This harsh environment was avoided by most outsiders, but the !Kung are able to survive by adapting to their surroundings. The villages, consisting of 10-30 people, are semi-permanent; once the water source dries up, the band has to carry their belongings to a new site where a reliable source of water can be located. The huts are small and built of grass with all doors facing the center, circling a large communal area where children play, women cook, and all family life except for sleeping takes place. A fire is burning in front of each hut at all times.
The !Kung are hunter gatherers, adapting to their semi-arid environment by gathering roots, berries, fruits, and nuts that they gather from the desert, and from the meat provided by the hunters. Both women and men possess a remarkable knowledge of the many edible foods available, and of the medicinal and toxic properties of different species. !Kung men are responsible for providing the meat, although women might occasionally kill small mammals. Game is not plentiful and the hunters sometimes must travel great distances. Meat is usually sparse and is shared fairly among the group when a hunter is successful. Every part of the animal is used; hides are tanned for blankets and bones are cracked for the marrow. Typical game sought in the hunt includes wildebeest, gemsbok, and giraffe; they also kill various reptiles and birds, and collect honey when it is available. The men provide household tools and maintain a supply of poison tipped arrows and spears for hunting.
!Kung women provide the majority of the food, spending two to three days a week foraging varying distances from the camp, and are also responsible for child care, gathering wood for fires, carrying water, and cooking. Typical foods they might return with are mongongo nuts, baobab fruits, water roots, bitter melon, or !Gwa berries. Children are left at home to be watched over by those remaining in camp, but nursing children are carried on these foraging trips, adding to the load the !Kung women must carry.
Leisure time in !Kung camps is spent singing, visiting, playing games, and storytelling. They have no formal authority figure or chief, but govern themselves by group consensus. Disputes are resolved through lengthy discussions where all involved have a chance to make their thoughts heard until some agreement is reached. Travel to visit relatives occurs during or following the rainy season, when a source of water and food is assured during the trip. During the dry winter months, a number of bands may settle around one permanent spring. During this time, ritual life increases, including the frequency of trance dances.
Click here to visit Harvard's Peabody Museum for more information
on the !Kung.
The trance dance is an exciting social event for the !Kung during
which people renew bonds, visit and laugh together, and sing and
dance. !Kung women's clapping and singing influence the power
of the n/um the healers are able to activate, and they also protect the
healers from hurting themselves when they are in a trance.