Question 1:Meredith Small is the author of What’s Love Got to do With It, a novel we read earlier in the year. Small focuses her book on many aspects of life, such as human sexuality, marriage, and relationships. Many of the experiences talked about in The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman Nisa (1981) both support and refute Small’s views as talked about in her book.
For example, it is a cultural norm to have several marriages in the !Kung culture, “I’ve had many husbands — Bo, Tssa, Tashay, Besa, and another Bo. They all married me”, just as Small says that multiple marriages and divorce have become a regular appearance in our own culture (Shostak 120). On the other hand, Small states that “Marriage, if not mating, is a process, not an act” while in the !Kung culture, two people who barely know each other will marry each other, like Nisa and Bo (Small 131). It is interesting that the !Kung culture encourages young people to marry before they get to know one another whereas our culture spends years getting to know a person before the commit to marriage. In addition, the !Kung culture differs from Small’s insights in that they are open about their sexual activity and do so in front of their kids and others.
When Nisa was a child, she laid in the same bed as her parents ‘went to work’ and she watched (102). Meredith Small wrote that today in our culture we look at sexual activity as something to be essentially ashamed of, “We look from a distance at pictures of sex in magazines and acts of sez in films and think of them not as patterns of behavior that evolved as part of our nature, but as something to be hidden, whispered about, perhaps ashamed of”(Small 4). Our culture has given sex and anything to do with sex a negative connotation whereas the !Kung culture embraces the idea and teaches their children at a young age. Question 2: Laura Bohannon once said, “Human nature is pretty much the same the whole world over” meaning that humans behavior very similarly no matter where they are located around the world. Nisa shared many stories that showed us that this is not the case.
For example, it is not normal for a child to ‘play sex’ in our American culture, whereas it is expected in the !Kung culture, “At first, boys play that play with other boys — poking their genitals around one another’s behinds — and girls play that play with little girls” ( 103). Children in America do not usually learn about sex until their middle school years. Likewise, it is not ordinary for newly married couples to have another woman sleep with them in order to make the wife more comfortable with her husband. In the !Kung community, the women marry so young that they seem to be afraid of their husband, “So, it is our custom for an older woman to come into the young girl’s hut to teach her not to be afraid. The woman is supposed to help the girl learn to like her husband” (121). Individuals in the American culture spend time getting to know their husbands and learning to love them before they agree to spend the rest of their lives together whereas in the !Kung culture, women agree to marriage when they barely know the man. Women are usually afraid of their husband until they birth their first child, but after that they engage in a lot of sexual activities. Nisa points out that many men will continue to “have sex with their wives all the months of their pregnancy”, this is not common in our culture (165).
Nisa even explicitly tells us that the Tswanas and Hereros are not like them. In the !Kung community, people begin to have sex very soon after the birth of a child, whereas the Tswanas and Hereros wait longer (165). These examples are just a few that refute Bohannon’s statement that human nature is the same worldwide.
Question 3:There were many things throughout this book that caught me off guard as I read about Nisa’s life. One of the most shocking events I read about was when she talked about how her parents had sex while she was laying in the hut with them, “I’d just be lying there in front of her and my father would be lying down behind her and I would watch” (102). Along with this distributing visualization, I was surprised to read that as children, Nisa and her friends would ‘play sex’.
Nisa talked about how there was good play and bad play, “Bad play is when you touch each other genitals; good play is when you don’t” (103). As I read this, I wondered where their parents were and why this was a culturally okay activity for children to do. There were also many events in Nisa’s life that amazed me.
I thought it was interesting to read that men were so much older than the women they were marrying, “Men, therefore, are often ten or more years older than their wives” (115). Given that men were entering marriage between twenty and thirty years old, women were only in their teenage years when they married. I could not imagine having a husband right now.
Due to the fact that the girls were so much younger, they were afraid to sleep with their husbands in the beginning of their marriages. To help with this, Nisa’s culture had an older woman sleep with the two newlyweds in order to show the young girl there was nothing to be afraid of. In Nisa’s first marriage, her older woman, Nukha, made love to her husband, “As soon as I was asleep, they started to make love” (121). This obviously ruined Nisa’s first marriage. I was actually shocked to read later that it was a cultural norm to have more than one lover in a marriage, “Because, when you are a woman, you don’t just sit still and do nothing – you have lovers” (243). I thought it was very hypocritical of Nisa and her mother to be mad at Nisa’s first husband for making love to another woman when they both do the same thing.
Nisa grew up watching her mother make love to other men, “when I was a child, I knew all of their lovers—even my mother’s and my aunt’s” so it was interesting that she was so surprised when her husband had another lover (243). I was also shocked to read that Nisa took her brother’s child after both of her’s had passed away. Nisa’s brother, Kumsa, was getting ready to have his third child when he gave one of his children to Nisa to raise. The child, Nukha would call Nisa mother, “She says her real mother is just another person, and refuses to sleep in her hut” (282). I thought it was shocking that the family just let their child be raised by another woman.
Question 4: Nisa and I may both be females whose bodies work in the same way to keep us alive, but Nisa herself has more differences than similarities with me. For starters, growing up, I did not sit around with my friends and “put saliva in my hands, rub it onto my genitals, and touch genitals together” like Nisa did with her friends. Nisa is also different from me in the fact that she was married to Bo “when her genitals still weren’t developed and when her chest was without anything on it” (120). Nisa was forced to marry a man before she had even fully developed as her own person. She also married, for a second time, to a man who saw her from afar and decided he wanted to marry her. My parents would never allow me to marry someone that I did not know, especially at that young of an age.
In addition, Nisa talks about how she gave birth to her child with no one around, “I just sat there until the birth was over” (165). Although I have not given birth to a child before, I do not see myself handling it on my own even though I do think of myself as a strong woman like Nisa. One last difference arose when Nisa talked about how she “rarely thinks of those who have died”, including her children (283). I lost my grandparents many years ago and still think of them every day! I have a hard time losing thought of someone who had such an impact on me, like I would think her children did. Nisa and I may share many biological similarities, but I believe there are many more cultural differences between us than similarities.