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San People: An Overview of Kinship and Culture Systems

Updated on November 3, 2019
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Myranda Grecinger is a graduate student in interdisciplinary studies at Liberty University studying American History & Executive Leadership.

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By Myranda Grecinger

According to Cultural anthropologyby Nowak, B., & Laird, P. (2010) the San people, a foraging tribe in Africa, are traditionally a band society made up of family and relatives. Foraging bands such as the san survive by going where there is an abundance of food and water. They practice a gender based division of labor just like many other foraging bands, primarily with women caring for children and foraging for vegetation and men hunting and providing other skills such as tool making.

Along with being hard workers and doing what is needed, the san people are also leisurely people who enjoy each other’s company and heavily rely on each other. Social ties are considered very important in band society because no one can simply be in it for his own benefit. San meals are a wonderful example of the way things work in their communities, every bit of food is pooled together and passed around for everyone to have a share, and every table is a smorgasbord of bits and pieces from each family’s contribution to the meal. With everyone in the community contributing, san people are not require to toil every minute of every day for survival, in fact, our textbook says they spend a few days a week working and providing for their families and the camp and the rest just enjoying life and their surroundings.

The san people have bilateral descent which means they consider themselves as related to both sides of their families which is important because in an extreme event such as scarcity of water, the san people are able to find relatives in camps that do have water. The close kinship arrangements of the san people are very important in all aspects. Their communities practice polygyny and men marry their brides before they reach maturity.

Women are very important in their communities because of their position in helping provide food and care for the children, because of this they even have a say in the major decision making for the community. Due to the fact that their brides are so young and that fact that there are few women available san men move into the brides families home and begin contributing to her family’s needs. This arrangement continues for years, and the man is patient and waits for her, always doing his part in her community, securing his place with her. Even though divorce is common in san marriages, many of their practices leading up to marriage and during marriage show how important a good woman is to a san man.

The kinship system in this culture affects all things, but most clearly, how their marriage rituals work, how the people spend their free time, and even where the live during drought. Kinship determines if one band will be taken in by another in drought times when water is scarce and thankfully, the san have both the maternal and paternal sides of their families to go to. When a man in a san band chooses a bride, he is not only choosing her, but her family too, they are now his responsibility and because of their share and share a-like system, he is theirs as well. Family is so important and keeping up social ties is so high on the list that work almost seems secondary to spending time leisurely together in this community. In a foraging band such as the san people, kinship is everything.



References

Nowak, B., & Laird, P. (2010). Cultural anthropology. San Diego, Bridgepoint Education, Inc. https://content.ashford.edu


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The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society
The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society
The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society Richard Borshay Lee Book Description ISBN-10: 0521295610 | ISBN-13: 978-0521295611 | Publication Date: December 12, 1979 For most of human history hunting and gathering was a universal way of life. Richard Borshay Lee spent over three years conducting fieldwork among the !Kung San, an isolated population of 1,000 in northern Botswana. When Lee began his work in 19863, the !Kung San were one of the last of the world's people to live this life. By 1973, when Lee last lived with the group, it appeared that they !Kung were a society on the threshold of a transformation that signalled the end of foraging as an independent way of life, at least in Africa. The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society, an ecological and historical study, is Professor Lee's major statement on his research. By maintaining simultaneous historical and synchronic perspectives, Lee is able to extend his analysis of core features from the contemporary !Kung to prehistoric societies. These basic principles become the means to understanding the form of human life that has been obscured by the developments and complications of societies during the last few thousand years.
 

© 2011 Myranda Grecinger

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    • profile image

      RTalloni 

      8 years ago

      You might be interested to know that to fight the extreme poverty among the San peoples the DRCN began a program to promote the various San people groups' self-suffienciency for food production by helping them learn more about farming land and to promote land reform policy in Namibia. The program includes adding approximately 1,000 goats/sheep to their area every year.

      Another sample of help being offered for their needs is in the outreach of SIM from UK to the youth of San people groups because of the disastrous effect of HIV/AIDS on the population.

      Some history that would be helpful to understand as you study the San groups is the connection of the Baster, Griqua, and Khoi to the genocide against the San--racial/ethnic/culturally motivated behavior that has been sadly common between/among some other African people groups.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 

      8 years ago from Birmingham, England

      A fascinating article Myranda. I have tremendous respect for hunter gatherers such as the San people. For me, they are the most successful and happiest people on the planet. Its just such a shame that their way of life is under threat.

      By the way, I'm sorry you had to go through the trauma of having to verify that you are the actual author. Hopefully its all past now. Once again great article. Voted up etc.

    • profile image

      dlynneburdette@yahoo.com 

      9 years ago

      It is amusing that my object in searching online, to locate a second source for my own research paper, led me to a source citation of Nowak & Laird, authors of my current text.

      Sorry you have had difficulty, being called upon to authenticate your work. This is a situation we all hope to avoid.

    • profile image

      awesomeperson 

      9 years ago

      wow that is very interesting ty for upload

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