“Nisa: The Life and Words of A! Kung Woman” by Marjorie Shostak

Culture refers to people’s way of life and is determined by their values, norms, attitudes, beliefs and cognitive mapping. We acquire culture through socialization. Once we acquire our people’s culture we become ethnocentric in the way we relate with people whose culture is different from us. Ethnocentrism basically refers to the view that my ethnic group or culture is superior to all others. Therefore every time I am looking at people from another culture they look inferior to me.

In the recent past people have started to appreciate others due to the fact that we are all human beings and our differences are as a result of the environment that we inhabit. Therefore cultural relativism has emerged. Glazer (1996) posits that according to cultural relativism ‘all cultures are equal and need to be studied and analyzed from a neutral point of view.’ In order to achieve this, we need to see and interpreter cultures from the natives point of view. These two terms are crucial while analyzing the work of Nisa: The life and words of a !kung Woman.

I was specifically shocked by the way marriage and menstruation is treated by the !Kung. A woman in this society does not have the right to choose her marriage partner (Shostack, 2000, pg.133).This is because the man can be much older or a virtual stranger to the girl. Therefore in this society parents are the one who determines who marries who unlike in our society whereby everyone is free to choose his/her marriage partner. The first menstruation is a serious issue among the !Kung because a ritual has to be performed. Shostack (2000, pg.134) points out that ‘the girl is made beautiful with ornaments, rubbed with oil and taken into a hut built for the ceremony.’ Although a ceremony is a good it is overshadowed by the men’s reaction to this.

Men are not supposed to meet a menstruating girl otherwise it will hurt them in the hunt. In addition, if a woman realizes that a man saw the girl all the ornament she was given are taken away. Even though menstruation in our society is insignificant I believe that the !Kung have a point. First of all it means that the girl is mature enough to get married and have a baby. We have to remember that the !Kung is basically a band society. They are small in number and since they live in a very harsh environment the continuation of the family line and the band is paramount. Therefore they need to maximize their numbers buy marrying off girls at the earliest opportunity that is available.

In addition I concur with them in the way they deal with emotions. They do not suppress emotions, rather they express them openly. Marriage can be terminated because of distress and when it is not terminated, a woman can take drastic actions such as running away to the bush. I believe that no one should be compelled to remain in a dissatisfying marriage.

In conclusion, ethnocentrism prevents us from understanding people who exhibit a culture that is different from ours. As an anthropologist I should not be quick to judge others. I need to take my time to understand other cultures because no one is superior. Furthermore, every culture is ecological specific since it ensures the survival of the society in the given environment.

Work cited

  1. Glazer, m. Cultural Relativism.
  2. Shostak, M. Nisa: The Life And Words of a !Kung Woman. Harvard: Harvard University press. 2000, pp 130-140
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