Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Mongongo Nut

In a society that subsists on food that is hunted or gathered, a dietary staple, such as the mongongo nut, represents existence and nourishment, especially when other food sources are scarce. The mongongo nut, plentiful in the Dobe region, is a very hard nut that must be cracked with a stone in order to release the edible portion inside. Nisa loves mongongo nuts and talks often about eating them as a child. She fondly remembers the time when her brother Dau collected nuts for Nisa and forbade anybody else from eating them because he knew how much she liked them.


The !Kung have a limited number of names they give to infants as well as honorary members of the tribe, such as Shostak and her husband, and many members of a village or larger group have the same name. Rather than being considered an inconvenience or a lack of creativity, however, the repetition of names is thought to enhance the bonds between members of a group. Often, names are given specifically to create a special bond, as when Nisa names her first daughter Chuko, after her mother. Names are therefore imbued with the characteristics of the namesakes, those who already possess them.