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The Old Way: A Story of the First People Paperback – October 30, 2007
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About the Author
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is the author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction--among them The Hidden Life of Dogs, The Harmless People, Reindeer Moon, and The Animal Wife. She has written for The New Yorker, National Geographic, and The Atlantic. She lives in New Hampshire.
Top Customer Reviews
With "The Old Way," she returns to the subject of that first book - a title that has been in print since 1959. Marshall first encountered the Ju/wasi, one of the five groups of Bushmen, in 1950 when she was 18, on the first of several Kalahari trips with her parents and brother.
Her father, a founder of Raytheon, was a highly organized, take-charge sort of person, with versatile skills. Her mother, a former ballerina turned teacher, became a noted anthropologist over the course of these (and more) trips, and her brother devoted most of his life to the Bushmen.
In the 1950s the Ju/wasi maintained their ancient nomadic culture in near isolation. Except for bits of metal they obtained in trade and used for arrowheads, the Ju/wasi made everything they needed from local material. They did not farm and had no domestic animals, but obtained all their food from hunting and gathering. They were the last people on earth, says Thomas, to follow the "Old Way," a way of life that depends on knowledge handed down one-to-one from generation to generation. The Old Way depends on intimacy between habitat and humanity.
Thomas' book is not a scientific study or a memoir, but a bit of both, as well as a celebration and lament for a culture now gone.Read more ›
Older members of the Bushmen tribe were valued and respected for their wisdom, likewise Elizabeth is passing down her knowledge and experience for later generations. The Bushman way of life she saw in the 1950s, perhaps as old as 150,000 years, no longer exists - all it took was one generation and the long unbroken chain known as "The Old Way" has disappeared. It is the same sad story told the world over from Native Americans to Tibet to Eskimos. Yet Elizabeth reveals a deeper lesson, which is the "myth" that the Bushmen ever wanted it any other way - they want the comforts of modernization, just as we would prefer not to hunt and gather food each day. Bushmen want to travel, see the world, be a part of wider humanity, and for that we can celebrate and welcome all they have to teach. This book provides that introduction.
This, her second book about the individuals of the Ju/Wasi, tells of the traditions of hunting and gathering that are vital to their survival, and of the dire consequences that result when they are prevented from pursuing and passing on those traditions to their children. Thomas also reminds us of how, when people from so-called developed countries meddle in the affairs of countries and people we don't fully understand, even the best of intentions can go awry.
Her descriptions of the dances and singing she witnesses moved me deeply, and seemed to stir long-forgotten memories of a time when we all sat huddled in a circle in the night, telling tales and sharing the lore that helped us to survive the spirits and predators lurking in the cold darkness beyond the glow of our small fires. By interweaving and illustrating her study of the Ju/Wasi and the Nyae Nyae region in which they lived with vignettes of the individuals of the tribe, Thomas brings us to a mirror in which we can glimpse our own ancestor's struggles for survival, no matter where that may have been.
"The Old Way: A Story of the First People" is a well-written and passionate book, and one that contains many lessons we would be well advised to re-learn and hold close to our hearts as we sruggle to find a means to continue to survive in an increasingly complex world.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Interesting and very written. The author is a writer and it shows. She is passionate too. That adds to engage the readers. Read morePublished 27 days ago by Joseph Yau
Turns on its head the orthodox and perhaps romanticised way we view wildlife conservation in Africa where the wild animals are protected but the "wild" peoples are not.Published 4 months ago
This book caps off a lifetime of involvement with the hunter-gatherer people. Her first book, The Harmless People was from the eyes of a teenage Elizabeth Thomas. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Carl Abbott
A great study of natural humanity and a glimpse forward at the demise of innocence. This is a valuable, in-depth study.Published 7 months ago by Ceci G.
I have always found anything written about the bushmen of the Kalahari fascinating. Many of Laurens Van der Post's books, for instance. Read morePublished 9 months ago by DF
If you love The Kalahari and Africa this book is for you...already reading it again...so well done EMT...cheers...Published 11 months ago by Steven K. Lumpkin
After visiting the San people in Namibia I was curious to learn about the Marshall family and what the San were like in those days. It was very interesting.Published 13 months ago by Jeffrey Tusing