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Life Histories of the Dobe !Kung

Life Histories of the Dobe !Kung: Food, Fatness, and Well-being over the Life-span

Nancy Howell
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 248
  • Book Info
    Life Histories of the Dobe !Kung
    Book Description:

    Life Histories of the Dobe !Kungre-examines an important anthropological data set for the Dobe !Kung, the well-known "Bushmen" of the Kalahari Desert, collected by Nancy Howell and colleagues. Using life history analysis, Howell reinterprets this rich material to address the question of how these hunter-gatherers maintain their notably good health from childhood through old age in the Kalahari's harsh environment. She divides the population into life history stages that correlate with estimated chronological ages and demonstrates how and why they survive, even thrive, on a modest allotment of calories. She describes how surplus food is produced and distributed, and she considers both the motives for the generous sharing she has observed among the Dobe !Kung and some evolutionary implications of that behavior.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94617-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Another Look at the !Kung: A Life History Approach
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1967 I was privileged to go to southern Africa to live with the !Kung Bushmen in the Kalahari desert. I was in the final stages of my Ph.D. in sociology at Harvard, and recently married to Richard Lee, who had already spent a year and a half living with the !Kung San people and learning their language. Richard was a lecturer at Harvard at that time, and he applied to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health with his longtime collaborator Irven DeVore (a new professor at Harvard then) for funding to support a substantial study of the !Kung,...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Life History Stages
    (pp. 19-48)

    In my earlier account of the !Kung people (Howell, 1979, 2000), I organized the presentation around the standard demographic processes of death and birth, marriage, and migration, and presented the data in the framework of the ages that I estimated for individuals. In a comparable study (Hill and Hurtado, 1996) of the Ache hunter-gatherers of Paraguay, the authors organized the presentation of their data around life history stages. Not only was this approach compatible with the data already collected on the !Kung, but the theory of life history helped to organize our understanding of the importance of age (and sex)...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Body Size and Growth
    (pp. 49-82)

    One of the most distinctive features of the !Kung people is their small body size. They are short and slender and fine-boned. Many of the people are so thin that bones and muscles are readily seen through the skin, even though most of them seem to be healthy and vigorous.

    There is considerable analysis and research currently underway on the dynamics of human body size, especially since the discovery of an extremely small-bodied fossil hominid population, the Flores people (Brown, Sutikaa, et al., 2004). Life history theory concentrates attention on the speed of growth (fast/slow), which has been investigated in...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Calories Required
    (pp. 83-106)

    Our task in this chapter is to estimate, for each age and sex group, how many calories are needed to support its members, so that we can consider the relationship between calories produced and consumed.¹ We are constructing a framework to understand the production and consumption of calories over the life span, so it will be helpful to have an idea of how much food is needed by individual people at all ages, in order to understand the ties between them. This exercise will allow us to describe the reality of !Kung life in a clearer and more compact way...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Caloric Productivity and Caloric Balance
    (pp. 107-126)

    The !Kung traditionally eat the fruits of nature, hunting and gathering the wild foods of the environment without planting, weeding, or tending crops or animals. As we saw in the last chapter, they do a lot of work to get that food, and many aspects of that work influence their overall way of life. The amount of food that a worker produces per day depends on the species of food available in the environment, the worker’s choice of strategies for harvesting that food, and the degree to which the worker is willing and able to exert himself (and herself) to...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Caloric Balance and Residential Units: Waterholes, Living Groups, Households
    (pp. 127-156)

    The first section of this book has been spent constructing a framework of life history of the !Kung, focusing on body size and the production and requirements of calories. The units of analysis have been individuals over the life span, on the one hand, and the total population, weighing the individuals in each age segment by their probability of survival to that age. In the past chapter, we constructed a variable of Caloric Balance, a measure of the net calories expected from someone of the age and sex of the individual, in our efforts to relate production and consumption of...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Kinship Relations as a Support System for Children
    (pp. 157-182)

    We saw in Chapter 6 that households and their characteristics are significant determinants of the well-being of this population. In this chapter we are going to look more closely at the exact composition of those households by the circle of kin around individuals to see if we can isolate the importance of each kind of kinship relationship.

    We focus on the effects of kinship on children in this chapter rather than looking for effects on everyone, because we have seen how the correlation of age with some of the variables we are concerned with confounds the attempt to understand the...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Motives for Sharing Food and Other Prosocial Behavior
    (pp. 183-210)

    In this chapter, we conclude our consideration of a life history analysis of the !Kung adaptation. In the preceding chapters, we depended upon data collected in 1967–1969 for other purposes to explore issues of the production and distribution of food resources. Briefly, let us review what we have learned from the data before we go beyond the data to try to tie up some questions that naturally arose but cannot be answered empirically with the available data.

    We saw that stages of life, as distinct from age and sex, are recognized by the !Kung and are quite strongly related...

  12. References
    (pp. 211-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-235)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 236-236)