Posted: June 14th, 2021
Analysis of “Eating Christmas in the Kalahari” Richard Lee’s piece, “Eating Christmas in the Kalahari,” describes his experience living with the ! Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in south central Africa, but it does more than just reiterate a three year stint with a native African tribe. It also serves as documentation of another instance of how different societies of people distinguish themselves from one another with certain customs and differences in how they conduct themselves socially. Misunderstandings are commonplace when it comes to anthropologist living among an unfamiliar group of people due to many sorts of cultural barriers.
The primary obstacle that Lee encounters is a misinterpretation between himself and the tribesman on why he isn’t receiving the gratitude that he expects for slaughtering such an enormous ox. While it may not seem like it at first, the conflict that arises between the tribesman and Lee can symbolize the disparity between society in the United States and society in the Kalahari Desert. In the United States, when people do a deed that they deem as an act of kindness, they expect a “thank you” from the beneficiary. The! Kung Bushmen operate a little differently.
Instead of the “thank you” that is customary in the United States, they ridicule and degrade the gift. This is what occurred with Lee and his ox which left him bewildered as to why the Bushmen would treat him this way when he was sure that he has chose a more than adequate ox for the feast. This is another example of how cultures can contrast with one another. The reasoning behind why the! Kung Bushmen handle gifts the way they do is actually a simple one. Their goal is to have no one man perceive himself greater than others just because he can bring home food.
The line “We insult men after they make a kill because of Arrogance. Yes, when a young man kills much meat he comes to think of himself as a chief or big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as inferior or servants. We can’t accept this” supports this line of thinking. When the Bushmen realized how proud Lee was of his sacrifice, they utilized this in order to keep him humble. Many times when Americans perform a good deed it is so they can receive some sort of recognition which in turn builds their ego. This is where the !
Kung and Americans contrast. The ! Kung act the way they do because they see it as a service. They consider keeping one humble as doing the person a favor. Richard Lee’s firsthand experience served to deliver the message to the reader much more efficiently than if we were to read it from someone who received their information indirectly. By reading Lee’s account, we are able to fully grasp the effect that the ! Kung have on someone and how that person reacts to it, in addition to why the ! Kung act operate in the manner that they do.
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