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Cultural Analysis: !Kung San

Annotated Bibliography

Art and storytelling in the !Kung culture

Art serves multiple roles in the !Kung culture. Considered one of their key survival tools, it helps both physically but also aids them to enjoy and participate fully in the world. For the !Kung, the imaginary world is just as real as the physical world.2


One of the favorite activities of the !Kung is to sit in the shade and swap stories.1 These stories influence key actions for their survival, especially the hunt. It helps them to appreciate the animals they kill, or helps lead them to food and water. Speaking a Khoisan language, known most for the use of click sounds, stories are told fluidly and vividly. Often no translation is needed because of the great tones and the inclusion of realistic sound effects of the animals involved in the story.2


Using their survival tools, bows and digging sticks, the !Kung play what is considered a "haunting weave of rhythms which seems to resonate with unworldly longing."2 Often, songs and dances are performed to thank the animals that they are hunting, showing that they still feel a connection to the world. While other "primitive" dances honoring a kill are communal, bold or violent, the !Kung dance has a curious, tender, weave and rhythm to it. They would dance all of the aspects of being the animal.2


Used as a way to illustrate stories or convey new stories, rock paintings are prevalent in the rock faces of the Kalahari desert. Using whatever materials were available and their bare hands, they would recreate the animals that they relied on. It has been said with the amount of color and detail that it is apparent that the artist shared a deep identification with the animal being painted.2

Functionalist Perspective

Art serves much the same purpose for the !Kung as mass media serves for us, only at a much, much smaller scale. It is a way of passing along news, entertaining the community, celebrating the world around them, as well as educating future generations. While they primarily only focus on their immediate surroundings, it is this focus that helps them pay attention to what is important; their overall survival.

Conflict Perspective

There is no conflict involved in !Kung art. Using art, namely dancing and storytelling, the !Kung continue their focus on the community. Art is just another tool that helps them be closer to each other.

Symbolic Perspective

Art for the !Kung symbolizes many different aspects in their lives. They use the very tools that ensure their survival as tools for making art, showing the full circle of the fully-interconnectedness between them and their surroundings. In addition, the subject of much of their art shows their deep connection with their environment. They spend a lot of time to show reverence to the animals that sacrifice themselves for the !Kung to live.

This site was created for SOCIOLOGY 1 SEC DE1 (21594) FALL 2005.