The Culture of Hunting
The Great Dance details the hunting practices of the !Kung San, a tribe of Bushman that
live in the Kalahari Desert. In the tribe the women and children would stay behind at the camp
while the men would go out in small hunting parties to find meat which they could bring back to
the camp. I found it quite interesting how they didn’t always make their own kill, often times
finding an animal which had been killed by hyenas or lions and taking that meat for themselves.
They mentioned in the film how, even though the meat might be partially rotten, they could still
eat it because they had grown up eating meat like that. I thought this was rather gross, but
then again when you live in the desert and you may only get the chance to eat every few days,
you can’t be too picky about what you find.
The film followed a band of young men as they hunted various creatures, from a small
antelope type animal, to porcupines, and finally to the much larger Gemsbok. The hunters used
spears as their primary weapon, however bow and arrow was also used on occasion. The hunters
also used Beetle poison on the tips of the arrows to kill the animals, however this poison could
take up to a day to kill the animal, during which time the hunter would have to constantly track
the animal to ensure that a hyena or lion didn’t find and eat it first. The amount of running the
Bushman do in the extreme temperatures of the desert was truly astounding to me. The main
technique for hunting the large Gemsbok is to chase them for hours on hot days in order to tire
The film documented one of these chases, in which the chase lasted four hours until one
of the female Gemsbok became exhausted and refused to run anymore. The hunter then speared
her and proceeded to help give her a quick death in the most humane way possible. There is a
very deep connection between the Bushman and the animals which they hunt. After finding an
animal which had already been killed by another animal, the hunters would retrace the tracks and
reenact the sequence of events that led to the animal’s death. These practices have been pasted
down for tens of thousands of years through their ancestors and are still taught and practiced
today as part of the Bushman culture.
One of the most controversial parts of the film for me was when the hunters chased a
heard of Gemsbok for six hours, only to watch them pass into a wildlife preserve, where, if the
hunters killed one, they would be put in jail for violating laws. Later in the film it talked about
how today the Bushman have had their individual hunting licenses revoked, preventing them
from hunting on the land which their ancestors had hunted for the past 30,000 years. I don’t
think this is a fair move for the indigenous tribes who rely on their hunting practices to survive
and to preserve their culture. This is a pretty good representation of globalization, or the
“reshaping of local conditions by the powerful global forces on an ever-intensifying scale”
(Lavenda and Schultz 2008, 456). I take this to mean that the government and other activist
groups, such as animal preservation groups, have taken actions to “preserve” nature and the
wildlife in a natural reservation, but at the same time they are effectively helping to kill off a
culture and the way of life of the Bushman tribes. While this intervention may have good
intentions behind it up, the effects are detrimental to a culture which has existed for thousands of
years before any form of organized government rose to power.
In conclusion, there needs to be a balance found which allows for preservation of the natural environment and the animals which live in it, while still allowing the cultures which have developed in the area to survive as well. Without the two sides working together to find a happy medium, The Great Dance will be lost forever in the great winds of change.
Lavenda, Robert H. and Emily A. Schultz. Anthropology: What Does It Mean to Be
Human? New York: Oxford University Press. Pg. 456.