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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

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  2,235 ratings  ·  135 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 breakin ...more
Paperback, 365 pages
Published November 14th 2000 by Harvard University Press (first published 1981)
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3.88  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,235 ratings  ·  135 reviews

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Jan 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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
May 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book because it highlights how the reader's understanding of anthropology may differ from the anthropologist's meaning. Each chapter included a summary of a topic by the author, and then Nisa's recollections about that aspect of her life.

So when anthropologists say that the women are pretty equal and can choose who and when to marry, that gives you one idea. Then you see that the pressure to marry is pretty overwhelming and ever-present (even though a !Kung woman can live
Steve Carter
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kong Woman
By Marjorie Shostak

This book from 1981 is made up of interviews that the author had with a African tribal woman who was of people who were still involved with lives of hunter-gathering. I read it because I was curious about what life was like before agriculture, before work, and everything that came with all that more recent development of humankind.
They really didn’t have a bad life. The time put into hunting and gathering it minimal, not even every day.
Feb 28, 2012 added it
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
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Maryann Pasda DiEdwardo
May 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Margaret Rowley
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: musicology
This is a classic anthropological text, and has received probably more citations than there were words in my own thesis, so I wanted to read it over the summer. What I like about the book: Nisa speaking in her own words, even if there is no dialogic editing. I appreciated the candid attitude with which Shostak confronted her own feelings about being in the field, talking with Nisa, and engaging with the !Kung. It's helpful to get a baseline of another set of social mores- especially one that, sa ...more
Greg Torres
Oct 11, 2017 rated it liked it
I have mixed feeling about this book. I read it for class and liked some parts more than others. I enjoy reading about other cultures and found Shostak's accounting of the !Kung to be interesting. One of the eye opening things is that you think of cultures like these of being more oppressive to women, but the !Kung, while not equal are probably better than many. We have a tendency to judge cultures based on things we find important abnd can look down on cultures like the !Kung. But they have sur ...more
Bob Lamothe
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
I read this in college for an anthropology class. The thing that sticks with me was how annoying Nisa was. She was selfish, ungrateful, and entitled. I remember how she would whine about not getting enough meat. It was unclear to me what she contributed, but she certainly expected much from her father, her lovers, and her husbands. If you have to read this for college make sure you give your SJW professor everything they expect in your reports. I you don't have to read this don't bother, just re ...more
3 stars.

I read this for my Anthropology class, so I'm not going to review it. It was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be, but I really didn't love it. I'm definitely using it towards my 2018 reading challenge, though.
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thought that this book told a good story. Makes you want to read more Anthropological memoirs, if you haven't already gotten the bug. Emphasizes that we can transcend cultural differences on a deep level if we so choose. written in a way that does not require professional training to appreciate.
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it
The authors efforts to get such a story needs to be appreciated! A book for those curious to know the life of a women hunter gatherer written in simple language.
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
this is the kind of ethnography I would want to write, where the informant speaks for herself! what a master work. I was really inspired by learning more about the !Kung as well as Nisa herself.
Jan 01, 2018 rated it liked it
I read it a long time ago so I can't recall so much of it, I just remember that I was intrigued and interested while I read it. The relatively low rating is only because of that.
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: anthropology
One of the most interesting books I have read. So different from the world I live in.
Oct 29, 2017 rated it liked it
overall a very interesting book. Love seeing other people's way of lives so I enjoyed it very very much. Would love a follow up to see how things are going
I loved this book so much. I like reading other peoples stories. Just the honest truth of their life.

The author doesn’t particularly like Nisa from the beginning. And throughout the as Nisa recounts her life we have moments of not liking her too. But that’s reality of everyone. She is just honest about it. At some point in our lives we are unlikable. I like that she shares those moments.

Nisa is clearly in need to tell someone her stories. She has much to tell. I think we all know someone like t
Sara Gettel
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
First read for anthro 101 and liked it enough to re-read on my own.
Jurij Fedorov
Sep 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 "
Jenny Boyce
Sep 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, non-fiction
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,
Jan 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anthropology
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
Mar 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, biography, history
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
Sep 05, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Fox 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 rated it it was amazing
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
Oriyah Nitkin
This was one of those books I'd been looking forward to reading for a while (around a decade) and oftentimes it's hard for the book to live up to the hype. Not so in this case. It was fascinating both as an ethnography and as a personal story. Also, as feminism is a topic that has always been on my radar but in recent years increasingly more so, this was the perfect time for ME to read this book and I found certain parts of it surprisingly relevant to my own life and the lives of women around me ...more
Patrick Stackpoole
Jan 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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The Armchair Trav...: * Nisa * discussion 8 9 Jul 02, 2015 03:35PM  
GWS301@Bowdoin: Nisa! The Life and Words of the Kung Women 15 15 Apr 04, 2012 03:20PM  
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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)