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The Dobe Ju/’hoansi Critical Review

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​In the case study “The Dobe Ju/’hoansi”, the author Richard B. Lee, an anthropologist from the University of Toronto, provides an in-depth look into the lives of the South African tribe known as the Dobe Ju/’hoansi. In the book, Lee strives to shed light on several important factors of the Ju/’hoansi culture and lifestyle. The author addresses the point methodologically by first covering the foraging methods of the hunter-gatherers and then their sexuality and religion. Other factors of the tribe that the author focuses on are: politics, social change, marriage, conflict, and social organization. After analyzing Lee’s research on the Ju/’hoansi, I was able to discover that the biggest issue lies within their kinship, subsistence, and sexuality. [So far, you have stated the topic of the book, but you still need a clear statement of what you think Lee was trying to prove. He does describe their culture but he also have some things he wants to persuade us about.] ​As Lee states in the book, one of the biggest factors that led to his studies of the Dobe Ju/’hoansi is that they are an isolated hunting and gathering tribe.

This is important, because hunting and gathering, or foraging, is thought to be how early human beings lived. Therefore, through his research, the anthropologist can view a part of early ancestral culture. One of the many assumptions that Lee had before spending time with the Ju/’hoansi tribe was that the idea of foraging for existence and subsistence is tough and it is difficult to survive using this method. However contrary to these assumptions, is the fact that a relatively small amount of work is needed to feed a village, and when cooperatively carried out with others, it is not very difficult. This can be supported by Lee’s observations. After seeing a woman collect nuts from a mongongo tree, he asked her about her job to which she replied that she gathers 2,000 to 3,000 nuts per hour and only works 20-30 hours a week (Lee, 42). This is quite a contrast to our society where work usually is more strenuous and involves longer hours. One may wonder what the Ju/’hoansi do with all the other time that they are not working? The answer, of course, is spending time with their family and friends.

​Another factor that is variable in Ju/’hoansi culture is sexuality. In their culture boys and girls are encouraged to take part in sexual activity at a very young age. As recorded by Lee, the parents and children sleep in the same bed, and sexual activity is performed quietly while the child is sleeping. Lee also recalls the story of a young woman who discovered what sex is by playing with her friends. The woman states that “most boys and girls will have some experience of sexual intercourse by age 15” (Lee 93). This is different from Western culture where behavior such as this is highly discouraged in young individuals. Although one may argue that it is prevalent, we must remember that it is publicly admonished and reprimanded whereas it is encouraged among the Ju/’hoansi tribe. ​Another important and integral part of the day-to-day lives of the Ju/’hoansi society is kinship. It is important in providing the order that needs to be present for interpersonal relationships.

One of the ways that Lee introduces the Ju/’hoansi kinship is by first providing a diagram of the relationships of individuals with one another (including relationships such as parents, grandparents, and siblings). As can be detected from Lee’s research, the Ju/’hoansi live in extended families. This proves to be beneficial for all members because it allows everyone to be cared for in times of hardship. This can be shown, for example, by the division of the meat after a hunt. Another common ritual that is an integral part of Ju/’hoansi society is the “insulting of meat”. This is an important ritual that keeps the tribe closely knit, because it does not allow any one individual to feel superior over others. This close knit kinship also plays an important role when it comes to name-giving. Before Lee came to Southern Africa, he carried many Western assumptions, one of which is that parents are always the ones that rightfully name their children.

However, in Ju/’hoansi culture, it is the belief that a child must be named for somebody. A first-born son is named after his father’s father, and the daughter is name after her father’s mother. Parents are not permitted to name children themselves. This is another difference that can be seen between our society and that of the Ju/’hoansi and is described by Lee in his book. ​Another characteristic of Ju/’hoansi society that is different from ours is education. The education level of the Dobe Ju/’hoansi is extremely low. The majority of individuals have very little education and job opportunities are also minimal. These factors lead to a lower opportunity of prosperity of the tribe in the future. Less education limits the tribe to hunting and gathering methods to stay alive. Many individuals from western society, including Lee, hold the bias that it is almost impossible for a society to function without education.

However, the Dobe Ju/’hoansi have shown through their day-to-day lives that it is quite the contrary. ​In the book “The Dobe Ju/’hoansi” by Richard B. Lee, the author shows many factors of the Ju/’hoansi culture and lifestyle. The author addresses the point methodologically by first covering the foraging methods of the hunter-gatherers and then their sexuality and religion. Other factors of the tribe that the author focuses on are: politics, social change, marriage, conflict, and social organization. Overall, I feel Lee is successful in his goal of sharing his knowledge about the Ju/’hoansi culture, a culture that may have developed similarly to our own. It is especially helpful that he incorporates the views of the Ju/’hoansi through their stories and experiences. This book proved to be very innovative. I was able to learn many new aspects of the Dobe Ju/’hoansi culture I was not once aware of. It allowed to me dispel certain assumptions about hunter-gatherers and overcome biases I held based on Western culture.

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