8. Conflict, Politics and ExchangeThis is a featured page

In this chapter, the author shows us how the Ju/hoansi lived relatively peacefully with each other, through various ways such as territorial ownership and leadership, nature of conflict and resolution, and a form of gift exchange which served to maintain harmonious relations among the Ju/’hoansi.

The Ju/'hoansi have an egalitarian society, which has no headmen. Territories, or n!ores, are not owned by individuals. Rather, they are owned by groups of people, known as k"ausi. While the Ju living groups have leaders who may establish substantial influence in decision making, they have no formal power. The usage of n!ores is governed by a principle of reciprocity, which ensures fairness in the usage of resources belonging to different n!ores, hence greatly reducing the possibility of territorial conflicts. All that a Ju/'hoan has to do when shifting from one n!ore to another was to seek permission from the k"ausi, which was very often granted.

Next, the author went on to describe the various types of conflict among the Ju/’hoansi. There are three levels of conflict, namely, talking, fighting, and deadly fighting. Talking involves threats and verbal abuse without getting physical. Fighting involves the exchange of blows without the use of weapons. Deadly fighting involves the use of fatal weapons such as poisoned arrows, spears, and clubs. The poisoned arrows used in deadly fights are those that they use in hunting, which can kill a two-hundred-kilogram animal within a day.

Disputes often involve issues such as improper meat distribution, improper hxaro gift exchange, and laziness or stinginess. They usually begin as good-natured conversations filled in with laughter, although the seriousness of the issues is still present. Subsequently when real anger sinks in, the conversation develops into a “talk”, or n≠wa. The n≠wa may develop into a severe argument involving sexual abuse or za. The za can be said to be the most severe form of assault verbally, beyond which, physical assault takes place. It often leads directly to a fight.

Fighting takes the form of hand-to-hand combat involving wrestling and hitting at close quarters rather than fisticuffs. Each fight tends to last between two to five minutes. Fights do not just occur between members of the same gender. They can involve both men and women. However, fights usually occur between men over women. Fights usually end with the parties involved joking with each other, followed by separation of the parties to sort out their feelings before coming back together again, which is known as group fission. Third parties may either be breaking the fighting parties up or egging them on. In all fights, men between twenty and fifty years old are, as much as possible, kept apart as they own lethal poisoned arrows.

The use of talking, joking and group fission to separate parties in conflict has thus helped to prevent the escalation of violence, which ultimately maintains harmony in the communities.

Unfortunately, fights that end fatally still occur. The author illustrated a case of deadly fighting to highlight some general features of arrow fights. Firstly, the main parties involved belong to closely related living groups. Secondly, they often implicate those not involved in the original dispute. Thirdly, they intensify swiftly. Fourthly, the results are unforeseeable. Lastly, it almost always happens only between males. The poisoned arrows used in deadly fights are those that they use in hunting, which can kill a two-hundred-kilogram animal within a day. Poisoned arrows are used because those involved in deadly fights have the intention to kill rather than just to wound.

When one killing has happened, another usually ensues, in revenge, resulting in a thread of killings. This poses a problem as the Ju/’hoansi have no formal authority to stop the string of violence once it has started. Nevertheless, they resolve it by some form of execution whereby members from the victim’s side publicly kill the perpetrators without resistance by the community.

Under the influence of outsiders, the Ju/’hoansi has established a court to handle disputes so as to prevent them from developing into violent fights. The court grew to become very popular with the Ju/’hoansi as it eases their burden of settling disputes among themselves which could lead to serious bloodshed, and also because it protects the Ju/’hoansi from the Black settlers. Unfortunately, despite its popularity, homicide cases still happened.

Lastly, it is the Ju/’hoan system of gift exchange, known as hxaro, that contributes most to maintaining harmony within the Ju/’hoansi. The gift exchange does not have to occur at the same time and need not be of the same value. The focus of it is to build social relations, and it is the difference in the time of exchange and the value of the gift that enables the maintenance of social relations. In the long-run, the value of the goods exchanged has to balance out, thus keeping them looking forward to the next exchange. Hxaro may occur between any two people of any age and gender, although it usually happens between married couples. They may use` any item of their own material culture, although items of European origin have been distinctly popular. Both food and people should not be used in hxaro. Hxaro occurs more intensely during major gatherings when people who have not met in a long time would close their past transactions and begin new ones. Despite the mechanics involved, the Ju/’hoansi do lose interest in maintaining relationships, often resulting in arguments and conflicts.

The hxaro, in addition, contributes to maintaining ecological balance and ensuring that the Ju/’hoansi have sufficient food in each season. When the supply of food becomes scarce in an area, they look for other areas to shift to. Through kin ties maintained by hxaro, they are able to shift to where those kins are living, where there is sufficient food.

This chapter demonstrates that for the Dobe Ju/’hoansi, organizational structure is constructed by the people themselves with regards to how they deal with politics, conflict and social relations. Thus, it debunks the idea that there is no structure governing the society. More importantly, it shows that even in a society where there are little or no economic or political tensions, there are still conflicts and violence surfacing. This may suggest that social relationships and interaction form the basis of conflicts and violence. For the Dobe Ju/’hoansi, marital relations or intimate relationships are the primary factor for conflict and violence in their society. For this matter, it may be suggested that due to the structure of Ju/’hoan society as communal, close-knit and primarily based on kinship ties, marital and social relations are of priority and importance. In the case of adultery triggering conflict and violence, it may be seen as having a role or function in disturbing the social fabric of Ju/’hoan society on which social relations are based. Ownership and leadership in Ju/’hoan society is thus based on social relations and reciprocity of such relations. For instance, marriage increases the number of n!ores owned by people due to the kinship and social ties.

They have different ways of dealing with conflicts and violence, through mechanisms such as hxaro gift exchanges, group efforts, the court and leaders in groups. In Ju/’hoan society, there is no apparent demarcation of class or hierarchy. There is the denial of a headman and this is mostly due to the nature of their lifestyle which tends towards nomadic form. However, there are leaders in groups who influence decisions subtly. Due to the absence of a headman or a political authority, there is the appropriation of a court by the Tswana and Herero to settle serious disputes. In looking at the efficiency of the kgotla ‘court’ in settling such disputes, it is rather surprising to note that the intervention of a court heightens conflict and violence most of the time, which may point to the awareness of how the Ju/’hoan society works. They may work better as a community, or in groups in settling conflict and violence. For instance, they may resolve conflict through joking or physical separation. On the other hand, the Ju/’hoan group may also appropriates itself as a state and settle disputes on their own and mostly based on their own reasoning in retaliation of fights that had occurred previously. Thus, in the Ju/’hoan society, even though it seems that there is chaos and lack of order as there are no apparent organizational structures, it is important to note that for the Dobe Ju/’hoansi, there are distinct sets of roles assumed by the Dobe Ju/'hoansi through the appropriation of the state and court for group and social solidarity. In the chapter, it is mentioned that they are all headmen themselves.

The hxaro gift exchange is an important mechanism for maintaining social relations, group solidarity and minimizing conflict and violence through long-term non-equivalent gift-giving. The hxaro gift exchange is primarily about social relations and ties as these are seen as important for the Ju/’hoan society. As the Dobe Ju/’hoansi move and settle in different places at different times, it is important to maintain social contact with people for the ecological balance of their physical environment they live in. Also, the idea of sharing reinforces itself through hxaro gift exchange and emphasizes the sharing of resources due to the limited availability and lifespan of resources. Thus, the idea of wealth is measured by the number of social relations one have and not the accumulation of capital. The amount of social relations one has can also be attributed to one's social status in Ju/'hoan society. Sharing is seen to be encouraged in the Ju/’hoan society, particularly as sharing improves the welfare of the society as a whole and redistributes resources such that people can have enough for sustenance. The hxaro gift exchange also has a cultural and structural aspect to it. In most hxaro gift exchanges, beadwork is exchanged and the intricacy of beadwork gradually becomes an art form. This illustrates the traditions and culture of the Dobe Ju/’hoansi which can be passed on through hxaro gift exchanges, which then fosters social relations and strengthens the social fabric. Culture, tradition and social relations are then reaffirmed. The hxaro gift exchange system can be seen as a social system that is distinct from the kinship system and the marriage system in Ju/’hoan society, and there are different ‘rules’ constructed for different types of systems in Ju/’hoan society.

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