Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman

Characters

Nisa

Characters 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.