Top positive review
and even beautiful account of the author's field study of the Kung
on June 2, 2016
This is a detailed, fascinating, and even beautiful account of the author's field study of the Kung! Bushman. Along with the Australian aborigines, the Bushman of the Kalahari desert, who inhabit an arid tableland in southwest Africa, are considered one of the two most primitive cultures in existence. The Bushmen aren't native to the Kalahari but were forced there as a result of conflicts with the white man and other tribes after the 17th century. Thomas gives a detailed account of their way of life and how they are able to survive in one of the most desolate places on earth. The Bushmen are very short of stature, averaging only 4 feet, 10 inches tall, and their skin has a yellowish tinge that is different from the blacker skin of their surrounding neighbors. The Kalahari has no surface water, and the rare rainfall immediately dries up. One of the few ways they get moisture as well as food is the tsama melon, which grows underground. The tsama melons are so important that the rights to a particular locale are inherited, which is unusual among the Bushmen. To survive in this harsh environment, the Bushmen have become expert botanists and can identify over 300 different kinds of plants, and they hunt antelope with poisoned arrows. Marriage among the Bushmen can occur at a very early age, but for women it is considered inappropriate to become fully sexually active and to marry before the age of 12. After having been almost completely wiped out between the 17th and the 19th century through conflicts with other tribes and the white man, there are now about 50,000 Bushmen inhabiting the Kalahari.
Years later, when I saw the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, I recalled my first encountering the Bushmen in Thomas's wonderful little book. Several years after that, I had the opportunity to hear Jamie Uys speak, the south African director of the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, and he also described what it was like to work with and live in the Kalahari with the Bushmen during the making of his movie. Both he and Thomas commented that there was something very likeable about the Kalahari Bushmen, who now live very peaceably in their little arid paradise with relatively little conflict and strife. Well, paradise isn't exactly the word for the inhospitable environment where they live, but nevertheless the Bushmen came across in both Thomas's and Uys's accounts as overall quite happy and content with their life. Ever since reading this book, I have thought it ironic to consider that the more advanced cultures in other parts of the world, including those of us in the modern western countries, who are considerably more advanced, probably live no more happy and less stressful lives than the primitive Bushmen. Of course, one must be careful about the "Noble Savage" fallacy, but in the case of the Bushmen it seems to be true. This book is an updated edition of the one I read many years ago in college. Overall a classic study that takes its place alongside other great anthropological classics of Africa like Colin Turnbull's The Forest People, about the pygmies.