THE HARMLESS PEOPLE by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Kirkus Star

THE HARMLESS PEOPLE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From her association with the Bushmen of South Africa through three field sojourns in 1951, 1952-53, and 1955 accompanied by her parents and brother with anthropological studies and films in view, Elizabeth Thomas has derived a fascinating and excellent exposition of Bushman life. These people, she notes, are one of the most primitive in the world. Then without a flutter she goes on to describe the skills that have enabled them to exist on the veld, dry nine months of every year, of their daily expeditions -- the men to hunt, the women to uproot promising vegetables (truffles are among the yield of the desert!), of their timidity in face of the Bantus and European farmers who cannot force them to work but to whom the Bushmen fear to say no, of their mood songs improvised to express thoughts of an important moment, of their medicine dancing, their marital arrangements, their language and names. This knowledge is not imparted in the detached formal manner of the ever-conscious specialist, though it can stand surely as an anthropological study of merit. The author has the ability to participate without coloring events, to observe without obtruding. We learn of the Bushmen as of unusual friends -- it is Cai who plays many parts besides that of guide, as the dancing healer, as the preoccupied hunter whose constant concern for food extends from mice to mambas; it is Toma who reveals the relation of the Bushmen and the farmers and whose genealogy is offered here; it is Short Kwi whose crippling so forcibly impresses a vehicle-cultured reader with the need for self-reliance and health in the running hunter's life. There are no artificial barriers here; there's a poetic sense of form and a clearcut prose. This with the understanding of mind and heart widens horizons.

ISBN: 067972446X
Publisher: Knopf