Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman – Marjorie Shostak

Marjorie Shostak is the author and narrator of Nisa as
well as Nisa’s interviewer, but with an academic background in English
literature, she is not your average anthropologist. She travels to Africa with
her husband, who is conducting his own work in the Dobe region, and begins
studying the !Kung as a means of occupying her time while she is there. Most of
this backstory does not appear in Nisa, however, and Shostak
does her best to prove her capability as an anthropologist. She thoroughly
describes her research methods, from providing full disclosure about the kinds
of payment she offers to her subjects to corroborating Nisa’s stories
independently to assess their truthfulness. Upon her arrival in Africa, she
throws herself fully into the !Kung group. She learns the language, joins the
hunts and gathering expeditions, listens to discussions around the fire, watches
medicinal ceremonies, and observes food division, preparation, and consumption.
Despite her efforts to immerse herself in the group, she continues to feel
dissatisfied with the depth of her knowledge of the !Kung, so she begins talking
individually to the !Kung women. Shostak’s willingness to show herself to the
!Kung as a woman who is herself struggling with issues of sexuality, marriage,
work, age, and love helps convince the women to be interviewed. Though Shostak
does not become a confidante or a best friend to any of the women, even Nisa,
she does break down many of the barriers between their two cultures, attaining a
very vivid picture of women’s roles in !Kung society.