The book, The Dobe Ju/'hoansi is a great example of an ethnography. It is a very detailed description of every aspect of the San people's life. From the environment they inhabit to the food they eat, the book goes into great detail on how these people survive. More importantly, the book describes their personal relationships with each other and other band level societies, marriage and sexuality topics, and how they solve disputes. Personally, I feel the attention directed towards their interpersonal relationships, was the key in understanding these Ju/'hoansi's way of life. Some of the most important topics mentioned in the ethnography are the foraging for a living, their marriage and sexuality, and conflicts, politics, and exchange. With the help of Richard Lee's case study of these hunters and gatherers, our society can become more cultural relative and get a peak into the way of life of a dying breed.
The Ju/'hoansi are a hunting and gathering society who are located on the border of Namibia and Botswana. These two countries are in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. In the 1950's Richard Lee wanted to research these people because he wanted to dispel two myths. He wanted everyone to know that these people were not "missing links" and that the Ju were not prehistoric creatures (Lee 2003). Upon arrival to the Kalahari Desert, he did just that.
At first glance, this band level society does not have much in common with the technologically advanced western society. However, the more the two cultures are compared, the more they seem to resemble each other. One huge difference in the societies is the environment. In South Africa, the weather is scorching. The landscape is not full of rolling hills, forestry, or flat grasslands like much of the United States. The Kalahari Desert is dry, with little vegetation and hardly any forestry compared to the United States. Unlike Americans, the Ju are a very mobile society. In our society, sturdy houses are built over a period of months. The houses are usually bigger than what we would necessarily need. Usually, we live in these houses for years and sometimes decades. The Ju however, move a few times a year. They build their huts in one day during the dry season and four days during the rainy season (Lee 2003). The reason for such mobility is because they can not live off of the environment in one place for very long. Water may become scarce along with animals and fruit. Once they have slightly exhausted their resources in one area, they pack up and travel to another area which has not yet been exploited. In America, we rely on agriculture and the means to pay for it, to successfully feed our families. Therefore, we do not have to be as nomadic as the Ju. That is probably one of the biggest differences between the two cultures.
One important similarity between The Ju/'hoansi and our society is how much emphasis is put on being family oriented. These people put more emphasis on family than anything else. For this reason, structure of each little village is based upon family. The center of each village is anchored by brothers and sisters who have become the eldest of the camp. Around them, are their sons and daughters and their families. Just as the Ju/'hoansi do, our society for the most part, lives relatively close to our relatives for many of the same reasons as they do. We cherish our families more than we do anyone else, we trust our families more, and we can rely on them when we are in need. The stronghold of our lives is our family, no matter what culture or continent we come from. For that reason and that reason alone, we can relate with the Ju/'hoansi.
The Ju are among the most adaptive and creative societies on earth. They work relatively small amounts of hours per week to survive. In our society it is socially acceptable to work at least forty hours a week. For them, they work no more than twenty-five hours a week (Lee 2003)....
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