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Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman
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Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  1,946 Ratings  ·  119 Reviews

This classic paperback is available once again—and exclusively—from Harvard University Press.

This book is the story of the life of Nisa, a member of the !Kung tribe of hunter-gatherers from southern Africa’s Kalahari desert. Told in her own words—earthy, emotional, vivid—to Marjorie Shostak, a Harvard anthropologist who succeeded, with Nisa’s collaboration, in breaking thr

Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Published (first published 1981)
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Jennifer Boettcher
Fantastic narrative of a hunter/gatherer culture in the Kalahari bush from a female perspective. How rare! How lucky we are to have this. Nisa's story was gathered just as the traditional !Kung culture was beginning to change by encroaching farmer-rancher types and Europeans. This chronicles from birth to death the !Kung life, mostly of women. What I like about this as opposed to some dry abstract is how the way they felt about their daily lives and interaction with others and their environment ...more
Mar 09, 2009 Audrey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't usually put books I have to read for school on here but this one is a great read for anyone interested in cultures of Africa. Just finished this for one of my Anthropology courses and was astounded by Shostak's intimate portrayal of the !Kung and !Kung women in particular. The book reveals !Kung women's personal issues concerning transitioning from childhood into adulthood. Issues such as trying to find and create an identity, to coping with marriage and the responsibility that it brings ...more
Sep 19, 2013 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't read a lot of non-fiction but I'm glad that when I do it's as good as Nisa. I read this for a cultural anthropology class so the addition of lectures with the book really gave me a further understanding and clearer perspective of what goes on in the book. It was a very interesting glimpse at the hunting and gathering lifestyle in that it gives us, the readers, an idea of life before agriculture and shows us that really we are not more sophisticated or better than our ancestors in a lot o ...more
May 28, 2015 Thalia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was really interesting and an easy read. I'm fascinated by the Khoisan people. I have been since I saw their rock carvings at Wildebeest Kuil and the rock paintings at Giant's Castle four years ago. They really are quite sophisticated. Last fall, I took a world civilization class and ended up doing my final paper on the San. Finding sources and information was a pain. This book never came up in my searches. At Wildebeest Kuil, I watched some videos about the trance dance. they talked a ...more
Nisa is as enigmatic and charming as Marjorie Shostak suggests; each chapter features an anthropological view of the !Kung people, focusing on topics ranging from birth to marriage to aging and death, as well as a narrative from Nisa's point of view on the same topic. By writing this way, Shostak crafted a generalization of !Kung life that meshes beautifully with Nisa's personal experiences that sometimes match the generalization but more often than not depart from it, providing readers with a ...more
Marjorie Shostak was an anthropologist studying the women of the !Kung hunter-gatherers on the edge of the Kalahari in the 1960's and 1970's.

This book is the result of her interviews with one of those women, Nisa It is Nisa's life story as told to Marjorie in conversations that took place over a period of many years, left off, to be taken up again during Marjorie's next visit.

What I liked best about this book is that the translation seemed to me to capture Nisa's voice and the rhythms of African
Robert Greenberger
Nisa is infuriating and endlessly fascinating because her life, spanning the 1950s-1970s, is completely alien to my own. The subject of Shostak's anthropological study, Nisa's biography is a tale full of sadness and experience. She outlives her children and goes through several husbands while also juggling a seemingly endless supply of lovers. The simple life of the !Kung tribe in Botswana is an eye into another reality, where most of our diseases and problems don't exist. Instead, they hunt, ea ...more
Dec 13, 2016 Rebecca rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Had to read for school, would not recommend unless you are interested in the hunter gatherer lifestyle.
It was good! I read it for Anthropology! Nisa is so badass.
Jurij Fedorov
Nov 19, 2015 Jurij Fedorov rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great read and highly recommended for everyone.

Nisa is a very down to earth book. It is one of the few good hunter-gatherer books out there and this is very different as this one is about life, feelings and how they themselves see the social world. Interviews instead of observations, very interesting stuff for me. This is about a woman obsessed by sex and men and always talking about it. As a man finding out what makes women tick is only possible for me thru books like this one where the "
Jennifer Boyce
Jan 20, 2014 Jennifer Boyce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, africa
After hearing that Jared Diamond recommended this book, I knew that I really wanted to read it. Once I finally got my hands on a copy, I was pleased with this book.

This book is incredibly interesting. I had never heard of the !Kung peoples before reading this book, so everything in this book was new information to me. The life that Nisa lived was incredibly fascinating, I found myself marveling at the people and what was normal for their culture throughout the book. Some of the things that Nisa,
Jun 26, 2015 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first thing I learned from this book is how racist the typical person's understanding is of African languages that feature clicks. The typical idiot will pretend that the entire language consists of clicks, but of course that is not true. You learn that for the !Kung (click-Kung), clicks just provide 3+ additional phonetic sounds to their language. I am sure that is not unique for languages with clicks.

Reading this book leaves you with a profound feeling of connection to the entire human rac
Apr 24, 2012 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography, africa
This book is a fascinating look into the disappearing culture of the !Kung hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari (the people aren't disappearing--just the way of life).

Shostak, an anthropologist, spent a great deal of time interviewing "Nisa," a !Kung woman who confided in her about many intimate details of her life. From husbands to lovers to children dying, the book shows Nisa's raw emotion and reads a bit like a !Kung soap opera. If ever a people had a good sense of humor about sex, it would be th
Nov 06, 2009 Hilary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Hilary by: college
Nisa is an interesting collection of writings. The bulk of the book is made up of stories told to the anthropologist Marjorie from the !Kung lady Nisa. The rest of the book consists of Marjorie's ethnographic observations of the !Kung's people life and beliefs. The book is paced very well, and oftentimes Marjorie's observations prove to be just as interesting as Nisa's life is. The information is presented in a non-biased way and the points in Nisa's life that are exceptional are dutifully expla ...more
John Wiswell
Aug 14, 2007 John Wiswell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anthropology readers, history readers, spiritual readers, feminist readers
Marjorie Shostak takes us into the oldest culture on earth by living with a hunter/gatherer tribe in southern Africa. It's very fortunate that she made her trips to interview them before their way of life was further damaged by careless governments. Reflexively collecting interviews and anecdotes, Shostak explains their morals, architecture, tribal politics, spirituality, games, marriage rituals and subsistence lifestyle, giving us one of the best looks at how human society began all those thous ...more
Patrick Stackpoole
This was required reading for my last semester in college but I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. I did skip some chapters in the middle, but still, it was a great book, clearly showing the differences in life between people "of the bush" and our own lives here at home. Some things discussed include the time spent hunting+gathering, the division of labor between genders, the treatment of tribe members and their relationship to one another, each person's self perception, a nomadic way of l ...more
May 24, 2009 Deb rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A classic, but by the end of the book I'm frustrated with Nisa as a narrator. Somewhat unreliable, self-aggrandizing, and very self-centered, and not that analytical or reflective -- though definitely a vivid storyteller. Shostak's intros to the chapters do present an accessible account of !Kung lifeways. But I wouldn't use it again in a beginning anthro course -- the order of presentation is too confusing, it doesn't chunk nicely into topics, and it gives an unbalanced depiction of !Kung life ( ...more
Oct 25, 2007 Rachel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults
It was interesting and I did learn a lot about the San culture from the eyes of a !Kung woman. I gave it a low rating because I found it exhaustingly repetative and found myself skimming chapters and wishing the book would hurry up and finish.

I thought it was interesting that though Nisa and her husband had this idea of marriage involving one man and wife, they both had lovers and yet were jealous of these lovers. In several other instances when Nisa was younger and stole food or fought with he
Kirstie Ellen
Nisa is a wonderful narrative about the lives of the !Kung people in Africa. I don't often read books like this, and I read this one for study purposes, but I'm definitely glad I did.

I won't go into too deep a review, but basically the book begins each chapter with a summary by the author, and then the main part of that chapter is the narrative of these peoples' lives told through the !Kung woman, Nisa. It's an incredibly interesting read, and I don't know a lot about hunter gatherer tribes so t
Sep 04, 2007 HM is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I read this in an anthropology class in college and remembered liking it. My reason for re-reading it is that I moved this past weekend, and it was the book that was on the top of the first (and only) box of books that I attempted to unpack. (sidebar: all other books in that box are STILL in there!)

I'm not that far into it...but here's the description.

This book is the story of the life of Nisa, a member of the !Kung tribe of hunter-gatherers from southern Africa's Kalahari desert. Told in her o
Jan 22, 2008 Erin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was worried when I first picked this book up that it was going to be tough to get through, as most ethonographies are. But it was surprisingly easy to read. The author, an anthropologist, separates the book by stage of life. The first half of the section is her own research followed by a part of the life of Nisa, a !Kung woman. I was hooked to her life. People always think of the "traditional" cultures in a very particular way, but I think this book and Nisa's life prove that we are all dealin ...more
Aug 17, 2014 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the book that turned me on to historical books and allowed me to start my exploration the world of historical fiction and non-fiction. I was assigned to read this in my anthropology class at NCSU; that class along with this book were an inspiration to me. In this book you get a very intimate look into the life of Nisa, a !Kung woman, and the life of the !Kung....along with African culture. It is an amazing adventure of one woman's journey from adolescences to womanhood and motherhood. Y ...more
Jan 31, 2015 Richp rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book because I like to have some variety in my reading and stretch my horizons. As it turns out, I read what is perhaps the original on the !Kung for an anthropology class more than 4 decades ago (The Harmless People, Marshall), so much was familiar. As an oral history/biography, this was different, but I wonder to what extent Nisa was telling Shostak what she wanted to hear, and Shostak wondered too.

Some may be offended by the many tales of adultery, but most of those people wo
I had to read this book for my Sex and Gender class at school, and I was not excited about it, especially since it was almost 400 pages. But I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The prolouge and epilouge were kind of lengthy and and boring, but she did a good job introducing each chapter prior to hearing Nisa's story. Nisa herself was so likeable. She was friendly, fiesty, and a very strong !Kung woman. I loved her little expressions and quirks ("and we continued to live on", "she stinged h ...more
May 31, 2009 Violet rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The book has what I consider and extremely long introduction. Nisa and her life were interesting to read about. I sure would not want to trade palaces with her. She seemed to be stuck in a sexual rut. More lovers than I could imagine. More husbands than I would ever want.Always looking for food or asking for it from others, wondering if you will have enough for yourself and children. I wonder what the San world is like now, so many years later and so many changes that have happened since this bo ...more
Maryann Pasda DiEdwardo
Nisa is by a second wave feminist, Marjorie Shostak. Raised in the secular humanistic tradition of Judaism. .Her personal philosophy combined insights from African cultures, her own Judaism, and other spiritual sources. Diagnosed with breast cancer in April 1988, she resolved to return to the Kalahari to see Nisa once again, and did so in 1989. She recorded another series of interviews that form the basis of “Nisa Revisited,” a manuscript that Shostak had almost completed before her death. ...more
Justina Kančauskytė
I really enjoyed to read this book. It is a nice introduction to !Kung people life and life models from women perspective.Book contains not only relationships between sex but describes daily life, communication, healing, diet and further more. Useful comparison between western women position and women position in!Kung. Nisa ethnographically story is really vivid and colorful.
Only one minus that sometimes to much information were repeated and those parts boring to read. Nerveless, I want to read
Jan 31, 2009 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating take on the lifestyle of a people that has been seen and changed in so many different ways in recent years. Shostak does a great job of questioning and justifying the information she receives from her !Kung subjects. However, it is the responsibility of the reader to go out and find the many other versions of this story, and attempt to decide what they think both the real and current life of the !Kung people is like.
Dec 11, 2009 Nicole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Read Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman by Marjorie Shostak for my anthropology class, and it’s been hard to put it down. Nisa is a very forward, colorful woman speaking frankly on everything from childbirth, lovers, family, friends. I need to incorporate the insulting method of the !Kung – I will shit on you! or Your Name-Big-Testicles! Long-Penis! Curse on your penis! Hilarious I thought.
Feb 19, 2012 Cassandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cassandra by: Anthro teacher
Read for my Anthro class and actually liked it enough to read it twice. The wording can be a little rough (it's translated to the best of the authors ability but can sometimes be too literal).

Gives you a different perspective of how other cultures live, how they are influenced by modern times and how strong a culture truly is.

If you've ever seen "The Gods Must Be Crazy", the people in the movie, the !Kung, are the people this book is based on.
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Marjorie Shostak (May 11, 1945 - October 6, 1996) was an American anthropologist. Though she never received a formal degree in anthropology, she conducted extensive fieldwork among the !Kung San people of the Kalahari desert in south-western Africa and was widely known for her descriptions of the lives of women in this hunter-gatherer society.

(from Wikipedia)
More about Marjorie Shostak...

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