Review Blog

Nov 13 2017

Affluence without abundance: The disappearing world of the Bushmen by James Suzman

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Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781632865724
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Non-fiction. Anthropologist James Suzman has spent many years living and working with the Bushman groups of Namibia and Botswana, southern Africa, providing us with a unique insight into the culture of these hunting and gathering people. He describes them as a group of people who had already discovered the Keynesian economic ideal of a life of satisfied needs without long working hours. He estimates that they may have spent about 15 hours a week securing their nutritional needs. The idea of working to cultivate extra food, or of storing for later, was completely unknown and unnecessary to the Ju/'hoansi. The land always provided for them in some way. The thought that the so-called 'primitive man' could actually have affluence without the endless toil for further wealth is unimaginable to Western society caught in the perpetual cycle of work and accumulation of things.
Suzman's book is fascinating. So many unusual concepts are revealed to us: the idea of equality moderated by jealousy; of empathy with animals but not humanised affection or compassion; a respectful and sharing relationship with predator lions; the environment as a set of relationships that includes everything even litter; satisfied instincts without greed or obesity. Whilst reading, it seemed to me that there may be some overlaps with the values of Australian Aboriginal peoples. There are also some shared problems brought on by loss of land to colonising powers.
There are many interesting characters, some of them revealed in a wonderful collection of colour photographs. The book also includes several maps of the region, an index, and a list of suggested further reading.
Helen Eddy

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