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The Old Way: A Story of the First People Paperback – October 30, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. When Thomas was 19, her father, one of the founders of Raytheon, moved her family to Africa to live among the bushmen of the Kalahari. It's hard to imagine a teenager today who would not only give up the comforts of living in an industrialized nation like the United States but also utterly embrace and come to love a group of people who live without possessions or even permanent dwellings. Thomas sees the !Kung San as noble people, and her voice imparts the respect—almost awe—she feels in their presence. Her narration is as intimate as if she were sharing with friends her intricate knowledge of the plants and animals of the Kalahari. She speaks Ju/wasi, the click language, so she can easily explain much by using the group's own words. Thomas's voice is also wise and loving: she helps us see as these gentle people do and takes us with her through their endangered, fragile environment.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Heartbreaking and gorgeously observed . . . The Old Way is not only a timely work, but also a timeless one.” ―Alexandra Fuller, The New York Times Book Review
“A work of impressive scholarship and, more important, a book that connects the dots linking us to the first stages of the human race. . . . Remarkable.” ―The Washington Post
“It is fascinating to see how Thomas has honed her observational powers over the years . . . and how her notion of 'culture' has broadened.” ―Los Angeles Times
“Thomas captures the fascinating customs of a people that had no future as a tribe.” ―The Daily News (New York)
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Top customer reviews
An incredible, story. The founder of Raytheon decides to take his wife and teenage children deep into the Kalahari Desert in what is now Namibia, where no human beings other than the Bushmen had ever ventured. No one in the family was a trained anthropologist, nor did they really know how to prepare for such a journey or what to really expect, but Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and her mother and brother became some of the most important contributors to the field ever. This book was written in 2006, decades after the "old way" had forcibly been extinguished by modern Africa.
Venturing deep into the Savanna, they discovered a culture 150,000 years old, that had lived in the extremely harsh, unforgiving climate and dangerous conditions successfully since the early migration of homo sapiens out of Ethiopia. This is important, as other hunter-gatherer populations that survived to be available for modern anthropological study already survived the migration across Asia and Europe and had become relatively modern and certainly culturally different. My interest, as a Developmental Psychologist was to learn species-specific child-rearing practices in their purest form. This is an environment where a crying baby attracts and signals predators; children rarely if ever tantrum, and people grow up to be more in control of their aggressive impulses than our Western Societies could ever claim to be. They were not Noble Savages - they were every bit as human as you or I. A full range of personality types could be found in the tribe, but since they were so interdependent, the control of human's innately violent and aggressive nature had to be fully mastered early in life or all of them would die. Life was more precious to them than it seems to be to modern human cultures. They had no chiefs or appointed leaders, and men and women were entirely equal in rights. Sharing was much more important than possessions. And the amount of knowledge they need to survive in such a climate could easily be compared to Ph.D. climatologists, historians, botanists, and ethologists. It makes you wonder whether the biggest mistake the human race has ever made was the invention of agriculture.
"To lift a Ju/wa child is an interesting and wonderful experience. An American child is heavy by comparison and comes up off the ground like a sack of grain with arms and legs dangling--dead weight. A Ju/wa child almost lifts himself because he participates in the action with his arms and legs ready to clasp you so that the two of you instantly fuse as if you were a magnet and he a little piece of steel. And you don't have to hold him up--he clamps himself right on you and holds himself in place. You need merely to keep an arm around him. I love to carry Ju/wa children..." (114).
Some parts were less warm and more clinical, reading like an ornithologist's description of a flock of birds. (The author makes no ontological distinction between man and beast.) While I don't agree with her view that the only fundamental difference between chimps and us is time, I still enjoyed her tenderly rendered portrait of a people she obviously cares very much about.
This particular account was written by a woman who in her youth, along with family members, actually lived for some time among bushmen who were still living according to their ancient culture. I found it tremendously interesting, though sad in the parts that dealt with their difficulties brought about by the modern world.