.’

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