Demography of the Dobe !Kung (Population and Social Structure, Advances in Historical Demography)

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9780123573506: Demography of the Dobe !Kung (Population and Social Structure, Advances in Historical Demography)

First published in 1979, this is a classic study of the population of the Bushmen of the Kalahari Deselt of Botswana. Using methods that are simple and fully illustrated, the author presents empirical descriptions of the fertility, mortality, and marriage patterns of the now famous !Kung hunter-gatherers.

The !King "Bushman" people of the Kalahari desert in Africa occupy an anomalous position in the world of science. They have been selected for intensive study precisely because they are geographically, socially, and economically removed from modern, industrialized society, living in a sparsely settled and remote portion of an enormous semidesert. The !Kung maintain the language and culture of a fully develop hunting and gathering society with (until very recently) no dependence on cultivated plants, no domesticated animals other than the dog, no stratification system based on kinship or occupation, no power or authority structure extending further than the local bands composed of a few related families, no wage labor, no use of money, and no settled sites of occupation.

At the same time, the !Kung have become well-known figures to students―both undergraduate and professional―of Western social science. The faces of !Kung informants gaze from the covers and the illustrations of many texts in anthropology and sociology.

Why has all this attention been developed around the !Kung people? Part of the answer lies in the people themselves. The !Kung are a physically attractive people, with slender, graceful bodies and open small-featured faces that are appealing and photogenic. Their culture is simple and has its striking features. The struggle for subsistence, the click language, the emphasis on sharing and humility, the drama of the curing dances in which individuals go into trance and speak directly to spirits to cure sickness, and the pervasive humor, teasing, and playfulness of the !Kung style are all features that are relatively easy to convey and interesting to l earn about.

This work covers areas such as marriage, fertility, disease, mortality, history, and the projected future of the !Kung. This book will be of interest to students of demographic studies, anthropology, and African studies.

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About the Author:

Nancy Howell is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Toronoto.

Review:

“Howell spent 24 months during the period 1967-69 in demographic research with the !Kung. She learned their San language, collected the massive data necessary, and has thus produced a stimulating study.... This excellent demographic study brings the reader face to face with the appalling realization that it is the only one which has ever been based on information collected from hunter-gatherer peoples. Demographic fragments of data exist for other populations, but they are insufficient to provide a coherent picture. Certainly, such a study is no longer possible among aboriginal Australians. Indeed, the only surviving population with sufficient numbers, yet living in a relatively undisturbed economic pattern, is probably to be found among the negritic peoples of rainforest Central Africa.”

—Joseph B. Birdsell, American Ethnologist

 “Nancy Howell has here produced an impressive book with some important findings. It is certainly the most thorough published account of the demography of any African hunter-gatherer group; and, indeed, this reviewer is unaware of a better study of any hunting and gathering society elsewhere. The book presents a model to any anthropologists on how to gather and fully analyze demographic data from a local-view setting. It has few equals among the growing number of works in the field of anthropological demography.”

—T. Dyson, Population Studies

“Hunter-gatherers who number only 455 and who do not reckon age would seem to defy demographic analysis. But in this book Howell orchestrates longitudinal censusing, stable population modeling, and simulation to overcome these hurdles in a generally convincing study of these noted Kalahari desert dwellers. The undertaking will interest anthropologists, demographers, and human biologists because of its methods, its uncovering of one of the lowest known levels of natural fertility without contraception, and its implications for hunter-gatherer existence, once prevalent but rapidly disappearing in the late 20th century.”

—George A. Collier, Science

“The !Kung of the Kalahari desert are one of the few surviving hunter-gatherer populations. Living in small seminomadic groups, they differ markedly from the large national populations which are the usual subjects of demographic study. Nonetheless, Howell shows how the assumption of an underlying uniformity in patterns of mortality and fertility based on experience with these better known populations leads to a coherent description of !Kung demography.... This combination of detailed presentation of data and comprehensible discussion of assumptions and methods makes the book more than a source of information on !Kung demography; it is also a useful methodological guide for students of small populations.”

—Alan G. Fix, American Scientist

“Nancy Howell’s Demography of the Dobe !Kung deserves great attention as a model for population studies of simple societies. Equally important, however, is the wealth of information this study provides in the specific mechanisms of population maintenance at work among the !Kung.”

—Marco Bicchieri, American Anthropologists

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