The !Kung Bushmen of Botswana inhabit the semi-arid northwest region of the Kalahari Desert. Their average annual rainfall is poor, only six to nine inches a year. Field work for this article written by Richard B. Lee, was done in the Dobe area, which is a line of eight permanent waterholes. The Dobe area has a population of 466 Bushmen. This includes 379 permanent residents living in independent camps or associated with Bantu cattle posts, as well as 87 seasonal visitors. The Bushmen living in independent camps lack firearms, livestock, and agriculture. The !Kung are entirely dependent upon hunting and gathering for subsistence. Although Dobe-area !Kung have had some contact with outsiders since the 1880's, the majority of them continue to hunt and gather because there is no viable alternatives locally available to them.
During the dry season (May-October) the entire population is clustered around the water wells. There are "camps" around each well, which is an open aggregate of cooperating persons which changes in size and composition from day to day. The members move out each day to hunt and gather, and return in the evening to pool the collected foods in such a way that every person present receives an equitable share.
Vegetable foods comprise from 60 to 80 percent of the total diet by weight, and collecting involves two or three days of work per woman per week. The major contribution of the male bushmen to their diet is the hunting of medium and large game. Although men's and women's work input is roughly equivalent in terms of man/day of effort, the women provide two to three times as much food by weight as the men.
For the greater part of the year, food is plentiful and easily collected. Although during the end of the dry season people have to hike farther for food, the food still remains constant. The most important food is the mongongo nut. This nut accounts for 50 percent of the...