Insulting the meat

Posted on July 03, 2008 by Steve

When a hunter returns from a successful hunt, or when meat is brought into a camp, one would think that this would be met with open glee and the hunter praised for his skill. Quite the contrary: the people often display indifference or negativity at the news of a successful kill, and I was surprised to see the low-key way in which the hunters would break the news of their success. /Xashe, an excellent hunter from /Xai/xai, put it this way:
When you come home empty-handed, you sleep and you say to yourself, "Oh, what have I done? What's the matter that I haven't killed?" Then the next morning you get up and without a word you go out and hunt again. This time you do kill something, and you come home. My tsu ("older kinsman") sees me and asks: "Well what did you see today?" "Tsutsu," I reply, "I didn't see anything."
   I am sitting there with my head in my hands but my tsu comes back to me because he is a zhu/twa. "What do you mean you haven't killed anything? Can't you see that I'm dying of hunger?"
   "Well, there might be something out there. I just might have scratched its elbow."
   Then you say, as he smiles, "Why don't we go out in the morning and have a look." And so we two and others will bring home the meat together the next day.
Men are encouraged to hunt as well as they can, and the people are happy when meat is brought in, but the correct demeanor for the successful hunter is modesty and understatement. A /Xai/xai man named /Gaugo said:
Say that a man has been hunting. He must not come home and announce like a braggart, "I have killed a big one in the bush!" He must first sit down in silence until I or someone else comes up to his fire and asks, "What did you see today?" He replies quietly, "Ah, I'm no good for hunting. I saw nothing at all ... maybe just a tiny one." Then I smile to myself because I know he has killed something big.
The theme of modesty is continued when the butchering and carrying party goes to fetch the kill the following day. Arriving at the site, the members of the carrying party loudly express their disappointment to the hunter:
You mean you have dragged us all the way out here to make us cart home your pile of bones? Oh, if I had known it was this thin I wouldn't have come.
   People, to think I gave up a nice day in the shade for this. At home we may be hungry, but at least we have nice cool water to drink.
To these insults the hunter must not act offended; he should respond with self-demeaning words:
You're right, this one is not worth the effort; let's just cook the liver for strength and leave the rest for the hyenas. It's not too late to hunt today, and even a duiker or a steenbok would be better than this mess.

--Richard B. Lee, The Dobe !Kung, pp. 48-49.

From "A note on the !Kung language"
/ Dental click, as in /Xai/xai, /Du/da (in spoken English this sound denotes a mild reproach, written "tsk, tsk").
! Alveopalatal click as in !Kung, n!ore.
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Posted by Eric Phillips | July 14, 2008 | 16:26:02

How strange.

And I'm surprised they can leave the meat overnight, what with the hyenas and all.

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