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Cultural Analysis: !Kung San

Annotated Bibliography

How the !Kung can overcome their environment

With semi-permanent villages consisting of 10-30 people living in an environment that sees very low amounts of rainfall, the !Kung people have had to learn how to best use their environment to their advantage. Without the advantages of agriculture or domestic animals, the !Kung utilized foraging to live in cooperation with their environment. While not having scientific advancements like more civilized parts of the world, thousands of years of living in such a harsh environment has required a rudimentary use of the scientific method to help the !Kung overcome their environment.


The !Kung usually eat small meals during the day and a large supper with the whole family in the evening.1 Because they must be prepared to move when resources become depleted in an area, moving excess amounts of goods is impractical.4 In order to provide food, one of the women's chores is to gather roots, berries, fruits and nuts from the desert. The men are responsible for traveling where they need to to provide meat (while women might occasionally provide small mammals for consumption).

While the !Kung are physically healthy they are also relatively short (about 5'3") and thin (averaging 110 lbs). About 1/3 of their diet consists of the mongongo nut, which is a very high-fat food, and another 1/3 comes solely from meat intake.10 The remaining amount is made up food gathered from more than 200 different plant species.4

Main Staples of the !Kung San Diet10


% of Diet
by Weight

Weight (g)

Protein (g)

per person
per day






Mongongo nuts





Other plant foods










As you can see from the table, the !Kung are averaging about 2,355 calories in a day (compared to the 2,000 calories recommended for average US adults). Using the percentages above, we can calculate the following nutritional breakdown: Protein - 16%, Carbohydrate - 14%, Fat - 70%.10


Because of their need to follow available water sources, the !Kung villages needed to be stable enough to fight against the environment, but able to be abandoned and rebuilt in another location. Huts are small and built of grass or saplings formed in a semicircle, tied together at the top and covered with grass. Forming a circle around a large communal area, the doors of the huts faced inwards towards the center. In this communal area, children play, women cook, and all of family life, except sleeping, takes place.9 12

Functionalist Perspective

Utilizing a base level version of the scientific method, the !Kung have successfully found a way to coexist with their surroundings. This is plainly shown with the shear fact that they still do exist after thousands of years and can still live in the same fashion. Foraging is the single most important scientific advancement made by the !Kung. It has allowed them to use their surroundings to their advantage and strive off of it.

Another important scientific advancement the !Kung have made is in their use of tools and shelter. Over time, they have developed tools that aid in their everyday lives, from food gathering to cooking utensils to shoes to protect their feet. Because of the nature of their environment these tools are extremely versatile, being used for art, music and as many other concurrent functions as possible. Shelter provides a way to physically deal with the harsh envirionment, providing shade and a windbreak when needed. In addition, it is created to be able to be structurally sound, but also quite mobile to enable the !Kung to be able to move their camps as needed.

Conflict Perspective

Within the !Kung community there are no real conflicts within this area. It is fully understood that for the community to survive, food and shelter are of utmost importance. Thousands of years of existence has shown that this can work as long cooperation has a high priority among everyone involved.

One major conflict that does exist in the area of science is between the !Kung and their environment. Not only have they had to learn what plants and animals will help sustain them, but also how best to construct structures that can be both protective as well as mobile.

Symbolic Perspective

Physical structures and personal possessions mean very little to a group that needs to be able to move if the environment requires it. On the other hand, food means everything. A majority of the roles that the !Kung take on are to aid in food-gathering and bringing in sustenance for the community.

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