Egalitarianism and the Cash Economy among the Central Kalahari San

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Egalitarianism and the Cash Economy among the Central Kalahari San

Jiro Tanaka’s research on the Central Kalahari San explored the changes in the San society and determined the overall effects on the culture. Tanaka looked at a group of people who had recently switched from a hunting and gathering existence to a more sedentary way of life. She found that though there were differences in the everyday lives of the San, they were able to preserve their language, cultural identity, and egalitarian ideals.

Tanaka attributes the changes in the San society to influences by the government and Christian missionaries in the 1970s. Tanaka’s research, which occurred in the 1980s, found that the San’s views on labor, the way goods were
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This also meant that goats, horses, foodstuffs, clothes, cooking supplies and other goods took on a new monitory value. It also created economic inequality amongst the group because it was possible for some members to have more money than others. The idea of being paid wages for work also changed the San’s conception of labor. Before the existence of wage labor, "work" such as hunting and gathering, caring for children, performing household chores, etc. was inseparable from play. However, when wage labor was introduced, it became a separate activity, which separated one person’s skills from another person’s abilities.

Many of the features of the modern San society as explored by Tanaka seem to undermine the egalitarian ideals. However, Tanaka found ways in which the San were able to preserve their system of equality. One such example is in the hunting process. The bow-and-arrow method allowed even those who did not kill the animal to share in the hunting by making or receiving the arrow. However, the equestrian system meant that only those who could afford horses could hunt, and it became difficult to distribute meat amongst such large settlements of people. Perhaps in response to this, Tanaka found an increase in popularity of spear hunting with dogs. Though this method was not as efficient as equestrian hunting, it allowed the San to distribute the meat more equally.