Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series
Hunter-gatherers were the original leisure society. It didn’t take as long as we “civilized people” might think to acquire the necessities of a simple life. Life wasn’t all work. And the work people did? Hunting. Modern people do it for recreation. Picking fruits and nuts and wild plants. Again, something moderns do as a special leisure activity, though it may be on a “pick-your-own” farm. The San or Bushmen lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers for centuries, in a society characterized by a lack of hierarchies, a lack of social distinctions or inequalities. When economic life was focused on getting fresh food and water for today, with confidence that there would be more tomorrow, acquisition of excess was both irrational and impractical. The 17 to 20 hour workweek was all it took, with time left for making art and music, visiting friends, playing with children. Life was largely lived in public. Little time was spent inside closed-off dwellings, but rather in in a shared space.
Suzman analyzes the impacts of encounters with agricultural societies, the Neolithic revolution, and the effects of a new economic structure being imposed on a previously egalitarian hunter-gatherer society, bringing with it a new sense of time and work and the concept of money.
The depiction of life in modern Bushmen enclaves in Namibia is central to the book, and it’s used as an anchor for exploration of how the older society functioned, and for historical and anthropological examination of how the San got from point A—affluence without abundance—to point B, bottom of the socio-economic ladder in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
Perhaps you’ll be curious about the San because you saw The Gods Must Be Crazy (a movie that starred one of their own, and a movie that according the Suzman, the San people embraced) or because you’ve read The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and recall that Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni take in two foster children who are Bushmen. The effect of the beloved cattle of Mma Ramotswe’s pastoralist people and those of other cattle-herding African groups on the lands of the nomadic Bushmen is examined in depth in this book, as well as the impact of German, Afrikaans, and other colonizers.
This is a scholarly book, but a readable one, with portraits of individuals, towns and settlement farms, as well as broader research spanning economics, anthropology, nutrition (he gets one thing wrong in this area—he overlooks the omega three content in the fat of game animals compared to feedlot animals, but aside from that, he’s on solid ground) and sociology. The resources listed at the back of the book for further exploration of his subjects’ history and culture are substantial, taking up the last fifty pages or so.