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The basis of egalitarian life in Ju/’hoansi society is an absolute commitment to sharing everything—no one is allowed to have more possessions than anyone else in the group. Sharing extends beyond the family to include all people living in the face-to-face community, and beyond. The sharing implies a giving without any need for an immediate, equal return, a characteristic of most foraging groups.

A 1978 article by Richard B. Lee based on his field research among nomadic Ju/’hoansi (then referred to as !Kung), added to the Archive in this website this week, points out that they regard stinginess with great hostility. However, the Ju/’hoansi are (or were when he wrote this article) even more strongly opposed to arrogance. A hunter who announces his success to his camp is showing a sign of arrogance; a woman who makes a point of displaying her gift to another is arrogant.

Lee describes their strategies for demonstrating their complete lack of arrogance, such as leveling devices like downplaying gifts, self-deprecating comments, rough humor, put-downs, back-handed compliments, and conversational recounts of the suffering and hardships they have endured.

The Ju/’hoansi are also not materialistic—people who have leadership qualities have no more material goods than anyone else, and live no differently. However, contact with the larger political states of modern southern Africa require them to accept the fact that some members of their groups have to deal with outsiders, and in order to be effective they need to be aggressive and articulate. These changes, Lee points out, require the new leaders to have characteristics such as aggressiveness that are completely alien from, and represent a denial of, the traditional leadership qualities of generosity, modesty, and egalitarian behavior. The traditional leaders recognized the absolute equality of everyone, and exerted their leadership through indirect and subtle means.

Lee also describes the sexual politics of Ju/’hoansi band life. The women do more than 90 percent of the work of child-care; while fathers will spend time holding and loving their children, they do not normally take responsibility for their children when the mothers are away. The men do, however, help with 20 to 40 percent of the housework other than child care.

Ju/’hoansi parents are highly selective about the men that they allow to be prospective sons-in-law, and they insist that the man must prove himself as a hunter before considering a marriage. After the marriage, the couple lives with the woman’s family for several years, and sometimes for a lifetime, since the woman may want to continue to have the support of her mother while her children are little.

During this period the husband is treated very well by the wife’s family since they want to encourage him to live on with them; frequently the brothers-in-law form very close ties. The addition of a good hunter to the group means additional meat for the band. Lee includes a range of information such as this in his 1978 review of Ju/’hoansi political life.