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Sunday, 03 March 2024, 22:52 (10:52 PM) CST, day 063 of 2024

Prehistoric Cultures

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!Kung San Hunters
!Kung San Hunters


Cover of novel, Reindeer Moon, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.

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The Hunters





Cover of novel, Animal Wife, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.

Other Hunting and Gathering Peoples

See also N!ai, the Story of a !Kung Woman (VC 2371),
"Arranged Marriages"
an Excerpt from N!ai, the Story of a !Kung Woman
(VC 182)


"In this classic documentary, the Kalahari Bushmen [aka Khoisan, !Kung, San] of Africa wage a constant war for survival against the hot arid climate and unyielding soil. The Hunters focuses on four men who undertake a hunt to obtain meat for their village. The chronicle of their 13-day trek becomes part of the village's folklore, illustrating the ancient roots and continual renewal of African tribal [sic.] cultures."

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This film forms part of a "controlled comparison" with the film The Desert People. Individuals in The Desert People and The Hunters are both:

(a) desert dwellers
(b) people with simple material culture
(c) "band" societies
(d) living in small groups with low population density
(e) with"charismatic" leadership
(f) with age-sex based social structure, strongly male dominated
(g) with marriages through alliances with members of other bands
(h) and making group decisions by consensus
(i) migratory
But The Hunters hunt, and, for the most part, The Desert People do not.
Filmmaker: John Marshall
Producer: Film Study Center,
Peabody Museum, Harvard University

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Terms / Concepts

  • ethnographic analogy

  • band society

  • hunting

  • bow and (poisoned) arrow

    • the poisons are made of the bettle that lives in certain marula trees

      • from the larvae of the Diamphidium beetle

    • the poison is mixed with various plant ingredients to intensify the effects of the poison on the nervous system of the animal

  • digging stick (dibble; coa)

  • pan (shallow water source)

  • spoor (the track or trail of an animal)
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  • persistence hunting

    • when casually hunting non cold-climate hunters worldwide return home essentially empty-handed about 9 of 10 times

      • but persistence hunting is very effective

  • Ju/'hoansi (!Kung San) Kin Terms -- Brian Schwimmer

  • wert (house / hut site)

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  • Watch

    1. the relationship of the people to each other

    2. what the women do

    3. what the children do

    4. what the men do

    5. the relationship of the people to the earth

    6. their material cultural ( huts, tools . . . )

    7. their knowledge of the area, the animals, and technology

    8. what an archaeologist might discover if they came back in a 1000 years to investigate

    9. what wouldn't they find?

      • fire making equipment
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  • Waterholes are considered owned by the headmen of bands, and one must ask permission of the owner to drink

    • Permission is always given for the asking

  • Tau would go into a long, deep trance when he served his people as a "medicine man"

    • Later on, a large creature, having a sudden death, left a hollow

    • Tau, because he was a medicine man, cut open the giraffe

  • "From the ceaseless labors of the women pecking and tugging at the land comes most of the peoples' food."

  • "The work of the women" is to gather roots, wild nuts, and berries

    • This is the kind of work that makes women strong and graceful, and then old
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  • "Hunting is the work of men, their passion, and the passion of the boys."

  • To be good hunters boys must start early in life to learn to chase, shoot and track the many different animals that live in the area

    • boys are not taught to hunt

    • here is little formal instruction, competition is rare, practice is frequent

    • Samko caught a mongoose years before he was to get the little scars on his arms, breasts and forehead that would mean that he was a man and able to marry

  • Note how the video portrays the individual personalities of the four hunters.

  • Tau, "a natural hunter," also serves as the group's shaman, including going into trance for them

    • On the day that he consummated his marriage shot and killed 5 wildebeests of a herd of 30, and brought home the meat of 4 of them
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  • When they came upon the kudu that had been eaten by the scavengers they broke the bones and ate the marrow.

  • At night they were only 7 miles from where they were that morning, but they had walked more than 30 miles.

  • On the 13th day since their departure they came home, traveling 2 days from the butchering site to get there

    • There was meat enough for 9 days

      • But the success rate for hunters in general is more like 1 / 10

  • As they worked they began to divide up the meat

    • Each man took his share and a share for his kinsmen

    • Since it was an old man, Gau, whose arrow had first wounded the giraffe it was his job to distribute the meat to those who were not family to the hunters. He gave to his closest kinsmen. And they in turn gave to their kinsmen, "and the meat spread across the wert as a ripple across water, until in the afternoon everyone was cooking and eating meat," so that by afternoon, everyone was cooking and eating the meat.

  • Note the discussion of the hunt: "Old men remembered, and young men listened, and so the story of the hunt was told."

  • The large stomachs of some of the people in the film are not due to kwashiorkor, "a malnutrition disease, chiefly of children, caused by severe protein and vitamin deficiency and characterized by retarded growth, changes in pigmentation, potbelly, and anemia"
    (Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary")

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  • !Kung San (AKA Khoisan,"Bushmen")

    • they call themselves zhun/twasi, "ourselves"


  • Kalahari Desert


  • Marshall, John
  • Marshall, Lorna
  • Thomas, Elizabeth M.

    Cover of novel, Reindeer Moon, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.      Cover of novel, Animal Wife, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.

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Publications / Bibliography

  • Lee, Richard B. 1968. "What Hunters do for a Living, or, How to Make Out on Scarce Resources," in Man the Hunter by Richard B. Lee and Irven De Vore (eds.). Chicago: Aldine.
  • Lee, Richard B. 1969. "!Kung Bushmen Subsistence: An Input-Output Analysis," in Human Ecology: An Anthropological Reader by A. P. Vayda (ed.). NY: Natural History Press.
  • Lee, Richard B. 1972. "The !Kung Bushmen of Botswana," in Hunters and Gathers Today by Marco G. Bicchieri (ed.). NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
  • Marshall, John. 1958. "Man as Hunter." Natural History 67:6:291-309; 67:7:376-395.
  • Marshall, Lorna. 1965. "The !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert." In Peoples of Africa. James L. Gibbs, Jr., ed., 241 - 278. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
  • Thomas, Elizabeth M. 1959. The Harmless People. NY: Knopf, Vintage.
  • Sahlins, Marshall. "The Original Affluent Society," from Stone Age Economics. Chicago: Aldine and Atherton. 1972.
  • Thomas, Elizabeth M. 1963. "Bushmen on the Kalahari." National Geographic 123:6:866-888.
  • Learning Guide to the film The Gods Must Be Crazy

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