Eating Christmas in the Kalahari

Topics: Botswana, Harshad number Pages: 3 (784 words) Published: September 16, 2004


In his article "Eating Christmas in the Kalahari" (1969), Richard Borshay Lee tells of his three years spent living with the !Kung San Bushmen, of some of their customs, of how they celebrated Christmas and of how they dealt with 'gifts' or rather his gift to them in particular.

Lee explains that the local people thought him a miser because he "maintained a two-month inventory of canned goods" (p 111) which was in direct contrast to the Bushmen "who rarely had a day's supply of food on hand"(p 111), and it appeared he was determined to correct this view.

Lee writes that it "is the Tswana-Herero custom of slaughtering an ox for his Bushmen neighbours as an annual goodwill gesture" (p 111) at Christmas. By purchasing the Christmas ox for the Bushmen's annual feast himself, Lee hoped that it would be seen as a generous (parting) gesture, a 'thank you' for their cooperation - as in Western culture - and perhaps also the catalyst for dispelling their view of him as a miser.

Lee appears to want the reader to believe that he was confused about his failure to gain the (expected) appreciation from the Bushmen for his generosity but was instead ridiculed for his choice of ox with sarcastic descriptions such as; "scrawny" (p 112), "old wreck"(p 111), "sack of guts and bones"(p 111), "old"(p 111), "thin"(p 111) and "sick"(p 113). Lee further leads us to believe that his confusion became more profound on Christmas Day when the ox was slaughtered and was found to have a thick layer of fat covering the meat. Although Lee indicates that he felt vindicated in his choice of ox, the derision and sarcasm continued throughout the slaughtering process.

Lee writes that he later sought clarification and explanation from several of the local people and was eventually told that the Bushmen's sarcasm or "obligatory insults over a kill"(p 114), was their 'custom' and was a mechanism used to prevent hunters from getting an inflated ego and/or...

References: Lee, Richard Borshay
1969 "Eating Christmas in the Kalahari" reprinted in A. Podolefsky and P. Brown (eds.), Applying Cultural Anthropology: an introduction. (1991), Mountainview: Mayfield, pp. 110-114.
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