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Patricia Swim

Period 1
The Study of Reciprocity in the Dobe ju/hoansi
Reciprocity is, by definition, the practice of exchanging things with
others for mutual benefit. The idea of reciprocity is deeply engrained in the
core values of the Dobe ju/hoansi (!Kung) society. Reciprocity is the basis of
relations. Whether it be relations between family, in-laws, big men of
different tribes, you name it; reciprocity is always kept with the upmost
priority. It is through the practice of hxaro that gifts are exchanged between
people, and with this practice, various aspects of their culture are influenced,
such as food sharing, and relationships.
The value of reciprocity is kept balanced by the important roles of the
belief systems of food sharing and social relationships in the Ju/hoansi
society. With this balance of goods and social relationships, moral values of
modesty and unity are promoted, which keep the Ju strong as a society.
The harmonious relationship that the Dobe ju/hoansi have between
themselves, their environment, and food is quite extraordinary. The !Kung
see food as a gift that should be shared equally amongst the tribe as a
whole. Food is seen as essential to life, an egalitarian concept not recognized
by most hunting and gathering societies. This is what makes the Dobe so
unique; they view food as subsistence as a whole instead of a means of
wealth to be hoarded of monopolized individually. This concept of sharing
food plays such an important role in relations of reciprocity in the egalitarian
social structure of the Ju.
The concept of Kinship among the Ju is nothing like any other society
on Earth because of its egalitarian influence with reciprocity. The principle of
reciprocity helps distinguish between nuclear, in=law, name, joking, and
avoidance relationships shared between people. The gifts that are exchanged
over time between people keeps their relationship strong, therefore
enforcing the Jus concept that the number of close relationships one has is a
value of wealth. The exchange of gifts, known as hxaro, connects people
even without blood ties, and creates close bonds between otherwise distant
kin. This in effect makes a deep network of ties between kin in a single tribe,
and an even more complex, integrated network of relations between the Ju
as a whole society.
Over time however, with the influence of outside societies, the !Kungs
moral and belief systems became swayed. Western beliefs prioritize social
status through material items; a value never before recognized or practiced
amongst the Ju. Before this change, the !Kung shared food and belongings
amongst the entire tribe. With the introduction of Western values, they
began to hide their possessions, fight and steal because of material wealth,

and keep food for only themselves. The monopolization of Ju land forced the !
Kung to turn in their bow and arrows, and instead stand in lines for a rationed
food they called mealie meal. The South African government had banned
the Ju from hunting and gathering food, and forced them to live off of a grain
that barely kept them alive. They lost their sense of unity that they had
through the system of reciprocity. They traded in their traditional moral
system for a more modern, material system that was powered by outside
government. With this influence of Western values, the !Kungs way of life
was forever changed for the worse.