The Cultural Aspects of the Ju/’hoansi
On the continent of Africa, there are many tribes and each individual tribe has its own culture. In southern Africa, the San is one of the major tribes in that region. The San are a bunch of indigenous peoples “who speak click language and who have a tradition of living by hunting and gathering” (Lee, 11). When it comes to appearance, the San appear in diverse form of bodies and sizes. According to Richard Lee, some of the San peoples are short and pale-skinned, while others are tall and dark-skinned like their Bantu-speaking neighbors. The diversity of bodies and sizes divides the San into “Yellow” and “Black” San. The Ju/’hoansi are among the Black San and they speak Ju/’hoan. The Ju/’hoansi economy is based on mixed herding, farming, foraging and wage labor. The Ju/’hoansi peoples live in the deserts of Botswana, Namibia, and Angola in southern Africa. The living arrangement of Ju/’hoansi people involves grass huts arranged in a circle with space in the middle for storytelling at night and community gathering. The Ju/’hoansi people have many cultural aspects and they value them very much. Amidst their many cultural aspects, there are two that are very important in increasing population. These two aspects are responsible for the expansion of the clan, family lines, and names. Kinship in the Ju/’hoansi are complex and important in the aspects of their culture. It determines who one can marry, joke with or avoidance. Another cultural aspect of the Ju/’hoansi that is significant is alliance and duty to a dead brother, as they must marry the dead brother’s wife. In the Ju/’hoansi culture, marriage is totally different from what is seen in the western world. Marriage can be a way of survival for some. These two cultural aspects of the Ju/’hoansi are different compared to that of the western cultural aspects.
Kinship in the Ju/’hoansi culture is presented in three different ways, with the first one being one that the must people know, with ego at the center of two separate and distinct groups, a matrilineal group through his mother and patrilineal group through his father. The second way is based on the “personal names and the name relationship and shows the rather different set of kin terms” (Lee, 70). As the first and second kinship provides kins for the Ju/’hoansi, they also create flaws in their path. This is when the third kinship comes in to fix the flaws created by the first and second kinship. Within the third kinship is the principle of wi, which when examined, provides “a new sense of the beauty and coherence of Ju/’hoan kinship begins to emerge” (Lee, 71). The principle of wi is the answer to questions the first and second kinship cannot answer.
The first kinship is the very one that must people knows about, immediate family. The kin terms of the Ju/’hoansi take the place of the English version but their terms diverge when it comes to siblings. For instance, the English version represents older brother and older sister with OB and OZ respectfully but the Ju/’hoansi put younger siblings under the same term tsin. Not only do sibling terms differ but when it comes to cousins, the Ju/’hoansi kins’ terms also differ. The Ju/’hoansi have one critical principle of kinship, “the principle of alternating generations” and that is when “ego’s own generation and for the second up and down, ego will generally use the !kun!a–tun pair of terms. But for the first generation up and down, ego will use the tsu–//ga pair of terms” (Lee, 73). This means that ego use tsu–//ga for great-grandparents and great-grandchildren. With the principle of alternating generations, another principle of the Ju/’hoansi kinship is introduced, joking and avoidance. In the Ju/’hoansi culture, all Ju kin relations are either joking or avoidance. And all of the ego’s kin fall into one or another of the two categories” (Lee, 73). The joking or avoidance relations can be complicated yet simple. According to Lee, “woman jokes with her sister but respects her brothers…genders “avoid/respect” aunts and uncles” (Lee, 73). When it comes to kinship, an individual’s attitude towards a joking kin can be different from that of an avoidance kin. For instance, when joking kin talks to his or her relative that kin communicates in a more casual way. On the other hand, avoidance relations present “respect and reserve…that in French are represented by tu and vous” (Lee, 74). While the joking relation seems to be like a sibling-sibling relationship, the avoidance relation is like a parent-child relationship in which people in the avoidance relation will never be able to marry. The first kinship is very similar to the English version except it has a bit of differentiation.
The second kinship in the Ju/’hoansi culture presents its own principles and difficulties. The second kinship is based on names and name relationships but “among the Ju/?hoansi there are a very limited number of personal names in use” (Lee, 76). All names are in the Ju/’hoansi culture are hereditary, “every child must be named for somebody” (Lee, 76). Also, because names are inherited, there can be many people sharing the same name. Very strict rules are set to which the first-born son is named after their father’s father and the first-born daughter after the father’s mother. The mother’s family is honored when the second-born is born. Gender also plays a role in Ju/’hoansi naming. A male and female can never have the same name. Additionally, to gender playing a role, last names (surnames) also play a role of identity difficulty. The Ju/’hoansi people have no surname, therefore it is difficult to identify one another while most of them share the same first name. To resolve this problem, the Ju/’hoansi people use nicknames based on their physical attributes. For example, “Toma short, Bo tall, Debe big belly, N!ai short face (of John Marshall’s film N!ai)” (Lee, 77). When an individual has a common name, a convenient kinship is created with remote relatives. For instance, “anyone with your father’s name you call “father,” … others according to what your name means to them” (Lee, 78). With this, the Ju/’hoansi have the ability to expand their kinship. Even though the name relationship helps expand kinship, it also presents some difficulties in marriage arrangements. It limits chances of marriage because “a woman may not marry a man with her father’s or brother’s name, and a man may not marry a woman with his mother’s or sister’s name” (Lee, 79). This cuts down the number of choices the Ju/’hoansi people have in marriage.
In the Ju/’hoansi culture, when a kin name or term does not correspond with the first and second kinship, the third kinship is responsible for that kin name or term. With the third kinship, the older person in the clan chooses the kin term that should be used “always the older person who wi the younger person. Since I am older than you, I decide what we should call each other” (Lee, 80). This means wi possess some kind of authority. In the Ju/’hoansi culture, relative age is very important to kinship. It determines who the oldest is in the clan to choose the kin term “it was crucial in determining who should choose the kin terms to be used” (Lee, 80). Wi is the major principle of the third kinship of the Ju/’hoansi it gives the eldest of the clan the power to choose kin terms.
When it comes to marriage practice, the Ju/’hoansi marriage practices are different from what is practiced in the western world. Even though both the Ju/’hoansi marriage practice and the western practice expand kinship, the Ju/’hoansi practice arranges marriages but the western world does not. The arrangement can take years of gifts (kamais) offered to the female’s family as a way of securing the marriage between the two families. In the Ju/’hoansi culture, “the search for a marriage partner for a girl or boy usually begins soon after a child is born” (Lee, 87). This indicates that parents are actively involved in who their child gets married to. But this happens only in first marriages when the man decides to get remarried, he chooses his own partner.
With that said, polygamy is not a huge part of the Ju/’hoansi tribes compared to other cultures. For instance, for the Igbo tribe of Nigeria, Igbo men can have many wives. Even though men are allowed to have polygamous relationship in the Ju/’hoansi culture their wives are strongly against the idea “the wives who in general oppose this form of union” (Lee, 91) because of sexual jealousy. Most of these wives oppose the idea because of sexual jealousy. According to Lee, most men who pursue polygamous marriages are often the healers because “the ability to heal is a sign of power among the Ju/?hoansi, then taking two wives may be one of the very few status symbols associated with it” (Lee, 91). Also, for the sake of kinship, one can call a married individual who has the same kin term as their wife or husband co-wife or co-husband. This is something you will not witness in the western world. It is not a social norm to call an individual who has the same kin term as your wife or husband co-wife or co-husband. Something that is not common in the western world is when a brother has married his brother’s widow. With the Ju/’hoansi, it is a norm for a brother to have his dead brother’s wife as his wife. Apart from marriage helping to expand kinship, it is also important in the Ju/’hoansi culture for the creation of alliance. In the U.S., marriage is viewed as a way to reproduce and share a life with someone, but the Ju/’hoansi see it as way to create refuge in case of emergency. It is believed among the Ju/’hoansi that “If one has good relations with in-laws at different waterholes, one will never go hungry. If wild food resources give out in your home territory, you can always go visit your in-laws” (Lee, 95). In the U.S. and other parts of the western world, marriage is viewed as independence and a fresh start with a little support from in-laws or parents. This shows the significant differences between the Ju/’hoansi culture and the western culture.
Within the San tribe, is the Ju/’hoansi, one of the major clans in the Kalahari area. They belong to the Black San and they speak Ju/’hoan. The Ju/’hoansi economy is based on mixed herding, farming, foraging and wage labor. There are many cultural aspects to the Ju/’hoansi. Each of these cultural aspects is very important to the Ju/’hoansi. To the Ju/’hoansi, kinship is an important cultural aspect. It helps determines who one can get married to or who one can joke or avoid. Kinship in the Ju/’hoansi rules most part of their lives. They have three different kinships and each of them satisfies a part of their lives. While the first kinship is similar to the English version, with ego at the center there are of two separate and distinct groups a matrilineal group through his mother and patrilineal group through his father, the second kinship involves names and name relationships. When an individual has the same name as someone, this means that individual is kin. The third kinship comes into play when the first and second fail. It is based on the principle of wi, giving the oldest the power to choose a kin term. Another important cultural aspect of the Ju/’hoansi is marriage. Marriage enables the Ju/’hoansi to create alliance between two families. In the Ju/’hoansi, polygamous marriage, is not very common compared to other tribes. But it happens because a brother has to take care of his brother’s widow by marrying her. Also, healers are known to have polygamy marriage because of their powers. All these Ju/’hoansi cultural aspects are different from the western world. The western world does not practice arrange marriages nor does it make you marry you dead brother’s wife. The Ju/’hoansi cultural aspects are very important to them and they surely rule their lives.