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

Nisa is a member of the !Kung San, or !Kung, a group of hunter-gatherers
who live in the isolated bush areas of Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. Nisa’s own
tribe lives in the Dobe region in Botswana, at the edge of the Kalahari Desert.
Though they live mainly off the land, the !Kung of Nisa’s generation are
beginning to feel the influence of nearby cattle-herding groups and European
settlements. Nisa says that when she was young, she did not know about any way
of life other than her own, but by the time Shostak meets her, her knowledge of
the world has increased dramatically. Shostak is not the only anthropologist to
travel to the !Kung of the Dobe region, and Nisa is savvy enough to understand
what she stands to gain from these outsiders. She often mentions two previous
researchers, Richard and Nancy, who were very generous to her, in an effort to
goad Shostak into generous giving as well. In return, Nisa provides Shostak with
hours of fascinating narration.
Nisa is about fifty years old at the time of her first fifteen interviews,
and she uses her age as proof of her wisdom. She cultivates an authoritative and
somewhat indulgent relationship with Shostak, calling her “my niece” and
teasingly saying she will educate her about sexual relationships. Though Nisa is
real, she exhibits some of the characteristics of a classic literary heroine.
She experiences more than her fair share of tragedy, and at times her network of
lovers and extramarital affairs can read like a soap opera. Above all, her
narration is rich, engaging, and extremely colorful, captivating her listeners
by using imagery and original turns of phrases.