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Elisabeth WrightCultural AnthropologyBook ReportNisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman “That’s my life… I lived and lived and lived and now I’m old.” (Pg. 317). This line, taken from the last paragraph of the book Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman by Marjorie Shostak is a line that has stuck with me after I finished reading it. It reflects a general theme of the book. Nisa, the subject of the book often ended her stories with a phrase akin to “Then we continued to live and live”. Marjorie Shostak offers a candid description of this womans life, through Nisa’s vivid storytelling. In each chapter, Shostak offers an introduction to make the reader aware of the customs of the tribe in relation to the topic of the chapter. Nisa’s stories are then laid out, just as she said them. This book offers a look into the fascinating, exciting, sometimes tragic, life of Nisa. The book begins with an introduction by Marjorie Shostak. It details all of the many struggles she had adjusting to life among the !Kung people. She starts out by detailing her difficulties learning the language, and adjusting to the harsh climate. Once she had a basic mastery of the language she was able to do a great many things with the !Kung people. She talks about her experiences going on hunting and gathering excursions, talking with the people, and adjusting to their diet and living practices. However, even having such luck with the !Kung people, Shostak was unhappy with her findings. She wanted the people she talked with to be open and forthcoming, while they had shown restraint and didn’t talk about the things she
wanted to talk about. Shostak wanted to learn particularly about the women of the !Kung tribe. What were their relationships like? How did they see themselves? Did they have a similar experience as western women in navigating their life? As a young woman who was recently married, Shostak was very curious as to what these women could teach her not only about their cultures, but her own. In her mission to get an accurate account of the life of a !Kung woman, Shostak talked to many women of various ages. Still, as she was nearing the end of her time living with the !Kung,she was unsatisfied. When she met Nisa, the subject of the book, at first she didn’t like her. Afterspeaking to her the first time, and hearing a story about how Nisa’s mother threatened to kill her infant brother so Nisa could continue nursing, Shostak that that Nisa might be lying or exaggerating the story. With time, however, Shostak accepted that that is what Nisa believed to be true about the event. When Shostak was very near to leaving, she decided to formally work with Nisa. The account of Nisa’s life begins with her very earliest memories. These happen to be of nursing on her mother. While this would be very strange for children in our society, among the !