NAMKWA: Life Among the Bushmen by Hans-Joachim & Marshall Lee Heinz
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NAMKWA: Life Among the Bushmen

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So much of this seemingly anthropological record falls to register as anthropology, so much seems motivated by self-interest and marred by romanticism, that one can't consider it Life Among the Bushmen without serious qualification. The twice-divorced Heinz was a German-born, American-educated parasitologist in his forties when he ventured into the Kalahari. He decided to use a Bushman girl as cook and assistant, then quickly ""married"" the one selected--apparently because of her alert bearing. This record, then, is part anthropology and larger-part anthropologist: Heinz himself, his presence among the Bushmen and his relationship with Namkwa, come to dominate an account which touches virtually every ethical issue in the field. Because he worked out of South Africa, his marriage had to be kept secret; and because his training was not in anthropology (although he later completed degree requirements), he found many adversaries and few supporters. Unquestionably, some of that resistance reflected objections to his unorthodox methods, from the belief that he ignored the limits of academic propriety--a belief many readers will share. But reading his version of events, one concludes that personal shortcomings must have exacerbated the opposition. Heinz contends that he could not foresee what his intervention would do: significantly accelerate the disintegration of a threatened culture. Not only did he introduce Namkwa--a highly adaptable young woman--to 20th-century life; together they tried to transform the hunting Bushmen into a pastoral community. The by-then enterprising Namkwa owned the only store and Heinz may have thrown his weight around. In any case, he was aging and, preferring city comforts, he left Namkwa behind and settled in a larger community, eventually with another woman. Heinz did observe and write about many aspects of Bushman life unreported elsewhere; he also keeps some data to himself (pledged to secrecy, he won't reveal initiation rites) and hedges on his overall impact. So: don't read this expecting to admire the man--his opportunism is too blatant; but as a record of a vanishing culture, and of one unusual member who jumped its boundaries, it is a unique if uneven document.

Pub Date: April 17th, 1979
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin