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Shostack, Marjorie 1981 NISA Penguin Books, London
NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.
Marjorie Shostak is an Associate of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of Harvard University. She has received a number of major grants and awards for her work in anthropology and photography. The research upon which Nisa is based took place during two field trips to the !Kung San of Botswana, totalling more than two years: the first in 1969-71, the second in 1975. She spent hundreds of hours interviewing women about their lives in the !Kung language, and later transcribed and translated the resulting tapes. The outcome is a book in which a !Kung woman speaks in her own voice, introduced and accompanied by the ethnologist's comments, comparing her with other !Kung women and explaining the essential cultural background so that Nisa's narrative takes on a larger, objective meaning. A third dimension of the book is the voice of the ethnologist speaking about herself and her own confrontation with Nisa's world.
Marjorie Shostak lives with her husband, daughter and infant son in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She feels that her treatment of her own children has been influenced in many ways by her African experience. In late 1983 she will take up a post as Lecturer on Ethnology in the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts of Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia.
On !Kung Life
The !Kung are not exceptional among gathering and hunting peoples. According to scientists who have compared the social and economic organization in different groups of contemporary gatherer-hunters, these societies have more in common with each other than with their agricultural, pastoral, and industrial neighbors. Wherever it is practiced, whatever the climate, whatever the terrain, there is an undeniable "master plan" in contemporary gatherer-hunter life. The best explanation for the similarities among these groups is that within the gathering and hunting mode, there is a limited set of alternatives to choose from. Any group of people who had to live off the land would face similar ecological problems and would probably invent a roughly similar system. It seems reasonable to suggest, then, that this pattern, or more properly, this range of patterns-prevailed in most human societies before the agricultural revolution and during much of the course of human evolution. But what relevance does all this have for us? What do we gain from knowing about our gathering and hunting past? Most important, perhaps, is the knowledge that the gatherer-hunter legacy is a rich one. Life for our prehistoric ancestors was not characterized by constant deprivation, but rather by usually adequate food and nutrition, modest work effort, fair amounts of leisure, and sharing of resources, with both women and men contributing substantially to the family, the economy, and the social world. Today, gatherers and hunters, the !Kung included, live in the most marginal areas, whereas prehistoric gatherers and hunters occupied areas abundant with water, plant food, and game. If there is any bias in the data from modern-day gatherer-hunters, therefore, it probably leads to an underestimate of the quality of life of their-and our-predecessors.
The day-to-day organization of subsistence is as complex as the seasonal round. !Kung women contribute the majority (from 60 to 80 percent by weight) of the total food consumed. Averaging little more than two days a week in the quest for food, they gather from among 105 species of wild plant foods, including nuts, beans, bulbs and roots, leafy greens, tree resin, berries, and an assortment of other vegetables and fruits. They also collect honey from beehives, and occasionally small mammals, tortoises, snakes, caterpillars, insects, and birds' eggs. Intact ostrich eggs are sought both for their nutritional value equivalent to about two dozen hens' eggs-and for their shells. After the egg is extracted through a hole bored in one end, the shell makes an excellent container for carrying or storing water. Broken eggshells found at old nesting sites are fashioned into beads, to be strung or sewn into necklaces, headbands, and aprons. The staple of !Kung nutrition is the abundant mongongo (or mangetti) nut, which constitutes more than half of the vegetable diet. lt is prized both for its inner kernel and for its sweet outer fruit. Other important plant foods are baobab fruits, marula nuts, sour plums, tsama melons, tsin beans, water roots, and a variety of berries. Most women share what they bring home, but there are no formal rules for distribution of gathered foods and those with large families may have little left over to give others. Although food resources are located at variable distances from the villages, they are fairly reliable. Groups of about three to five women leave, usually early in the morning, and head for an agreed-upon area. They proceed at a leisurely pace, filling their karosses with a variety of foods as they travel, and return to camp by mid-to-late afternoon. After a brief rest, they sort their piles of food, setting some aside to be given as gifts.
Most of the food is distributed and consumed within forty-eight hours. !Kung women also care for children and perform a variety of daily domestic chores. They average close to four hours a day in maintaining their subsistence tools and in housework: fetching water, collecting firewood, maintaining fires, making huts (frame and thatching), arranging bedding, and preparing and serving food (including cracking nuts for themselves and their youn(' children). Men average three hours a day in making and repairing tools and in domestic work: they chop trees for fires and for building huts, help collect firewood, and butcher, prepare, and serve meat. Devoted and loving fathers, they also participate in child care, though their contribution, in terms of time spent, is minor. Women's status in the community is high and their influence considerable. They are often prominent in major family and band decisions, such as where and when to move and whom their children will marry. Many also share core leadership in a band and ownership of water holes and foraging areas. Just how influential they really are and how their status compares with that of men is a complicated question: women may, in fact, be nearly equal to men, but the culture seems to define them as less powerful. In other words, their influence may be greater than the !Kung-.of either sex-like to admit. Men's principal food contribution is hunted meat, which is very highly valued-perhaps because it is so unpredictable-and which, when brought into the village, is often the cause of great excitement, even dancing. Men average slightly less than three days a week in hunting. They, too, leave early in the morning, alone or in pairs, and usually return by sunset, although overnight stays are possible. Although accomplished hunters, they only succeed about one day in every four that they hunt. Game is sparsely distributed in the northern Kalahari-a marked contrast to the herds of thousands of animals in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve farther south-and has become scarcer over the last fifty years. Bows, arrows, and spears of minimal size and weight make up the basic hunting kit, along with a variety of bags and implements. But the hunters depend most on a lethal poison extracted from beetle larvae. It is so potent that an antelope, or even a giraffe, is likely to die within a day of being struck with a wellplaced arrow. Harmless to people ingesting the meat, the poison works on the animal's central nervous system; it becomes harmful only when it enters an animal's or a person's-bloodstream. In the village, poisoned arrows are stored in closed quivers hung out of the way of adults and the reach of children. For additional safety, poison is applied only to the shaft, not to the sharp arrow point, to avoid poisoning from accidental cuts. The arrows are periodically checked and fresh poison applied.
Unlike women, who maintain a fairly constant gathering routine, men rarely adhere to strict hunting schedules. They often hunt intensively for a few weeks, then follow with a period of inactivity. Because success in the hunt is so variable, meat accounts for only 20 to 40 percent of the !Kung diet, depending on the time of year and the number of hunters residing in a camp. Men are as knowledgeable as women in plant lore, but they collect plants only infrequently and account for about 20 percent of all food gathered. Their primary contribution to subsistence is in the animals they hunt. Most prominent are the large game animals (kudu, wildebeest, gemsbok, eland, roan antelope, hartebeest, and giraffe) and the smaller ones (warthog, steenbok, duiker, and hares). Men also coliect reptiles (snakes and tortoises), amphibians, and insects, trap hole-dwelling animals(porcupine, antbear, springhare, and anteater), and snare birds (guinea fowl, francolin, kori and korhaan bustards, sand-grouse, and doves). Honey, a great favorite, is extracted from beehives, often with the help of women. Distribution of all but the smallest game is tied to more formal rules than is the cas,e for gathered foods, but the result is similar. Perhaps because of the limitations of their hunting methods, the !Kung kill only what they need and use every part of the animal. Bones and hooves are cracked for marrow; skins are either eaten or tanned for blankets; sinew is made into thread or strung on a hunting bow. Even the tails of some animals are used: the hair may become the strings of a musical instrument or be braided into a bracelet, or the entire tail may be carried as a spiritual object in a medicinal trance dance. Food is rarely stored for any length of time. The environment can be depended on to act as a kind of natural storehouse, with food being gathered only when needed. There are occasional scarcities in some of the important wild vegetable foods, but rarely has there been a shortage in the mongongo nut, which is so well adapted to the Dobe area that even in most years of drought hundreds of thousands of nuts are left on the ground to rot.
Dietary quality is excellent. Richard Lee studied the !Kung diet in 1968 and found their average intake of calories and protein to exceed the United Nations recommendations for people of their size and stature. Their diet is extremely low in salt, saturated fats, and carbohydrates, particularly sugar, and high in polyunsaturated oils, roughage, and vitamins and minerals. In fact, it conforms to most contemporary ideas of good nutrition. The dry season of 1968 was one of the most severe droughts in southern Africa in recent history; thus it is likely that the !Kung diet is even better in normal years. (More recent studies have indicated that during the dry season many !Kung lose weight, suggesting an insufficient calorie intake. They usually regain the weight, however, when the dry season is over. Whatever the actual deficit during this period, the diet remains wide-ranging and high in nutrients.) Their diet, along with their relaxed pace of life, seems to have protected the !Kung from some of the diseases common in our society: they do not suffer from high blood pressure, hypertensive heart disease or atherosclerosis, hearing loss or senility, varicose veins, or stress-related diseases such as ulcers or colitis. This does not mean that !Kung health is, in general, good. It is not: nearly 50 percent of children die before the age of fifteen; 20 percent die in their first year, mostly from gastrointestinal infections. Life expectancy at birth is only thirty years, while the average life expectancy at age fifteen is fifty-five. One reason that the illnesses we associate with aging seem to have little impact on them is that only 10 percent of the population is over sixty years old-the age at which they would begin to be more vulnerable to such illnesses. Respiratory infections and malaria are major killers of adults. !Kung health nevertheless compares favorably with that of many nonindustrial societies, and of our own society before the advent of modern public health and medicines. Given the circumstances the !Kung face, they have been remarkably successful. They survive even thrive in an environment that is hospitable only to those who know it intimately. Their traditions, distilled from thousands of years of experience, have been passed on through hundreds of generations. There is neither memory nor legend regarding a time when, for example, the poison they use on their arrows, or their trance ritual, did not exist. They know nearly five hundred species of plants and animals: which are edible, and which have medicinal, toxic, cosmetic., or various other uses. Their skill in exploiting their environment allows them free time in which to concentrate on family ties, social life, and spiritual development. Their life is rich in human warmth and aesthetic experience and offers an enviable balance of work and love, ritual and play.
Wives and Co-wives
ONCE A MARRIAGE has survived a few years beyond the young wife's first menstruation, the relationship between the spouses becomes more pleasant and more equal. Communication is open, and opinions on all subjects are easily shared. The more mature a woman becomes and the more children she has, the more likely it is that her personal talents and attributes will find expression. If she is strong, intelligent, and inclined to leadership, she is also likely to exert a substantial influence on group life. Other strong women in the village will serve as role models. Equality between the sexes is probably greater among gatherers and hunters, including the !Kung, than in most other societies around the world. Despite the prominence of !Kung women, however, men generally' have the edge. One reflection of their dominance is the pressure they can exert on their wives to accept other women as co-wives in marriage. Polygynous marriage is something many men want and about 5 percent have at any one time. The advantages for the man are obvious: he gains a new sexual partner, he is likely to have additional children, and he adds a substantial new provider of food to his family. The usual advantages of obtaining a first wife also apply: he gains recognition and status in the community, and he extends his social and political influence to include his new in-laws, their village, and their foraging grounds. Therefore, if a man has proved himself to be a good hunter and if life has treated him and his first family well, he may seriously think about taking a second wife. If his first wife has a younger, unmarried sister, she will be a likely choice. The wife of a deceased brother is another logical candidate.
Most women, however, do not want to become involved in such relationships. Many become furious when their husbands suggest it. They claim that sexual jealousy, rivalry, subtle (and not so subtle) favoritism, and disputes over chores and other responsibilities make the polygynous life a very unpleasant one. Co-wives either share the same hut or have separate huts only a few feet apart; either way, each woman's life with the husband is carried on in full view of the other. If the second wife is neither a close relative nor a friend, this enforced intimacy is even harder to tolerate.
Sisters are more likely to remain at peace with each other, so the !Kung say, because they are already used to living in close contact and cooperation. For co-wives who get along, the arrangement does offer benefits: constant companionship, someone to share chores and child care, someone to take over in the event of illness or disability, and a possible ally in struggles with the husband. The outcome of such marriages is largely dependent not only on the strong consent but on the personalities of the women involved. if they are compatible and work well together, they may even form intensely loyal bonds.
One woman who was very close to her sister argued that the polygynous life was preferable to the monogamous one: "I love my sister. If she hadn't married my husband, she would have married someone else and I probably wouldn't see her very often." This woman, however, had married first and was well aware of the advantage this circumstance offered her: "I am in the stronger position because I am older and because I married our husband first. Even if I had had no children it would have been this way. Because now, if I want, I can tell my sister to get water, but she never tells that to me. Sometimes, she goes gathering without me. But I never go without her." In answer to another question she said, "Yes, if she had married our husband first, it would have been the reverse."
Although many polygynous marriages actually last a long time, the delicate balance sometimes gives way to bitter argument and conflict. Fights between co-wives, even between sisters, are fairly common. When co-wives have agreed to the marriage halfheartedly, their motivation to make it work is not usually great enough to stand up to the strains. If the senior wife decides to make life unbearable for her co-wife and their husband, she is likely to succeed in forcing the newcomer to leave. Many men, no matter how prominent, would not entertain the notion of entering such a marriage, especially with two young wives. Polygynous marriages are difficult to manage, both economically and socially; food and material goods, as well as attention and sexual favors, must be meted out more or less equally to prevent jealousy. The tensions characteristic of any marriage involve, in this case, three people instead of two, three relationships instead of one. Men say, "There is never any peace in a household with two women in it," and this observation is usually correct.
The woman who was so pleased with her own polygynous marriage was less optimistic when asked whether a similar arrangement would suit her two daughters when the time came for them to marry. She responded, "I would refuse for either of them to be a co-wife with a cousin, because only sisters get along in this situation. But even sisters beat each other on the head. My sister and 1, of course, don't-we no longer have.our mother and father, and we depend on each other. But if my two daughters married one man? lt wouldn't work. They would fight."
Unlike many other problems in !Kung life, most of those arising from polygynous marriages are seen as being brought on by the people themselves rather than by an uncaring or vengeful God. Telling stories of the complications resulting from these three-way matches is an endless source of amusement for the 95 percent of the !Kung who live monogamously-and more stably-married.
WHEN A MAN MARRIES one woman, then marries another and sets her down beside the first so there are three of them together, at night, the husband changes from one wife to another. First he has sex with the older wife, then with the younger. But when he goes to the younger wife, the older one is jealous and grabs him and bites him. The two women start to fight and bite each other. The older woman goes to the fire and throws burning wood at them, yelling, "What told you that when 1, your first wife, am lying here that you should go and sleep with another woman? Don't I have a vagina? So why do you just leave it and go without having sex with me? Instead you go and have sex with that young girl!" Sometimes, they fight like that all night, until dawn breaks. A co-wife is truly a terrible thing!
My father never really had two wives, only once for two nights. All my father had told my mother was that he and his brother were going to go and sleep at another village and exchange presents. What he didn't tell her was that he was also going to get Saglai, another wife.
The two men left together, and when they arrived at the other village, they exchanged presents and slept. The next day my father took Saglai with him, and when the sun was low in the afternoon sky they arrived back in our village.
My mother, my aunt, and I had been gathering mongongo nuts that day in the nearby nut groves. On our way back, we stopped at the well. That's where my aunt saw Saglai's footprints in the sand; my aunt had known her and recognized her tracks.' She said, "Chuko, here's where a woman sat and here's where your husband sat." My mother said, "Oh? What did Gau do over there? Didn't he say he was going to ask for some presents of beads? Yet you say he came back with a woman?" My mother was very angry.
We walked back, carrying the mongongo nuts with us to the village. When my mother saw my father, she was drinking anger. She punched him with her fists and said, "is this your true wife sitting by the hut? Why didn't you tell me you were going away to get another wife, to get Saglai with the big vagina; Saglai, the woman for the cold." My mother insulted her until Saglai was so afraid of her that she wouldn't enter the hut. When night sat, she just slept outside. The next morning, my father, still fearful of my mother, was quiet. His younger brother said, "Why don't you tell your wife that you'll leave Saglai? When we were still at her village, I told you not to take her right away. You even told me that when you came home, Chuko would object. But you said you would tell her that you had already married Saglai and were giving Saglai to her as another wife. Yet, you didn't tell her that. When Chuko spoke as she did, you should have told her that Saglai was going to sleep inside the hut. You shouldn't have let her sleep outside." My father said, "This is defeating me. Chuko keeps yelling at us and insulting us. She told Saglai to sleep outside the hut. How could I possibly have brought her inside the hut after that?" My mother told my father, "If I myself had said to you, 'Gau, as I am, I'm getting old and walking slowly. So, go, get yourself another wife and bring her here. She will get water and give it to me and get firewood that we ca ' n use and sit beside.' If I had,taken you-and had said that, then you, having listened to me, could have taken another wife. But you acted deceitfully and forced something on me, and that's why I am making you feel ashamed." We slept that night. The next morning, when the rooster first crowed, Saglai got up and went back to her village alone. She was in our village for two nights and the next morning, she left. My uncle told my father, "Get up. Follow her tracks and take her back to her village. My father said, "I'm not going to. I went and got her and brought her here, but Chuko refused her. Why should I follow after her now?" His younger brother said, "What? You don't know? If, while on her way from here, Saglai comes upon something and it kills her, or even if she arrives safely in her village, her relatives will come here and ask about your responsibility in having taken her and having married her." My father said, "I'm not going to follow her. She is an adult and she just left. What would I be doing if I started to cry over that?"
My grandfather Tuka, my father's father, he married many women! First he married one, then another, and then another.2 He would go to his first wife, then to his second wife, and then to his third. One slept alone and the other two ' shared a hut together. He'd live with the two of them for a while, then stay with the other one, then go back to the two of them and live with them again. Sometimes, when he was sleeping in the hut with his two wives, he'd get up very quietly to go to his third wife. His first wife, the oldest, would yell, "Tuka, what are you,looking for over there?" Because she was very jealous. So Tuka would leave his third wife and lie down beside his first wife again. He'd lie there, waiting for her to go to sleep. When she started sleeping, he'd get up and look at her. He'd whisper, "Are you going to be getting up again?" If she didn't answer, he'd go over to his third wife and they'd stay together the rest of the night. When the rooster first crowed, he'd go back to the other hut. His first wife would ask, "Where did you go?" And he'd say, "Uhn uhn. I just went to urinate." But one night, after he had been with his first wife and had left her to go to his third wife, his first wife woke and said, "Tuka, what are you doing up and about? Why aren't you sleeping? What are you looking for in the middle of the night?" That's when he said, "My wife, as I am, I am also married to others. What do you think I have married them for? I married them and I want to make love to them. I also will make love to you. Are you the only one who has something for me? All women have it. Are you saying that if I am married to another woman, I shouldn't sleep with her? That I should only sleep with you? Your talk is nonsense!"
I did it once. Before I had children with Tashay, he brought another wife into our marriage. I was still a young girl and his other wife, Tiknay, was also a young girl. He married both of us and brought us up together. When he first asked me, I refused. He kept asking me. Again and again and again. Finally, I said, "All right, go ahead, marry her and bring her here." But when he came with her, I didn't want her there; I wouldn't even greet her. The three of us lived together for less than a year. During that time, I wouldn't let Tashay near me and I wouldn't let him have sex with me. I said he would give me her dirtiness; that he would come to me with her vaginal wetness and give it to me. I didn't want any of that. We fought a lot, especially at night. In the middle of the night, when everyone else was dead asleep, Tashay would make love to her, but while they were having sex they'd bump into me and push against me. I'd wake up. One time, I thought, "What's pushing me around like this and not letting me sleep?" I got up, grabbed their blanket and threw it out toward the fire. I yelled, "Get up, both of you! Go to the bush and screw! Let me lie here-and sleep!" Tiknay got up and we started to fight. We fought until Tashay separated us. Later, we all lay down and tried to sleep. The next morning, I grabbed a knife and tried to stab Tashay with it. Tiknay pulled it away from me. That's when my heart rose into m@ words, "Tiknay, get out of here! Get up and go back to your village! How come there are so many men but you didn't marry any of them? Why did you marry my husband?" Tiknay said, "That's not the way it was-your husband brought me here. I didn't come myself." I said, "I don't care how you came here. There are lots of other men and I have no need to share my husband with you! Is he the only one with a penis? Don't all men have penises? With this one, am I supposed to have it and then you're also supposed to have it? Now, get up and go back to your village!" Finally, I chased her away and she went back to her parents. Only after she was gone did-I let Tashay touch me again; only after I had chased her away did we start to live with each other again and make love together.
Women and Men
THE POSITION OF WOMEN in !Kung society has been of great interest to anthropologists and others trying to understand the variation in women's roles and status found in the world's cultures. Despite the substantial differences in how women live and what they do, one generalization can be made: in the overwhelming majority of societies, women have a lower status than men-by their own accounts and by observation of the culture as a whole-and their activities are less highly valued than men's activities. Margaret Mead recognized this in 1949 when she wrote, "in every known society, the males' need for achievement can be recognized. Men may cook or weave or dress dolls or hunt hummingbirds, but if such activities are appropriate occupations for men, then the whole society, men and women alike, votes them important. When the same occupations are performed by women, they are regarded as less important." In relation to this pattern, the !Kung are something of an anomaly. Here, in a society of ancient traditions, men and women live together in a nonexploitative manner, displaying a striking degree of equality between the sexes-perhaps a lesson for our own society. !Kung men, however, do seem to have the upper hand. They more often hold positions of influence as spokespeople for the group or as healers-and their somewhat greater authority over many areas of !Kung life is acknowledged 'by men and women alike. A close look at this balance is not of merely academic interest. Other contemporary gathering and hunting societies have a similar high level of equality between the sexes-higher, at least, than that of most agricultural or herding societies. This observation has led to the suggestion that the relations between the sexes that prevailed during the majority of human prehistory were comparable to those seen among the !Kung today. Perhaps the extremes of subordination of women by men found in many of today's more socioeconomically "advanced" cultures are only a relatively recent aberratio in our long human calendar.
!Kung women assume roles of great practical importance, both in the family and in the economy. They have maximum influence over decisions affecting their children for years, starting with birth. !Kung men are usually discouraged from being present at a birth, and women have complete control over the process, including the decision for or against infanticide. The sex of the child seems to have no influence over this decision, and the !Kung express no preference for either sex before the child's birth.
Mothers are responsible for close to 90 percent of child care, but the public nature of village life-the fact that most activities take place outside and in groups rather than behind closed door ases this burden and frees women for other pursuits as well. Mothers are rarely alone and children rarely lack playmates. The isolated mother burdened with bored small children is not a scene that has parallels in !Kung daily life. Older children can be left behind in the village with other adults while their mothers go gathering, so women with large families are able to make as much of an economic contribution as those with small families.
!Kung fathers have been shown to provide more care for infants and young children than fathers in many societies, even though they spend much less time in contact with children than mothers do. !Kung children seem to be very comfortable with either parent, and are frequently seen touching, sitting with, or talking with their fathers. The father is not set up as an authority whose wrath must be feared; both parents guide their children ' and a father's word seems to carry about the same weight as a mother's. Children probably misbehave equally with both, but parents avoid direct confrontations and physical punishment. The lack of privacy in !Kung life also protects women from being battered by their husbands, and children from being abused by either parent. Arguments between husbands and wives occur within sight of their neighbors. If a fight becomes physical, other people are always there and ready to intervene. In some cultures, a mother's influence is thought to pose a threat to her son's masculinity or ability to attain full male status, and boys are separated from their mothers to counteract this feminizing influence. The !Kung, in contrast, allow both boys and girls to sleep in their parents' hut, often beside their mothers, for so-many years that the child is usually the one who decides to sleep elsewhere. The only time !Kung boys are deliberately isolated from women is for a few weeks between the ages of fifteen and twenty, when they participate in Choma, the male initiation ceremony. During this intense and rigorous ritual the initiates experience hunger, cold, thirst, and the extreme fatigue that comes from continuous dancing. lt takes place over a period of six weeks and is considered sacred time, when the ritual knowledge of male matters is passed from one generation to the next. When Choma is over, however, boys resume village life as before eating, sleeping and working amid the typical absence of segregation by sex. Village space is basically communal, and no one is denied access to any of it. Although there are certain prohibitions against women's touching men's arrows, especially while menstruating, and to engaging in sex during the height of the menstrual flow, these prohibitions do not extend to sleeping beside each other during the same time. Some men say it is bad to have sexual intercourse before a hunt, but this seems to be related as much to ideas about their own strength as to fear of being polluted by women. Also, menstruating and pregnant women and women with newborn infants are not isolated from the rest of the community as they so often are in other cultures. Thus the few taboos that do exist in !Kung life do not exclude women from the highly valued social, political, or economic life of the community. Women are not considered a threat to the ability of !Kung men to maintain their male identities and functions.
!Kung women's influence increases as their children grow older. (A barren woman is not ostracized or looked down upon, although, having missed out on a major part of life, she may be pitied.) When daughters or sons reach marriageable age, mothers play a major role in deciding whom they will marry and when. The choice of a spouse has a far-reaching impact on the family's social and economic life, and often on that of the entire group. Marriage ties together a couple's families in intimate rounds of visiting, mutual obligations, and gift exchange, and sometimes even in the establishment of permanent living arrangements. After marriage a couple is as likely to live near the wife's family as near the husband's. This fact further assures daughters the same loving treatment as sons, since both are equally likely to enhance their family's standing in the community.
Parents often arrange marriages for their daughters, usually with adult men while the girls are still in their early teens. These marriages, not surprisingly, are quite unstable. The husband may not live LIP to his in-laws' expectations, or he may not have the patience to wait for his wife, who may be uncooperative and rejecting, to grow up. Usually, however, it is the girl who initiates divorce in these early marriages, which are otherwise essentially unequal relationships. The man is physically larger and stronger; although the girl is protected by her family, the threat of his exercising his will or power against her-especially in sex-is always there. Later marriages are generally more equal, especially those in which the couple are close in age. (In the 20 percent of marriages in which the husband is younger than his wife, the wife's influence is often greater than his.) The control !Kung women retain over this part of their lives is a marked contrast to other cultures where girls have no choice but to comply with the wishes of their parents and husbands.
!Kung women are recognized by men and women alike as the primary economic providers of the group. They gather vegetable foods from the wild about three days a week, providing the majority of the daily diet of their families and other dependents.
Their economic activity is an autonomous undertaking. Men do not regulate women's schedules, do not tell them which foods to gather or where to go, and do not control the distribution of gathered foods. Women tell their husbands when they plan to be gone for the day, but this is as much a courtesy as a potential restraint, and it is what men usually do as well. If a husband were to forbid his wife to go, saying that there were chores to be done near the village or that they should go visiting together, she would probably listen to him. But men cannot afford to restrain their wives much, since they also depend on the women's efforts for food. Although women occasionally gather alone, most prefer the company of others, for social reasons as well as for safety. Even the few miles between villages should preferably be traveled in groups. Fear of occasional predators, strangers, or even encounters with familiar men who might suggest romance, make solitary travel a moderately anxiety-provoking experience. If a male prerogative were in need of justification, the argument that !Kung women should have men's protection while traveling in the bush or between villages could gain a foothold. !Kung men do not exploit this possibility, however; women travel up to five miles away from camp, into the uninhabited wilderness, unprotected by men or their weapons. Loud talking creates a noisy enough progression as women advance from one gathering !ocation to another so that large animals avoid them, and poisonous snakes are killed easily enough with digging sticks. The only significant difference in mobility between !Kung men and women is in overnight absences. Women usually return to the village at the end of a day of gathering. If an overnight gathering trip seems necessary, the entire group will move. In contrast, while hunting, men are often away from camp for a few days at a time (although they prefer not to be). A male bias may underlie this difference, but it is not difficult to postulate more practical reasons. Success in the hunt is unpredictable, and it often takes several days to make a kill. With gathering, by contrast, one day or even part of a day is usually enough time to collect as much as can be carried home. Also, women are responsible for the care of the children, and overnight trips would involve either coping with children in an unfamiliar and perhaps dangerous area or leaving them behind in someone else's care.
As a subsistence strategy, gathering for a living is quite satisfying. It can be energetically engaged in, no matter what the size of a woman's family. The schedule is flexible, the pace is self-determined, and the work is accomplished in the company of others. Although each woman basically gathers for herself, this does not isolate her from other women. Women present choice findings to each other as offerings of good will and solidarity. The work is challenging: each expedition taps a woman's ability to discern, among the more than two hundred plants known by name and in the general tangle of vegetation, which plants are edible, which-are ripe for harvesting, and which are most worthy of her efforts. It is also efficient: a day's work is usually enough to feed a family for a few days. Unlike !Kung hunters, !Kung gatherers have the solid assurance that when their families are hungry they will be able to find food-an assurance that fills them with pride. As one woman explained, "I like to gather. If I just sit, my children have nothing to eat. If I gather, my children are full." Finally, although gathering requires considerable stamina, the four days a week that women are not gathering afford them abundant time for visiting and for leisure.
When a woman returns to the village, she determines how much of her gatherings, if any, will be given away, and to whom. She sets aside piles of food for those she feels inclined to give to, and places the rest in the back of her hut or beside her family's fire. The food she and her family eat that night, the next day, and perhaps even the next, will consist primarily of the things she has brought home. From start to finish, her labor and its product remain under her own control.
Another indication of the high standing of !Kung women is their relationship to the gift-giving network called hxaro. All !Kung adults (and some children) are part of this network; each has a discrete number,of partners with whom certain goods are exchanged. Women's participation in hxaro is basically the same as that of men, with no significant difference in the number of exchange partners or in the quality or quantity of exchanges.
In addition, core membership in a band, as well as "ownership" of water holes and other resources, is inherited through women as well as men. No male prerogative can be exercised in relation to this important source of influence in !Kung society. This picture of !Kung women's lives might seem to challenge Margaret Mead's observation about the universality of the male bias. Unfortunately, though, the !Kung are not the exception they at first appear to be. !Kung women do have a formidable degree of autonomy, but !Kung men enjoy certain distinct advantages-in the way the culture values their activities, both economic and spiritual, and in their somewhat greater influence over decisions affecting the life of the group. Meat, the economic contribution of men, is considered more valuable than gathered foods. Most gathered foods, except the mongongo nut, are described as "things comparable to nothing," while meat is so highly valued that it is often used as a synonym for "food." Squeals of delighted children may greet women as they return from gathering, but when men walk into the village balancing meat on sticks held high on their shoulders, everyone celebrates, young and old alike. lt may even precipitate a trance dance. The one thing women can bring in that causes a comparable reaction is honey, but the finding of honey is a much rarer event and one that men are usually enlisted to help with. !Kung women may control the distribution of their gathered products, but the distribution of meat, while more constrained by formal rules, involves men in a wider sphere of influence. !Kung men also provide women with their basic gathering kit and other implements: tanned skins to make carrying devices (infant slings, karosses, clothing, and pouches), digging sticks, mortars and pestles, sinew for mending and for stringing and sewing beads and'ornaments, and shoes. These items are durable, however, and women assume their maintenance and upkeep. In contrast, women provide none of the articles associated with hunting. In fact, the opposite is true: women are prohibited from handling hunting equipment and from participating in the hunt, especially during menstruation-although this taboo seems to have few practical consequences. The economic picture becomes more complex when hunting and gathering activities are looked at more closely. Animal protein is not brought into the village only by men. Women Collect lizards, snakes, tortoises' and birds' eggs, and insects and caterpillars, as well as occasional small or immature mammals. They also provide men with crucial information on animal tracks and animal movement that they observe while they travel in the bush. But !Kung women cannot be considered hunters in any serious way. The one prominent exception I heard about was a middle-aged woman who allegedly craved meat so intensely and was so tired of complaining that her husband was lazy that she decided to go out and hunt for herself. I was, unfortunately, never able to meet her. Those who knew her (including men) said that she was a fairly proficient hunter, but it was clear that she was considered eccentric and was in no way seen as a model for other women to emulate. She earned far less respect for her accomplishments than a man would have, as was evident from the snickering that accompanied discussions about her. No one actually said that what she was doing was wrong, but it was repeatedly pointed out that she was the only one. She was, however, considered accountable for her actions primarily in relation to herself, rather than in relation to her husband; her behavior was not seen as emphasizing his shortcomings or publicly emasculating him. This would probably not have been the case in many other societies, including our own.
!Kung men have an easier relationship to gathering than !Kung women have to hunting. No social prohibitions comparable to the taboo against menstruating women's touching arrows implicate men as a negative influence on the success of women gatherers; nor are men's efforts at gathering seen as unusual, out of character, or even worthy of comment. (This is in contrast to many cultures in which men feel ashamed 6f performing tasks usually associated with women.) Men's knowledge about plants is comparable to that of women, and gathering is something men do whenever they want to. Men can account for as much as 20 percent of all foods gathered.
The male prerogative is more clearly exhibited in !Kung spiritual life, the central expression of which is the traditional medicine dance (described in Chapter 13), in which healers tap their healing power by entering trance. Most healers are men. An occasional woman has mastered the art of healing, especially in the context of the women's drum dance, but women most often use their healing skill in response to the need of a close family member and not in a ritual setting. The status and respect that go with being a healer are, therefore, only minimally available to women; unquestionably, men have traditionally dominated this realm of !Kung life. Perhaps the most crucial aspect of the balance of power is the process of leadership and decisionmaking. Determining how the !Kung actually make important decisions is quite difficult. With no formal leaders or hierarchies, and no political or legal institutions to convey authority, decisions are made on the basis of group consensus. Each group has individuals whose opinions carry more weight than those of others-because of age, of having ancestors who have lived in the area longer, or of personal attributes such as intelligence, knowledge, or charisma. These people tend to be more prominent in group discussions, to make their opinions known and their suggestions clear, and to articulate the consensus once it is determined. Despite their lack of formal authority, they function very much as group leaders. !Kung men occupy these positions more frequently than women do, although older women, especially those with large extended families, occasionally assume such roles. Men are also generally more vocal in group discussions. As contact with other cultures increases, and as the demand for spokespeople to represent the group thus intensifies, !Kung men are stepping forward more prominently. They are the ones who learn foreign languages, who attend government meetings, and who speak out on behalf of the regional !Kung communities. Further evidence of male bias can be found: it is men who initiate sex, for example, and male initiation rites are secret while female initiation rites are public. !Kung women themselves refer to, and do not seem to reject, male dominance. The fact that this bias exists is important and should not be miniriiized-but it should also not be exaggerated. !Kung culture downplays many of the attitudes that encourage male dominance in other societies. Competition, ranking of individuals, boastfulness, and self-aggrandizement are all discouraged. Formalized aggression of any kind-in most cultures the province of men-is absent, and preparations for fighting do not occupy men's time or boys' education. Wealth differentials are also minimized, by sharing food and possessions and by giving presents. The division of labor by sex is not rigidly defined. Village life is so intimate that a division between domestic and public life-an apt distinction for many other cultures-is largely meaningless for the !Kung, a fact that helps to promote sexual equality. All in all, !Kung women maintain a status that is higher than that of women in many agricultural and industrial societies around the world. They exercise a striking degree of autonomy and of influence over their own and their children's lives. Brought up to respect their own importance in community life, !Kung women become multifaceted adults, and are likely to be competent and assertive as well as nurturant and cooperative.
WHEN THE, GODS GAVE PEOPLE SEX, say the !Kung, they gave us a wonderful thing. Sex is often referred to as food: just as people cannot survive without eating, the !Kung say, hunger for sex can cause people to die. For a population whose food resources are unpredictable and of constant concern, this analogy is significant indeed. Talk about sex seems to be of almost equal importance. When women are in the village or out gathering, or when men and women are together, they spend hours recounting details of sexual exploits. Joking about all aspects of sexual experience is commonplace except between people who maintain "respect" rela tionships and are forbidden to make sexual references in each other's presence. Those in "joking" relationships often exchange uproariously funny insults referring to each other's genitals or sexual behavior: "Your penis is huge!" "Your testicles hang down to your knees and smell!" "Your labia are long, dark, and ugly!" "Screw sand!" "Ejaculate on yourself!" (Most sexual expressions can be employed both in jokes and when serious insults are intended; the context determines how they are received.) Descriptive gestures are likely to accompany insults made in jest. Some exchanges even attract an enthusiastic audience. Onlookers cheer as men pretend to grab each other's testicles and throw them into the air, to be left hanging in the trees. Lurid details of what vultures or other creatures will do to them become part of the general entertainment.
The !Kung sometimes use sexual joking in a deliberate way to dispel tension. While I was in the field, a man was trying to rout a spitting cobra from the grass thatching of a hut. He apparently came too close, and the snake shot venom into his eyes. Water was brought to wash out the poison; then there was nothing to do but wait until his vision, which had become blurred, would return. During the next half-hour, while everyone sat and watched, two men began describing the incident in an especially graphic and dramatic way, to distract the man and to help keep up his spirits. Telling and retelling the story, their hand gestures became exaggerated and increasingly suggestive. The last depictions of the snake rising up and spitting were blatantly (and hilariously) pornographic. Laughter started to sweep through the group. The injured man, still nursing his eyes, was unable to resist the energy of the moment and joined in. As others followed, the remaining tension dissolved in the highspirited, infectious repartee. (A few days later the man's vision had returned almost to normal.)
Not everything about sex, of course, is amenable to light talking and joking. Sex is also recognized as tapping sotne of the most intense and potentially explosive of human emotionsespecially where extramarital attractions are concerned. In such cases, sex is considered outright dangerous: many aff airs that become known lead to violence, which, in the past, sometimes resulted in death. Except for those who intend to goad their spouses, therefore, people who participate in such relationships are extremely careful and discreet.
Love exists in !Kung marriages and is expressed in a variety of ways: couples make a point of going off alone to gather and hunt, sometimes for days at a time; make presents for one another; and assist in each other's daily chores. Women readily acknowledge their intense emotional involvements with their husbands. Nevertheless, quite early on in marriage, many women start having lovers. Affairs are often long-term, from a few months to a few years, and some continue throughout a lifetime.
There is some question as to whether extramarital relationships were common in traditional !Kung life, or whether the phenomenon results from the influence of Herero and Tswana settlements. Considerable disagreement exists on this question even among the !Kung. But infidelity is frequent in !Kung oral history and myth, and it was acknowledged and talked about in the early 1950s when the Marshall family studied a group of traditional !Kung living in Nyae Nyae, thirty miles west of Dobe. lt is therefore not likely to be of recent origin. The best insurance against complications arising from love affairs is not to be found out. Great care must be taken to arrange meetings at safe times and places, away from the eyes of others. First-person testimony from those who "see with their own eyes" is taken very seriously, but those who know may choose to remain silent. Those who tell what they know may become central figures in fights that ensue; they may even be held partially responsible for the outcome. It is also important to maintain some emotional r6straint in relation to a lover. One's spouse must always come first, no matter how romantic and exciting an affair may be. The slightest indication of infidelity-the rejection of a husband's sexual advances, being unusually argumentative or angry, or spending too much time away from the villag an easily provoke angry accusations and jealousy. But controlling these feelings can be difficult, especially when a new lover becomes a central preoccupation (at least temporarily). In rare instances, long-term marriages are actually terminated when feelings between lovers become very strong. At other times (also rare), it is because the woman is pregnant: if the husband has been away, it is clear who the father is. In such cases, the lovers may try to dissolve their prior relationships and marry each other. Even if violence does not occur, the emotional cost for everyone involved makes this situation decidedly not preferred. To succeed at and to benefit from extramarital affairs, one must accept that one's feelings for one's husband@'the important one...... the one from inside the hut"-and for one's lover"the little one," "the one from the bush"-are necessarily different. One is rich, warm and secure. The other is passionate and exciting, although often fleeting and undependable. Some !Kung women (and men) think it ideal to have both. The appeal of affairs, they say, is not merely sexual; secret glances, stolen kisses, and brief encounters make for a more complex enticement. Often described as thrilling adventures, these relationships are one of'the subjects women spend much time discussing among themselves. Partly because of the lack of privacy in !Kung life, actual extramarital sexual encounters seem to be infrequent. Also, not all !Kung adults have affairs: some are deterred by the danger of discovery, others by fear of venereal disease, which is recent in the area. For others, however, love affairs have great appeal. I talked with a young man who was the lover of a woman I had been interviewing. lt took place a few days after the lovers had exchanged gifts-a candid acknowledgment of their bond-in my presence. There was little activity in the camp that day until late afternoon, when squeals and shouts of excitement brought me out of my hut. A young couple, recently married, were playing chase, running after each other. As I stood watching, I noticed the young man sitting in the shade of a tree, also watching. I said, "They're very much in love, aren't they?" He answered, "Yes, they are." After a pause, he added, "For now." I asked him to explain, and he said, "When two people are first together, their hearts are on fire and their passion is very great. After a while, the fire cools and that's how it stays." I asked him to explain further. "They continue to love each other, but it's in a different waywarm and dependable." Seeing my questioning expression, he continued, "Look, after you marry, you sit together by your hut, cooking food and giving it to each other-just as you did when you were growing up in your parents' home. Your wife becomes like your mother and you, her father." How long did this take? "It varies among couples. A few months, usually; sometimes longer. But it always happens." Was it also true for a lover? "No," he explained, "feelings for a lover stay intense much longer, sometimes for years." What did he feel for the woman I had been interviewing-hadn't they been lovers for a long time?
' As soon as I mentioned her name, his manner changed and a smile crossed his face,. He described what an exceptional and beautiful woman she was and how deeply he loved her, "With a burning heart." He confirmed what she had already told me that they often fantasized about running away together. I asked, "What would it be like?" A dreamy look came over his face, then he smiled again and said, "The first few months would be wonderful!" Since such affairs are not openly condoned, it is most important that a lover have "sense"-that he be discreet and play by the rules. He should also show his affection-by arranging rendezvous, by being faithful, and by giving gifts. Gift exchange between lovers is quite common, although by no means necessary. (The man usually gives presents to the woman, although the exchange often works in both directions.) A man, to be considered attractive, should have a slim, strong body with a small behind and stomach, but men of different appearances also attract women as wives and lovers. Another requirement is that a man be a capable lover: he should be concerned about the woman's pleasure, be small to moderate in genital size, and have a "strong back" (that is, be virile). If there is sufficient time, he should also be willing to engage in additional acts of sexual intercourse to ensure that the woman's "work" is "finished" and that she is satisfied. Most !Kung are proud of bearing and possess a self-confidence that seems to be the natural outcome of the way they grow up. One clear instance of this is the social environment in which young girls make the transition from childhood to adulthood. The small size of villages means that girls approaching puberty have few, if any, peers to compare themselves to. Thus they do not develop to maturity in a context of intense comparison and competition. Each young girl is likely to be the center of attention for a number of years. As a girl begins to mature, the men of the village offer running commentaries on the changes in her body@bvious in a culture where the breasts are not covered-and joke about wanting to marry her or to run away with her. Some may seriously propose that she marry them as a second wife. It is unlikely that the attention will have to be shared. This experience seems to inspire self-esteem. One day I noticed a twelve-year-old girl, whose breasts had just started to develop, looking into the small mirror beside the driver's window of our Land Rover. She looked intently at her face, then, on tiptoe, examined her breasts and as much of her body as she could see, then went to her face again. She stepped back to see more, moved in again for a closer look. She was a lovely girl, although not outstanding in any way except by being in the full health and beauty of youth. She saw me watching. I teased in the !Kung t manner I had by then thoroughly learned, "So ugly! How is such a young girl already so ugly?" She laughed. I asked, "You don't agree?" She beamed, "No, not at all. I'm beautiful!" She continued to look at herself. I said, "Beautiful? Perhaps my eyes have become broken with age that I can't see where it is?" She said, "Everywhere-my face, my body. There's no ugliness at all. These remarks were said easily, with a broad smile, but without arrogance. The pleasure she felt in her changing body was as evident as the absence of conflict about it. The self-possession !Kung women gain in childhood and young adulthood continues throughout life. In contrast to the experience of many women in our own culture, this feeling is not worn down by cultural ideals of "perfect" beauty to which women are constantly comparing themselves. Differences in innate physical attractiveness are generally recognized by the !Kung, and some @individuals are acknowledged as being particularly good-looking or beautiful, but the culture does not elaborate much on these differences. The opportunity to make oneself attractive is available to everyone: one simply dons one's best clothes-a traditional leather kaross with beaded designs or, more recently, a brightly colored cloth dress-after washing and oiling one's face and body and applying cosmetics made from wild plants. Except for those who are sick, "too thin" or very old, most women think of themselves as attractive. The phrase most often heard to describe their sense of self-esteem can be translated as "I have work," "I am productive," or even, "I have worth." Having lovers, therefore, is an option most !Kung women feel is available to them, although not all choose it. As for attracting a husband and marrying, that goal is achieved by all !Kung women without exception.
MARJORIE, those people who tell you that when people live in the bush they don't have lovers, or that people only learned about it recently from the blacks, they are deceiving you. They are giving you lies and are trying to fool you with their cl6verness. But 1, I am like your mother and don't offer you deceit; only the truth is what I give you. I am an old woman and when I see what other people tell you, I can see through them. Because affairs - one married person making love to another not her husband-is something that even people from long ago knew. Even my father's father's father's father knew. There have also always been fights where poison arrows are shot and people are killed because of that. Having affairs is one of the things God gave us.
I have told you about my lovers, but I haven't finished telling you about all of them, because they are as many as my fingers and toes.' Some have died and others are still alive' Me, I'm a bad one. I'm not like you who have no lovers. Because, when you are a woman, you don't just sit still and do nothing-you have lovers. You don't just sit with the man of your hut, with just one man. One man can give you very little. One man gives you only one kind of food to eat. But when you have lovers, one brings you something and another brings you something else. One comes at night with meat, another with money, another with beads. Your husband also does things and gives them to you. But sitting with just one man? We don't do that. Does one man have enough thoughts for you? There are many kinds of work a woman has to do, and she should have lovers wherever she goes. If she goes somewhere to visit and is alone, then someone there will give her beads, someone else will give her meat, and someone else will give her other food. When she returns to her village, she will hav6 been well taken care of. Even if she goes with her husband, she should still have a few lovers. Because each one gives her something. She gathers from one man one thing, from another man something else, and from another, yet something else. It is as though her genitals were worth money Pounds! Rands! Shillings (laughs)! She collects her gatherings from each different place until she has filled her kaross with beads and pubic aprons and money. When she returns home, she confides in her friends, "One of my lovers gave me this, another gave me that, and another gave me this . . ." Her friends say, "Oh, the place you went has such wonderful lovers. They treated you very well ' " She says, "Listen, if all of you are as beautiful as I think you are and if you also went there, the men would see you and like you, too. Then just as they treated me, they would also treat you." It's the same when a woman remains home. One day when she and her husband are living as usual, her husband says, "I'm going away for a few days." She stays behind, and that's when she sees her lovers. If one of her lovers lives in a village nearby and an animal is killed, he'll cut some meat and bring it to her. It will be beautiful meat, full of juice and fat. He'll sit with her, cooking it until the broth is rich and heavy. She will drink it and her heart will be happy. She'll think, "Oh, my husband has just left and here I am, drinking this wonderful broth." Another day, perhaps he comes to her and they sleep together. He asks, "When is your husband coming back?" She says, "Not for a while. My leg hasn't started to shake," meaning her husband isn't coming home yet. They make love, and when the rooster crows before dawn breaks, he leaves. Another day, perhaps he comes again. The two of them lie down together and he asks, "I'd really like to stay with you the rest of the night. The last time I came to you, I left right after we made love. Now, today ... what is your leg telling you?" She says, "This morning as I was sitting around, my thighs started to tremble, ever so slightly. Perhaps my husband will come back later. Perhaps he will come in the middle of the night. I don't know when he planned to come back. But my leg was shaking, so it may be tonight." Her lover says, "All right, I will only lie with you a short time.
Then I will leave." The two of them lie together and then separate. He leaves, and soon after, her husband comes back. The next morning, when she is about doing things, perhaps getting water at the well, her lover meets her and asks if her husband came back. She says, "Yes, he arrived soon after you left. Didn't I tell you that my leg was trembling in the morning? It .was a true warning." Her lover says, "Now that your husband is here, my heart feels pain! lt really hurts! Later, when the sun is low in the sky and after you've finished your work, let's meet somewhere." She says, "Fine, but only if my work is finished. I have a lot of things to do. After I finish with the water, I have to do things for my husband, because he has just now come back. Only much later, when the sun is near to setting, will I be able to leave his work and meet you." The next day, she and her husband stay together. She works ior him, washing and cooking. She thinks, "My lover told me we will meet again today." She spends the whole day doing the things she has to do. She works so hard that the time she was supposed to meet him passes. She works until shergoes to sleep. She thinks, "Oh, when my lover sees me tomorrow, he's going to be angry!" She's afraid. Then she thinks, "T . here's no reason for him to be angry. I didn't meet him because I was working for my husband." The next day, as she is filling her water containers at the well, her lover sees her and says, "What did I tell you the other day? Didn't I say we would meet?" She says, "I told you I had all my husband's work to do--washing and cooking. When he told me to get firewood, he also wanted me to do other things when I came back. He had me work very hard and I wasn't even aware of when it was time to meet you. That's why I worked past it." Her lover is angry and says, "if it was because of your husband, that's all right. But if you do it again, I'll beat you! What's the matter with your genitals? Are they too old to care?" She says, "What did I do that I should be hit? I was doing things for my husband."
After that, she lives as usual. She continues to work for her husband and works hard. Then, one day, she says, "I'm going to look for some firewood. Why don't you watch the pot of food that's cooking?" She leaves and walks far from the village, looking for wood. She meets her lover, lies down with him, and makes love. She leaves and returns to the village, carrying firewood. Her heart is happy because she's been with her lover and her husband doesn't know. And she lives on like that.
For another woman, it may be different. Her lover may have been away. But when he comes back and she sees him, her heart knows that he is around once again. She lives, waiting until she has a chance to be alone with him. When they meet, he says, "Perhaps you didn't think about me?" He asks, "As you were living, day after day, did you ever think about me?" She says, "What? I thought about you often. What could have stopped me? What could I have been doing that I wouldn't? Am I not a person?" Because when you are human, you think about each other. He says, "I thought maybe you had forgotten." She says, "No, I thought about you often and with strength." He says, "Mm, that's why I came to talk to you, to see what you were thinking." She says, "And how do you feel now that you have seen?" He says, "You ... you really made me miserable! The month I left, my heart pained for you and wanted you very much." She says, "It's been the same with me. I also wanted you and my heart also pained for you." They wait until her husband goes away and meet far from the village. Then they do their work.
Sometimes, a woman may even meet her lover at night, after she and her husband have gone to sleep. Her lover will have already told her to meet him that night. When he arrives in the village, he goes to one of her friends and tells the friend to wake her up. The friend goes to the hut and whispers, "Your person is here. Get up and go to him." She thinks, "Oh! What shall I do with my husband? How can I do this?" She wakes her husband and says, "I'm going to visit the hut where all the people are talking. I'll come back later and lie down." She and her lover meet and do their work. When they are finished and her lover leaves, she sits and talks with the others. Then she goes back and lies down beside her husband. Yes, women have cleverness!
Even my mother had lovers. I'd be with her when she met them. But my father, if he had them, I didn't know. Because he didn't take me around with him; I only followed the women. So, even if he had lovers, I never saw anything. But the women ... when I was a child, I knew aij of their lover@ven my mother's and my aunt's. I remember, when I was still small, seeing my mother with one man. He met her, took her, and made love to he'r. I sat nearby and waited. When she came back carrying firewood, I thought, "I'm going to tell!" Then I thought, "Should I tell Daddy or shouldn't I?" But when we arrived back at the village, I didn't say anything. I thought if I told, my father would kill my mother. Except Toma, he was the only one I told about. That was after my younger sister, Kxamshe, died and my mother's older sister came from the East to take us back with her. I was still very young, without breasts, when we went to live with her there. It was soon after that, that Toma, her sister's husband, started with my mother. Much later, he even took her away from my father; he tricked her into leaving with him. I watched it happen. He told her, "I want to make love to you and take you away with me. I want to marry a new woman." When they first became lovers, my father didn't know about it. They would meet in the bush. Mother would set me down and go off, nearby, with him. I'd sit and wait. Sometimes, I'd stand there and cry. Once I said, very loudly, "When Daddy comes back, I'm going to tell. Mommy, now you tell that person to stop ruining you. Tell him we have to go. I'll tell Daddy he had sex with you!" When my mother came back, she said, "You must understand that if you tell your father, he'll kill me. Now don't tell or you won't see me any more." I listened to what she said, and when we returned I didn't say anything. But the time I did tell, they had kept me waiting for a very long time. I was tired and unhappy. I thought, "I want to go home. What's the matter with this man that he's not letting us go home? How come someone else is with Mother, anyway? When Daddy comes back from the bush, I'm going to tell him." When we returned, that's just what I did. I said, "Daddy, when Mommy and I went for firewood, Toma was there. He took Mommy away from me and went and had sex with her. I just sat there and waited." My parents started to fight and my father hit my mother. I thought, "Why did I tell? Mommy's going to die. I did a bad thing, telling; I'll never do that again. Even if I see her with a man, I'll just sit there. I won't tell again." Sometimes Toma stayed with us when my father was away hunting and we'd all lie down together, My heart would be miserable and I'd think, "What is this?" But when my father came home, I wouldn't say anything. lt was like that for a long time. Then came the fighting. I remember one time, my father yelled at my mother, "Chuko, I'm going to kill you with poison arrows and then kill Toma the same way. What kind of thing is he 2 that he isn't staying with his wife and taking care of her, or that he took you and isn't giving you back? What do you possess that no one else has?" Later, he yelled at Toma, "When something happens that defeats me, I do something. I am a person of the bush, unlike you who are a person of the villages; I will just grab you and kill you. Then I'll go back to the bush with my children. Now take your own wife again and leave here; I'll stay with the woman I've been married to." Other days, it was my brothers who fought with Toma. When my olde ' r brother stopped, my younger brother started. Was he not fairly old by then? Kumsa would say, "Give my mother back to my father. What makes you think you can just take us to the East and turn my mother away from my father?" One time Kumsa grabbed him and threw him down on the ground ' They fought until people separated them. Another time Kumsa screamed at my mother, "Get up and go over to my father! Why are you sitting with this other person? What are you looking for? If you don't go over to Father, I'll kill you." Then he said, "What are you doing? Why did you start up with yo ur sister's husband and why do you now refuse to leave him? How come you like this old Zhun/twa, anyway?" He grabbed something and hit her. He yelled at her, and kept insulting her until people took him away. They said, "Your mother has no sense, now leave her alone. Your mother is a woman. If you keep hitting her like that you'll kill her. This other one, he's a man, fight with him." Then they said, "What is Toma doing, anyway? His first wife, an older woman, is still alive. When she dies, he won't go and bury her. All he's set on doing is taking your mother away from your father. So stop hitting her; he's the one-go, fight with him." Kumsa went over to Toma and they started to fight. When it was over, we kept on living. Until one day, Toma took my mother and they left. Earlier, there had been a lot of fighting. My older brother had yelled at my mother and had hit her, "You're going to drop Father? You're going to leave him and go off with Toma? What about your youngest son who has been sitting around, day after day from sunrise to sunset, crying? How can you drop your children and not take care of them?" But they left. Toma tricked my mother away from my father. I thought, "Mommy is wrong, dropping my father and marrying another man." Kumsa and I cried and cried. We just stayed with my father and cried. Not long after, my father followed them to their village. When he saw my mother, he said, "Chuko, what are you doing? Why aren't you sitting with me? The two of us could still be beside each other."
Again, there was a lot of fighting. My mother's older sister said, "Chuko, go back with your husband and take care of your children. Why have you hung yourself on top of my husband, going wherever he goes, like this?" My mother left with us that time, leaving Toma behind. She had come back again, had come back to me. We lived and lived, a very long time. Then, one day, Toma came again. I thought, "is this the way the two of them are going to live with my mother?" Again my father tried to keep my mother, but it was no use. My father yelled at them, insulted them, and fought with them. He even bit my mother's hand while they were fighting. I said, "If you keep on like this, when you're finished, you'll have killed her. Let her go." Finally, he did; he gave up and left my mother for Toma to have. He thought, "Eh-hey, so this is what this man is like? Then I will leave this woman. I'll give her to him and will find a young girl to marry." He told them, "All right, take that thing of yours and do whatever you like with her." Toma had succeeded in winning my mother again, so my father just dropped the whole thing. He finally let Toma have her. Soon after, my father took me, Kumsa, and Dau with him and we went away; Toma and my mother stayed in the East. We went to one village where we stayed for a while, then to another. We lived and lived, and after more time passed, my father left us in the care of others, saying he wanted to get some of his things, elsewhere. When he came back, he brought an older woman with him. She was his new wife. Then he took us and we went to live in her village. Toma's first wife didn't marry again. And just as the others had said, she lived for a while and then she died, somewhere else. She had refused to have my mother as a cowife, so she left them and went away. When she died, Toma wasn't with her; he was with my mother. He didn't even go to see where she was buried.
We lived and lived, staying with our father, growing up beside him. Then one day, Toma died and my mother came back to us, came back to where we were living. My brothers and I were happy that he had died. We praised God and said that he had done well by us. But my father refused her. She had wanted my father to sleep beside her again. But he said she had refused him and now he didn't want her: "I won't have you because you already left me. And even though your husband is dead, I won't marry you and have you with me. Today you will just sleep by yourself. If you marry again, it will be no concern of mine. Because, after you left, I married and today I have another wife. Did you think you were the only woman? Today you will lie separately, because that which used to be ours, our marriage, no longer exists." Then he said, "But the children we gave birth to, they will just live between the two of us, because they are both of ours. And we will live as before. We can continue to exchange presents and do hxaro. If you have beads, you can give them to me and I will give something else back to you. There's no problem with that. Or food. If I prepare something or if you gather, you'll give me and I'll give you. Even the woman I married, my wife, she will give you food and meat to eat and beads to have." H@ continued, "We've had our children together-those who didn't live are dead and those who did live are here with us now. But you pulled apart the bonds of marriage that were between us. So today, you will lie separately froin me. And whatever happens will happen. Until God kills us, or until he kills you or me, this is the way we will continue to live." After that, my mother just stayed with us. She lived in her hut and my father and his wife lived in theirs. Nothing more happened. Kumsa, Dau, and I would sit for a while by our father's fire, then get up and sit at our mother's fire. We'd eat with her, then go back to our father and eat with him. And we just continued to live.
I like having lovers, but their ways are to ruin my heart and to spill semen all over me.
There was one man I once had as my lover, and after we had made love he went and told his wife. The next time we were together, he told her again. That's when his wife came looking for me, and when she found me she started yelling. I thought, "What kind of man is this? When he steals with a woman, he tells his wife?" I told her, "Your husband is lying. We aren't lovers." But I was angry, "if that's the reason you've come to me, it makes me want to kill you. Even though you are a large woman and I am tiny, as I am. Your husband is crazy, saying something like that, because he and I haven't made love."
The next time I saw him, I said, "You're the one who wanted me and spoke to me about love. I didn't come to you. I am a woman; you are a man and you yourself came to me. Only then did I agree to you. So, what did you see that
you went and told your wife? If that's how you want it, I'll go
and tell my husband. Is there no sense in your head that you told her?'@
But after that, whenever his wife saw me, she would come to wherever I was sitting and start yelling at me. I'd yell back at her. One day, I finally said, "My heart is fed up with our fighting all the time. Every day you come and insult me; every day I listen to your remarks. So, today, I'm going to tell you: your husband is and always will be my lover. That should keep you quiet. Now, what are you going to do to me? I'd like to see. Probably nothing."
There were others sitting around in the shade of the tree, including my husband. The next time she started in again, insulting and cursing me, I didn't say anything. I thought, "This woman ... I'm going to get her today!" She kept on insulting me; still, I didn't answer. But when she came over and stood very close to me shouting, I said, "By my own mother! How I would love to hit you and leave you hanging over there!" I started to laugh. Then I asked, "What d ' o you think you can possibly take away from me by insulting me this way?" Then added, "But, since this is how you've come to me, I think there's going to be a fight." I pulled off my bracelets and hit her, hit her in the stomach, and she fell down. She got up and came at me, but I hit her again and again she fell. When she got up and came at me again, I called her name and said, "This time, I'll kill you." I started to laugh again, "I'll kill you, so you'd better go and sit down. If you come back, I'll hit you so hard that it will leave you dead. You'd better go and sit down." One of the women grabbed her and sat her down. I was furious! I continued to yell at her, then jumped up and bit her hand. She yelled out, "Ouw! Nisa bit me ... Nisa bit me I said, "I'd like to beat you until you shit! Do you think because I , m so small I can't fight? I can fight, even agaiwt someone big like you. My bones, my very bones here will grab you and make you shit! Am I the child of your mother's relatives that I shouldn't answer your insults? I am of one family and you are of another. Your husband is yours and my husband is mine." Finally, the elders said, "Talk of having affairs is bad talk. This has to stop now." We listened and stopped. She and her husband went back to their village. After that, he and I were no longer lovers. I saw what a bad one he was and how he caused people to want to kill each other. He had no sense at all. He wasn't like other men.
Sometimes the women talk. After a woman has been with her lover, she says, "That one, my lover, he came to me last night." Her friend says, "He came and slept with you?" The first woman answers, "Yes, he lay with me and had sex with me until morning broke. Then we separated and he left." Her friend says, "Uhn, uhn ... last night, when darkness just started to sit and everyone was talking and then went to sleep, my lover also came to me and had sex with me. But it was just one time. After, we lay beside one another and fell asleep. I don't really understand what happened. Perhaps it was the way we were sleeping, but he didn't have sex with me again. Now I don't know. Perhaps he doesn't really like me or why did he come to me at all?" The first woman says, "Mine wasn't like that. Mine had sex with me until we separated and we both went to sleep. He wants me to meet him tonight in another hut and make love again."
Women talk to each other about men and enjoy their talk. One woman asks, "What about that man over there ... what's he like?" Another woman says, "Mm ... that one over there? His penis is huge! His penis is so big he almost killed me with pain. If he comes to me again, I'll refuse. He really hurts!"
Women talk in other ways, too. One woman may say, "What's happening to me? Are my genitals already old? Because-, even if a man sleeps with me, I can't seem to find any excitement within myself. Am I so old that my genitals are exhausted? lt was like that for him, as well. We didn't find any pleasure in each other."
Sometimes that happens when a woman is too wide and the man is too small for her. Then she can't hold him well. The man just moves about inside, but she is too big. Although he may be virile, they do not have good sex together. After, the man says, "It's all right. It's really not that important."
The next morning, the woman asks her friends, "What am I going to do? My friends, my genitals have become old. The man who lay beside me last night broke the dawn open having sex with me, but he didn't receive any pleasure."
Even the man, he will tell other men, "That woman there, she killed all the strength I had. She's too big; her insides are stretched. Last night I slept with her and even though I made love all night, I didn't feel any pleasure. She's so wide, she's like a Herero's mouth! I just flounced around inside, but I couldn't feel anything. I don't know what it was like for her, but today my back hurts and I'm exhausted. Today, I won't be going back to her."
Zhun/twa women also tell each other about their problems with men and their complaints. A woman may tell about her husband and about how he hasn't satisfied her. She'll tell what she said to him, "What's happening to us? You, my own husband, sleep with me and finish your work. But when you e,top and leave me, I haven't finished mine.' Why should it be like this when we're married? When you sleep with me and finish your work, my work should also be finished. Don't you know you'll make me sick? We have to make love so that we both finish." Her friend says, "By the time you start to feel pleasure, your husband has finished? Why does he leave you before you feel any real pleasure?" Women sometimes talk that way about their husbands, but not usually about their lovers. Because lovers know how to satisfy. When a woman is with a lover, he usually does very well.
Those are the things Zhun/twa women talk to each other about. Don't all women ask each other about those things?
There are many different kinds of lovers. Some men have s,mall penises and some, their penises are large. Other men, .their penises are full with lots of semen. A man like that doesn't do very well because when he has sex he spills his wetness over everything. You think, "This man's semen is so plentiful he's ruining my clothing. This is the first time I've slept with him, yet why does he have so much semen?" After that, you refuse to see him again and you find another man, a man whose semen is small. That's a good man to have as your lover. If a man's penis is too big, it also isn't good. A man like that makes your genitals hurt. You think, "No, his penis is so big he'll kill. me and cause sickness to enter my insides." A man with a small penis is the best kind. A man like that doesn't make you sick. Most men have strength in their backs and many, when they are old, still have sexual vigor. Those men, even if they aren't aroused at first, when you touch them, their penises become strong and you help them inside. But there are others whose penises stay soft. Their hearts desire you, but their penises are dead. When you lie down with a man like that, although he tries, he never really becomes erect and doesn't enter you well. Even when he does, it is only a little and he finishes very quickly. A man like that, his back has no strength. It happens to young men as well as to old. Their penises are soft, like cloth.
When a man is with a woman who agrees to be with him and his penis stays soft, he thinks, "What's doing this to me?" He touches himself, "What's happening to me?" He touches himself again, "What am I going to do?" The woman asks, "What's wrong? Don't you want me? What is it doing ... let me feel ... what? Has your penis died?" They both touch it and try to have sex, but the spilling of semen is all that happens. lt never really becomes erect because, although the woman was excited, the man wasn't. The woman finally says, "We've been lovers for a long time and have had th@ chance to be together again. But even though we tried to make it work, your penis refused. I don't understand why. Our hearts made love well but your penis didn't do any work and didn't help me at all. You'd better leave now, because you've made me feel very bad."
I was once with a young man like that. He's given birth to a number of children since then. That really surprised me! What was he able to make his wife pregnant with? Perhaps he took some medicine to strengthen his back. Because, before he married her, he was soft as cloth. We were lying down together and my genitals were right there. But no matter how we tried (and we tried!), it refused. I asked, "What's the matter? What's your penis doing? Doesn't it want something to eat?" We kept trying but nothing happened. I said, "Uhn, uhn. I thought when I agreed to you, that perhaps you were a man with strength. But ... is this the way you are ?" He said, "I don't know what's happening. Why is my penis refusing?" I said, "if we stay here any longer, my husband will find us. If you had had the strength, we would already have finished. But, without strength, how can you be of any help to me?" He finally did it, but he finished immediately.
The next day, he went to his friends, "Hey, all of you. I'm feeling very bad. Even if I speak to a woman and she agrees, when I go to her, I can't sleep with her. I try to make it erect, but it refuses. I beg you, give me some medicine so I can help myself. My back has no more strength Won't you help Me?
He explained, "Yesterday, the woman I asked was willing. She is truly beautiful! But when I went to her, we just touched bodies. I couldn't make love to her. My heart wanted to sleep with her, but my penis refused. But I really like her and want to go back to her. My friends, won't you give me medicine? I like women the same as the rest of you, but you're all having sex and I'm notl" A man asks his friends things like that. His friends ask, "If she's as beautiful as you say, why couldn't you have sex with her? We also visited women in that village yesterday. But we had sex with them; we didn't just play The man says, "I beg you, won't you please help? This woman is so beautiful! When I look at her face, it's so lovely! I like her so much. Yet, when we lay down, I couldn't do it. Me, a man, I couldn't do it. Today I feel terrible. In the name of ail this , I'm asking for some medicine to take this very day. if I had had strength in my back yesterday, I would have stayed beside her, a woman that beautiful, and had sex with her until dawn." One of the men gives him medicine. He drinks it and it makes his penis strong and hard again. After, he lies with women very well. A man who is strong, a man with a strong back ... his penis is hard! He becomes very erect. When a man like that speaks to a woman, speaks to her from his heart ... when a man like that speak's about his heart and looks right at her standing near her hut ... it is already becoming erect! That man is one with a strong back. That man, when he talks to a woman about making love, it just rises.
The woman thinks, "I see that what his heart is saying his penis is also saying. I'd like to be with this one," and she agrees. Then, just as you and I are inside this hut together, Marjorie, the two of them go alone inside a hut where he takes her and has sex with her.
When two people make love, the woman moves and the man moves. When they share desire for each other and they both work hard, that's when both become full with pleasure. But if the woman doesn't really want the man and only he works, they enjoy each other only very little. Sometimes the woman finishes first and the man, after. Sometimes they finish together. Both ways are equally good. The only way it is bad is when the woman hasn't finished and the man has. That sometimes happens when a man is sleeping with a woman for the first time. She is so pleasurable and so good ... she's like sugar. Or honey! That's why, when he is just getting started, he is already finished. The woman, still holding full with excitement, thinks, "This man has just made love to me and has finished his work. But I haven't finished mine. Why is he leaving me like this?" They lie around together for a while. When he becomes aroused, he goes to her again. She thinks, "Yes, I'll be able to finish now." They start to make love again and this time, he goes for a long time, a very long time. Perhaps she finishes first and he is the only one to continue, or perhaps, when he is full, she is also full. Then they go to sleep. Other times, it's the woman's heart that hasn't fully agreed. If she feels no desire, if her heart hasn't risen and only the man's has and he makes love to her, she thinks, "Even though he is making love to me, my heart isn't rising. Why is this happening?" When the man finishes, she doesn't. But then her heart changes. Her heart rises and the next time he comes to her, they both finish. I mean even if her hqart hadn't wanted it at first. Because a woman's sexual desire is always with her and even if she doesn't want a certain man, she still feels her desire inside. That's why there are no medicines to make women want men as there are to make men want women: it comes directly from inside a woman's heart. But there is medicine that a woman can take to make men like her. lt is sweet smelling, and when she rubs it on, her husband and other men will want her. Men have one, too. If a man rubs this medicine on, it changes a woman's heart toward him. When he lies down with her, she will like him and they won't refuse each other's wanting.
All women know sexual pleasure. Some women, those who really like sex, if they haven't finished and the man has, will wait until the man has rested, then get up and make love to him. Because she wants to finish, too. She'll have sex with the man until she is also satisfied. Otherwise she could get sick. Because, if a woman doesn't finish her work, sickness can enter her back.
Only rarely, if a woman is really frustrated, will she touch herself. Adult men also touch themselves, either in the bush or sometimes, even in their huts. But only if they are refused by women.
Women don't take men's genitals into their mouths nor do men kiss women's genitals. Men only kiss women's mouths. Because a woman's genitals could burn a man's mouth. So he just kisses her mouth and when he gets hard he lies with her.
When little girls play sexually together, they don't know about what their genitals can do; they just make believe they are having sex. But adults know, adults know how to touch a woman's genitals just right. When a man lies with a woman, he touches her genital S,4 and has sex with her, and touches her genitals, and has sex with her. That's how he finishes and how she also finishes.
Yes, knowing how is very important!
Sex with a lover a woman really likes is very pleasurable. So is sex with her husband, the man of her house. The pleasure they both give is equal. Except if a woman has pulled her heart away from her lover, then there is little pleasure with him.
When a woman has a lover, her heart goes out to him and also to her husband. Her heart feels strong toward both men. But if her heart is small for the important man and big for the other one, if her heart feels passion only for her lover and is cold toward her husband, that is very bad. Her husband will know and will want to kill her and the lover.
A woman has to want her husband and her lover equally; that is when it is good. Women are strong; women are important. Zhun/twa men say that women are the chiefs, the rich ones, the wise ones. Because women possess something very important, something that enables men to live: their genitals. A woman can bring a man life, even if he is almost dead. She can give him sex and make him alive again. If she were to refuse, he would die! If there were no women around, their semen would kill men. Did you know that? If there were only men, they would all die. Women make it possible for them to live. Women have something so good that if a man takes it and moves about inside it, he climaxes and is sustained.