Tag Archives: Lorna Marshall

On L. Marshall’s “Sharing, talking and giving”

Just finished reading “Sharing, talking and giving” (Marshall, 1961). Great article. As the author summarizes it: “This paper describes customs, practised by the !Kung Bushmen in the Nyae Nyae region of South Africa, which help them to avoid situations that are likely to arouse ill will and hostility among individuals within the bands and between bands. Two customs which seem to be especially helpful and which I describe in detail are meat-sharing and gift-giving. I mention also the !Kung habits of talking, aspects of their good manners, their borrowing and lending, and their not stealing.”

A couple of details were interesting for me:

Taking possession: When they hunt, “The owner of the animal is the owner of the first arrow to be effectively shot into the animal so that it penetrates enough for its poison to work. That person is responsible for the distribution”. Note: the owner is not the head of the band, or the person who organized the hunt, or the person who shot the arrow. The owner of the animal is the owner of the arrow (who often is not even be part of the hunting expedition). Ownership of the tool (arrow) becomes ownership of the hunted animal.

Associative reciprocity: !Kung Bushmen make presents. And the motives for this “are the same as in gift-giving in general: to measure up to what is expected of them, to make friendly gestures, to win favour, to repay past favours and obligations, and to enmesh others in future obligation. I am sure that when feelings of genuine generosity and real friendliness exist they would also be expressed by giving”. A nice list that sums up what I mean by “associative reciprocity”. As Demi, a !Kung informant, tells the anthropologist: “a !Kung never refuses a gift. And a !Kung does not fail to give in return. Toma said that would be ‘neglecting friendship’.”

Marshall, L. (1961). Sharing, talking, and giving: Relief of social tensions among! Kung Bushmen. Africa, 31(3), 231–249.

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