The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman
By (author) Marjorie Shostak
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Nisa by Marjorie Shostak
Book DescriptionMarried at twelve, then separated, divorced and widowed, Nisa is the mother of four children, none of whom survived. She is strong, capable of foraging on her own in one of the world's most hostile environments, not dependent on any man for her daily sustenance and ready to talk to anyone as her equal. Wise, full of humour at the absurdities of life and courageous in the face of its defeats, she is bawdy, practical and incurably romantic. She is a woman of the !Khung people who live by means of humanity's oldest survival strategy - gathering and hunting. This book is the remarkable story of Nisa's life, told in her own words to Marjorie Shostak. It is a story full of echoes from a female past that we can never know directly. But it is also Nisa's unique story, her own voice, her own dignity. In anyone's culture, she is a remarkable woman.
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Book DetailsISBN: 9781853830600
(216mm x 138mm x 22mm)
Imprint: Earthscan Ltd
Publisher: Taylor & Francis Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Mar-1990
Country of Publication: United Kingdom
Books By Author Marjorie Shostak
Return to Nisa, Paperback (March 2002)» View all books by Marjorie Shostak
An account of Marjorie Shostak's return to Botswana and her reunion with Nisa and the !Kung people. The core of this study is the relationship between the anthropologist and the ageing Nisa, a reflection of the complexities, disappointments and curiosity inherent in fieldwork.
US Kirkus Review » While there have been many rich descriptions of the life - and the now-changing times - of the !Kung of south central Africa, anthropologist Shostak's account is noteworthy for its focus on a single individual. Nisa (the name is fictitious) is a woman now 60-ish, forthcoming in personality, and unabashed and expressive in her native tongue (which Shostak painstakingly learned in order to conduct her investigations). The result is the narrative of an idiosyncratic life, but one that mirrors the conventions and culture of a group as well. The portrait is unsentimental. Shostak even reports early ambivalent feelings about Nisa, whose demanding, manipulative behavior, along with her constant reminders of the generosity of past anthropologists, were not likely to endear. Over time, however, Shostak and Nisa both changed. The anthropologist interviewed over a dozen women of all ages - inviting recall, asking pertinent questions, seeking biographical highlights. Nisa emerged as particularly compelling, colorful in language and generally truthful. Each chapter begins with a broad view of the stage or age about to unfold, based on other sources and interviews. Then we focus on Nisa, starting with her earliest memories of weaning and of the near-infanticide of her younger brother (a rare event, we're assured). We learn of a free-wheeling childhood and sex play; of seasonal comings and goings; child marriages; the first menstruation and attendant rituals; of childbirth, in the bush, unattended. If the narrative is highly charged with sex it is because sex is important in !Kung life. Marriages are largely monogamous, with some sanction for a second wife; lovers are accepted for both husbands and wives, but discretion is important - discovery can lead to mayhem and even murder. Some cultural details we have heard before from Richard Lee or Irven DeVore - the elaborate gift-exchanges, the bounteous mongongo nut, the meat-sharing, the canny skills (the ability to recognize an individual's tracks, for example), the storied botanical and animal lore. Shostak sees some potential for good (the preservation of rituals, healing rites, drum dances, stories) even as domestication takes place and the !Kung begin to cultivate their gardens, to crave tobacco and money. Time will tell. For now we have a remarkable anthropologist to thank for an absorbing account of the far-from-happy life of a woman of admirable strength and self-possession. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Marjorie Shostak
Marjorie Shostak is an anthropoligist who lived for two years with the !Khung in the Kalahari desert.
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