Madeline McKinnon Intro to Anthropology Professor Gmelch 2nd Bushmen Reaction Paper The second film we watched on the Bushmen and John Marshall’s recurring role in their lives was equal parts enlightening, confusing and frustrating. Had we not seen “A Kalahari Family ‘ the previous week, the film would have made little sense out of context, but because we did see Marshall’s film beforehand, after watching “Death by Myth” we had the opportunity to critically assess and analyze what has happened to the development of the Jurjoansi people since Marshall’s family brought them to light.
The Bushmen’s existence prior to the Marshall’s anthropological visit to the Kalahari Desert was completely cut off from the outside world and worked much like it had for hundreds of years in a hunter-gatherer society. After the Marshall’s went to this region and studied the Bushmen, the South African and Namibian governments recognized where the tribesmen were living and attempted to displace and disassemble the group. But because of publicity and humanitarian interest, particularly in America, the Bushmen of the Kalahari were spared and their culture vowed to e protected, and here is where the Bushmen myth was born.
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After initial contact with the outside world, subsistence living didn’t hold the appeal it once had for many of the Ju/’joansi people, and they attempted to integrate themselves into the twentieth century, but because of Marshall’s humanitarian efforts to save the culture of the Bushmen, in what he thought was their best interest and what they wanted, a foundation had been set up to preserve their former way of life. I found this hysterical, as John Marshall tried to battle with the foundation he set up to help these people he cared so uch about and was simultaneously reminded of the tremendous red tape that surrounds all humanitarian issues.
Marshall realized in the ’80’s that the foundation he had created for the people was actually working against them and was becoming a monster that he had no control of, and the irony is clear as this foundation is here to help the uneducated Kalahari Bushmen, and they want nothing to do with it. The major theme of the documentary was basically “what went wrong” and the misguided beliefs of what was in the best interest of the Bushmen by Western outside “experts”.
The point of view was from Marshall’s film crew, but he exercised a reflexive documentary style to show his role in the current situation of the Jul’joansi people. The perspective is not too one-sided as the film is literally capturing the chaos of the former hunter-gatherer society unfold, but at the end leads toward a clear view that Western humanitarian workers had no right to be in Bushmenland and no idea what they were doing. I felt a lot of pity for the people caught in the middle of this disaster, as t was clear from the footage they had a lot to say and no one was listening. lso felt this nagging feeling that the issues they complained about in the late ’70’s, ’80s, and then on into the ’90’s were so simple and solvable, but that NOTHING could be done because of the red tape white people had put around their society, and therefore the problems continued and worsened for decades. It reminded me a lot of a project did in Denver last spring, where tried to make a short film to raise awareness about youth homelessness in the city, but I couldn’t talk to any of the kids at the shelters ecause there had been so many rules and laws set up to keep them from exploitation.
But in all these rules and laws, their existence had been hidden to what I would say is the majority of citizens of Denver, and there was no outlet for their message to be heard. Things like these have simple fixes, the solution is right in front of your eyes, within reaching distance, but there are arbitrary bars holding you back from getting to that solution. The film showed frustration on both ends of the dialogue, from the humanitarian workers to he Jul’joansi people, and stirred up audible frustration within our class as we sighed and guffawed at what unfolded onscreen.
Fortunately, by 2000 it appeared that issues were beginning to be addressed, but these were the same complaints and issues that Kalahari Bushmen had had since the late ’70’s. Marshall’s second film about the Bushmen stirred feelings of anger in me and I think that speaks to how powerful the message he portrayed was, and I think he was successful in showing the genuine state of the Jul’joansi people, if not successful in solving their problems and giving them a voice.