The government of Kalahari, Africa, once had the power to take away rights to land and resources from the hunters and gatherers community called Ju/’hoan. Now the community controls their rights in their homeland Kalahari and at the same time they are able to maintain cultural identity.
These achievements were made possible with the help of anthropologist Megan Biesele and the Kalahari research group. Biesele joined this research group 30 years ago during her years of study at Harvard. It was then that she began to research the Ju/’hoan community.
Tuesday night Biesele spoke to the USF community in the Marshall Center Ballroom to tell students her story of anthropological research in the Ju/’hoan community.
Biesele was a member of this group which set out to study the oral literature, myth, rituals and social change of the culture. Biesele and the research group integrated the rights of the culture’s resources that needed to be protected from their government.
“We filmed and taped all their community meetings to help them develop a political voice of their own,” Biesele said. “It is important that their own activism be recognized and acknowledged.”
Biesele said three rights the community needs to remain in control of are their land, resources and cultural language.
“We consult with them and give information on how to retain these rights in the government they are living under,” Biesele said. “People in other cultures and the government try to take their land to be used for diamond mining.”
Biesele said the government also does not like to be reminded that they have poverty in their culture and outsiders are helping them.
“The government sees trouble-makers,” she said, referring to the anthropologists.
Biesele said the anthropologists of the Kalahari research group help the culture by providing the food and transportation they need to have community meetings. The hunting and gathering communities are so dispersed that they are not able to have their community meetings as often as they would like to discuss food arrangements, she said.
The research group also helped establish small village schools for the communities by raising money with the Kalahari Peoples Fund.
“The schools emphasize a curriculum in their own language,” Biesele said. “It is a place for children to receive schooling close to home and avoid boarding school.”
Biesele said the anthropologists keep the hunters’ and gatherers’ cultural traditions but also provide them with modern world goods such as education and hospitals.
Junior Mwenza Blell said it was really interesting to see how practical the culture’s rights are and how activism intersects with anthropological studies.
“Anyone who comes in contact with them and develops a friendship will be asked for help. It’s only natural,” Blell said.
She said as an anthropology major, the lecture helped her understand activism and professionalism during field-work study.
Biesele gave some words of advice for successful activism to a group of about 75 students, some interested in becoming future anthropologists.
“The most important ingredients are great care and not to initiate projects when they are not needed,” Biesele said. “The key is watching and seeing what is needed.”
Claudia Duque, an anthropology student, said Biesele’s work was interesting.
“Most important was the involvement with the community and how the anthropologists’ work has led them to activism,” Duque said. “They are not trying to pressure the culture’s view points, and they provide resources in a very respectful way,” she said.