A Contemporary Portrait of an Ancient Culture
Anthropologist James Suzman first came to Botswana’s Kalahari Desert in 1992, a young man with big questions about the world and an intuition that he might find answers in an ancient hunter-gatherer culture. After three months as an uninvited volunteer at a small development project, he knew he had to come back – in the guise of a doctoral research student. When the Botswana government of the day did not favour his application to do research into Bushman culture, he secured research permits from the newly-independent neighbouring state of Namibia in 1994.
In the next two decades Suzman worked with every major Bushman group, learned to speak using the distinctive “click” sounds of the local languages, and was even adopted by one of the Bushman groups. While earning his PhD, he had a ringside seat in the rapidly-changing post-apartheid world of southern Africa. In this book he shares with the wider world the worldview of the hunter-gatherer society; the basis for “Primitive affluence.” He summarizes the Bushman economic outlook in the concluding chapter as: confidence in the providence of their environment, a hunter’s empathy for his prey, an immediate- return economy, indifference to the past and the future, and social relationships shaped as much by jealousy as affection.
Christian readers of this book will enjoy the big questions Suzman raises, his honest affection for his Bushman neighbours, and his portrait of an ancient culture caught in the whirlpool sweep of modernity. They will share his concern for a people who are, in Suzman’s words, “collectively the worst off of southern Africa’s people by an eye-watering margin.” Despite his evolutionist and post-modern outlook, at times contemptuous of the Christian faith, Suzman is honest enough to introduce us to Bushmen who have embraced the faith, and even a community of Christian Bushmen who have found new ways to fight addictions and dependency.