The Old Way: A Story of the First People
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
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Elizabeth Marshall Thomas was nineteen when her father took his family to live among the Bushmen of the Kalahari. Fifty years later, after a life of writing and study, Thomas returns to her experiences with the Bushmen, one of the last hunter-gatherer societies on earth, and discovers among them an essential link to the origins of all human society.
Humans lived for 1,500 centuries as roving clans, adapting daily to changes in environment and food supply, living for the most part like their animal ancestors. Those origins are not so easily abandoned, Thomas suggests, and our modern society has plenty still to learn from the Bushmen.
Through her vivid, empathic account, Thomas reveals a template for the lives and societies of all humankind.
Tsumkwe. No culture today obtains its livelihood in its traditional manner. But most cultures keep some of their ancestral features. Our languages, our family patterns, many of our values, and perhaps our religious beliefs are often those of our ancestors. But most of us are lucky enough to belong to cultural communities so strong and widespread that others can’t easily destroy them. Will the Ju/wasi be so lucky? Not all of them, surely. Yet perhaps some pockets of their culture can remain.
art history once called them “monkeys” to my then-young face, while humorously scratching himself under the arms. Not many yards from his large and well-appointed Cambridge living room flowed the Charles River with its unsightly flotillas of raw sewage that in those days was discharged by the towns along its banks. The sewage gave off an odor to which the professor had become accustomed and didn’t seem to mind. But having recently come from the dry savannah, I was seeing any source of water with
killed a bull and a cow. Some white people were also living at /Gautscha—members of an organization formed to help the Ju/wasi—including an arrogant and blindly stupid young American who imagined himself the master of any situation. Against all advice he organized a lion hunt. He then took some of the Ju/wa men in the back of his truck (although some of the Ju/wasi could drive by then, the young American wanted to be safely in the cab) and went to visit the scene. There, the young American
uncharacteristically, had been temporarily leaning against the archway, not up in a bush or tree. I ran! Thus the point to make about the Ju/wasi and their murder rate is not that they didn’t have one, not that they were peaceful by nature, and not that our species isn’t violent or hasn’t always been violent since we parted from our sometimes violent relatives, the chimpanzees. The point is that the Ju/wasi knew only too well what the human animal is capable of doing. The point is that they knew
of animal behavior because, until fairly recently, Western science did not see animal behavior as a field of study. Instead, the anecdotal information that one gathers by observing wild animals seemed unimportant, and only the carefully controlled studies of animals conducted in laboratories were believed to be worthwhile. When considering the Bushmen, therefore, the people of our culture had an inadequate body of knowledge to use as a measure. This meant, of course, that much of the lore