Where Global Contradictions Are Sharpest ~ Reverse Cultural Studies: Field Methods, Power Relations and 4X4s
When you visit Africa, be careful. It is an extremely dangerous place: you will lose your soul to it forever.
Boesman (‘Bushman’) (Safari brochure 2001)
When we arrived at dusk at Ngwatle in July 2004, we saw a 4X4 sporting the sign, ‘The Jesus Film Project’ (JFP). A number of locals were dancing on the sand to religious pop music blaring from two loudspeakers. Later that evening, five missionaries from Kimberley screened an evangelical film to approximately fifty villagers who had braved the bitter cold. It was much like passing an old-time drive-in as Mick Francis and I returned to Hukuntsi to collect two of our party who had arrived there by car. The next day, we visited the JFP missionaries who told us that they were hoping to make the Bushmen into the Children of God. Far from losing their own souls to Africa, the missionaries were hoping to claim new ones to an indigenised kind of Christianity. The dangers confronting JFP, they told us, were witchcraft, immorality, and Satan. Our own concerns, however, were water, fuel, and time.
We learn that a different organisation, ‘Serving in Mission’ (SIM), had set up a large semi-permanent camp at Ngwatle, with the aim of translating the Bible into Sesarwa (a generic of !Kung commonly spoken by the !Xoo/Basarwa of Botswana). Their camp was, however, deserted for the week we sojourned at Ngwatle. We wonder whether these messianic initiatives will have any development implications for Ngwatle. Will jobs be on offer; will Ngwatle perhaps become more permanent, lessening the threat of removal, resettlement, and the destruction of their sense of community? Only time will tell.
A theorised diary: Making sense as we go
This chapter offers a diary of roughly fifteen visits to the Kalahari, between 1995 and 2005. In reflecting what I learned from the field, this book (and especially this chapter) is largely composed as a theorised diary through which I:
– critically address academy-bound scholarship claiming to be studying the ‘popular’;
– argue for a space in cultural studies for a greater acknowledgement of fieldwork done in the Third and Fourth Worlds vis-à-vis theory development in the Western metropoles;
– develop a multi-layered narrative through the main text supported by extensive illustrative and explanatory footnotes. I attempt to forge a space in the global publications industry for the kinds of cultural studies done in Africa, in which texture and experience are as important as theory, in which human agency is described and recognised, in which individuals have voices and personalities (cf. Wright 1998; Stanton 2000; Tomaselli 1998; Bozzoli 1987). Contradictions at the centre are usually much sharper in societies where scrambled developmental periodisations are the norm (Chapters 2-4); I also intend to:
– offer some passing comments on how media globalisation impacts Third and Fourth World societies, and how local ontologies are articulated into notions of ‘science’, ‘conservation’ and ‘preservation’ (Chapters 5 and 6).
– argue for an approach to cultural studies in Africa which starts from the signs and codes of Africans themselves, one which critically engages Western thought shops which impose themselves on local discursive contours in complete disdain for, and/or ignorance of, indigenous ways of making sense, coping and doing.
Post-millennium cultural studies: Getting dirty
For me, post-millennium cultural studies largely conjure up images of highly educated, extraordinarily articulate scholars at work in their offices, often over-theorising their arguments, and conversing via well-rehearsed exquisite performances in air-conditioned First World conference environments. Amongst these are a few academic celebrities who charge high appearance fees on the conference and lecture circuits. These are the ‘scholarcrats’ of the international ‘academocracy’ who often pour scorn on fieldworkers who write about their research experiences in terms of arrival tropes, environmental hardships, and basic survival in remote and often dangerous places. As will become clear, the grassroots informants of many of these now generalized presentations and books also want payment and royalties, recognition for the knowledge they have imparted. Belinda Kruiper commented, for example, that without Ouma Una!, the linguistic studies of the ≠Khomani language would be nothing (25 July 2001). ‘Ouma Una! is now dead and has lost control of her knowledge’, lamented Belinda. How knowledge is recorded, archived and copyrighted is a key element of our field research. How it is used and abused is also a pertinent question. Who gets to own indigenous knowledge and benefit from it is of concern to both informants and researchers.
When selecting students to visit Ngwatle Pan in south central Botswana, I make it known from the outset that the temperatures are extreme, sometimes sub-zero at night and early morning in winter, and 40 degrees plus Celsius during summer days. And when the wind blows it is extremely unpleasant at any temperature. Scorpions and snakes are ever-present, though malaria has receded. Students are informed that the nearest primary clinic from Ngwatle is 47 kms away, between one and three hours drive, depending on the condition of the tracks. Our food and water intake depends on the number of vehicles in the convoy, and getting there could take two or three days driving time. The water ration, whatever the season, is only five litres a day (for washing, drinking and cooking). At this point the less adventurous drop out, realising that five litres is less than a single flush of a lavatory cistern. Moreover, there are no lavatories where we are camping.
Waar kan ek ‘n draai loop? translated literally means, ‘Where can I walk a turn?’ This is a phrase understood only by Afrikaans speakers. One of Nelia Oets’ friends once caused much confusion by asking this question of a local man for directions to the local public convenience. This misunderstanding became a metaphor for our sojourns, as we summed up and tried to make sense of all the conflicting information given to us by all of our sources. ‘Walking a turn’ on our travels means finding a suitable patch of sand, behind a bush, and away from the campsite. In April 1995, my hygiene-obsessed mother asked if we were staying in a hotel. My 11-year-old daughter Charlize[i] replied, ‘No, we are camping’. Her grandmother probed, ‘Oh, are there ablution blocks at the camping site?’ ‘No’, replied Charlize, ‘there is no camping site and there are no bathrooms’. ‘Oh dear’, grandmother responded, ‘how do you go to the toilet?’ (This is perhaps an unasked question, which fascinates most Western tourists visiting the Third and Fourth Worlds.) Charlize went to the 4X4 Nissan Sani and returned with a spade and a toilet roll. By this time, her grandmother was speechless.[ii] Read more
Where Global Contradictions Are Sharpest ~ ‘Dit is die Here se Asem’: The Wind, Its Messages, And Issues Of Autoethnographic Methodology In The Kalahari
The wind. One of my research assistants, a student in Afrikaans literature, told me about the wind. Formerly a physiotherapist, Nelia Oets has spent a lot of time in the Kalahari Desert on photographic safaris. I have also spent a lot of time in the desert. I had not previously experienced the wind. We woke to the wind on 8 July 2001, at Ngwatle Pan. It was unremitting, it was uncomfortable, it destabilised our tents, and blew away some of our camping items. It swept the campfire’s flames onto two of our camp chairs, our only luxuries, and burned them to cinders. Caleb woke in his tent staring up at the moon – which should not have been visible. He had to retrieve and tie up his flysheet with his bootlaces. He later remarked about my requirements that everyone bring spare laces. Nelia had warned us about the wind.
Nelia’s warning, together with the experience, reminded me of two other references to the wind. The first was by Paul Myburgh, whom I had interviewed on People of the Great Sandface (1989). He talked about the wind as some kind of existential and elemental force, listening to the desert speak (Myburgh 1989; cf. Gordon 1990b). Belinda Kruiper revealed a similar description to us in August 2000. Both descriptions have spiritual connotations, ‘It’s the ancestors speaking’, we were told. The !Kung whom Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (1959: 126) met in the 1950s, called the spirits of the ancestors the ‘kwe be ha ki’ (‘person who is not here’). ‘These spirits travel in the wind – not the open, blowing wind, but in whirlpools’, which living people try to avoid. Perhaps someone who is no longer here inhabited the wind that blew Caleb’s flysheet away in 2000? When our long-standing friends, Johannes and Baba (Kort-Jan) Nxai, joined us at Ngwatle, we asked them about the wind. They just complained about the cold, the discomfort, and asked us to give them warm jackets. This chapter continues on from Chapter 2. The same characters appear. Some new ones are introduced. I am again concerned with methodology rather than ethnographic description, with the nature of relations between observers and observed, and with problematising relations between observers.
Hunting With Pampiere (‘Papers’)
We agreed to take Kort-Jan and Johannes to the hunting grounds at Masetleng Pan three hours drive away. But they did not hunt, their dogs were sick, and they did not have their pampiere (Afrikaans, archaic ‘paper/permits’). Previously they could hunt in terms of quotas. Now they had to have their papers as well. ‘Jag met pampiere’ (‘hunting with papers’), is how they referred to hunting after 2000. Paper is exchanged for meat. Both are in short supply, due to the pampiere limitations on quotas, species, and seasons.[i] So we went sightseeing, or so we thought. In fact, they wanted to reminisce about what once was, what might have been, and what could still be, should they be allowed to return to the Pan, and if the borehole could be fixed. We followed gemsbok, blue wildebeest, impala and ostriches at the pans, watched the ungainly poue (Kori Bustards), and talked about camels, which the Trust introduced to the area for tourists. We’d never been to the hunting grounds before in only one vehicle. Usually two are necessary in case one breaks down. The first time, April 1995, Rob Waldron’s Land Rover had overheated. This was its second engine. He sold his vehicle shortly thereafter. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere is a scary experience. The second time, June 1999, Waldron videoed a hunt sequence with Kort-Jan and Johannes. Kort-Jan told us that God gave him the jackal. This time we had two hunters with us who couldn’t hunt – no dogs, no permits, and no motivation. So we discussed life, land, and lien. We returned without mishap to Ngwatle later that day.
Kort-Jan and Johannes relived their memories of Masetleng Pan, where a now derelict borehole had once serviced their site. We photographed the remains of the installation, and ate berries from nearby trees. They took us to another of the campsites where Johannes had helped the contractor, Keith Viljoen from the Hukuntsi Trading Store, to build. We climbed up the hide and looked into the distance, surrounding us on all sides, the pan to the south, and trees, shrubs and grass to the north. I remembered being here in 1995, just after Waldron and //Huru!ka (Petrus) Nxai had hunted a bat-eared fox. This was the Pan where Conrad Steenkamp had found some Stone Age flints.
Out of these sands and sunshine deeply embedded in our past is our future –
(Botswana World Tourism Day poster, 27 Sept 1999).
July 12, 2002. The armed guard at Makro, a giant wholesaler in Durban, was wearing a bulletproof vest. We were doing our last minute shopping. I’d never seen a guard in-store before. During apartheid, unarmed, mainly black guards, would, on entry to a store, politely and gingerly search customers’ bags for bombs, guns and grenades. Nelia Oets, already in Upington, 1200 kms to the northwest, called just before my group left Durban. She had been mugged and had hurt her ankle, and might have to cancel her participation. This was serious as Nelia’s 4X4 was crucial to the trip. We arrived at the Upington Protea Hotel, owned by Mary Lange’s brother-in-law, 24 hours later. Nelia had called us by mobile phone earlier. She was on her way to the Molopo Lodge, her foot in a brace.
At the periphery
The next morning in Upington I filled up with petrol. The attendant told me to lock my car. A local gang was casing us. A retired couple at the Molopo Lodge 200 kms north mentioned to us later that they had been targeted while at an Upington supermarket. The receptionist at the hotel in Upington mentioned the busload of Taiwanese tourists who had recently been held up, Ned Kelly style, on the Maputu corridor highway. Two white members of our party complained of being closely shadowed by a security in-store guard: no one was above suspicion. At the supermarket a newspaper vendor insisted on pushing my trolley. He refused to loosen his grip until Vanessa McLennan-Dodd and I had unpacked its contents into the Sani. He was allowed to sell papers at the front of the store provided he prevented trolley theft. Stolen shopping was usually taken to the lokasie (‘location’ – black dormitory area near Upington) where there are few shops, where most of the working class, poor, and unemployed live. While clinging onto the trolley, the vendor vigorously shooed away the odd beggar and other would-be helpers/assailants/muggers. Not a policeman in sight. I bought a Sunday Times from the vendor in gratitude and paid off the ever-watchful car guard. In the newspaper the ‘Careers’-section reported that the Western Cape was experiencing a recruitment boom, though hiring was flat in the other eight provinces (Sunday Times Careers 14 July 2003: 1). Maybe Upington, in the Northern Cape, was at the epicentre of this flatness?
When we got back to the hotel, ready to leave for the Kalahari, we learned that Marit Sætre, an MA-student from Norway, had become violently ill. It must be the soapy water, we thought. She explained that the four Norwegians registered in our Programme in Durban during 2002 periodically succumbed to a 24-hour tummy bug. In the future, I’ll not make fun of First World students whose overseas doctors tell them not to drink the (very clean) Durban tap water, eat the salad, or forget their malaria pills. So we left Charlize Tomaselli and Lauren Dyll with Marit at the Hotel, which offered them free lodging. Both later complained of having been accosted by drunken white men in the streets during broad daylight. Vanessa and I drove on to Witdraai, two hours north on tar, where we were to meet Nelia, graduate students Linje Manyozo and Tim Reinhardt, Damien Tomaselli and Sherieen Pretorius, who had arrived there on the 11th.
Charlize reported that Marit was admitted to hospital that afternoon. The hospital demanded R1,000 in cash up-front for the ward. The manager refused to accept Marit’s Norwegian medical insurance, her father’s card number, or my gold card and ID-numbers, which I phoned through from the Lodge. Wealth before health! Or, perhaps the fear of Marit not settling her debt was as great as was the fear of the vendor losing a trolley? A matter of degree perhaps? Eventually Charlize persuaded the hotel to advance the hospital’s charge. The hospital obviously had little understanding of how to deal with international visitors or global insurance companies, in an otherwise remote province, which prides itself on its unique tourism attractions.
Where Global Contradictions Are Sharpest ~ Psychospiritual Ecoscience: The Ju/’hoansi And Cultural Tourism
The relation between knowledge and the visual, on the one hand, and knowledge about peoples on the other, is a prime concern in visual anthropology. The impact of the visual on the everyday life of the Ju/’hoansi is my concern here. The results of a field trip in July 1996 to Otjozondjupa (previously known as Bushmanland) in [i]Namibia, are discussed in terms of the question, ‘How do subjects make sense of the anthropological?’ Our ‘subject community’ was the Ju/’hoansi of Nyae Nyae. The ‘texts’ we interrogated via Ju/’hoansi popular memory were those made of them by documentary filmmaker John Marshall, South African feature film director Jamie Uys, and a documentary made for the Discovery Channel.
‘Science’ versus ‘priest-craft’
The Ju/’hoansi and broader San populations, among many instances of Third and Fourth World peoples, have been argued to be quintessentially the Other to the historical Same of Europe (Mudimbe 1988). This relationship was predicated upon the differences assumed to define Europeans (the Same) in contradistinction to Africans (the Other). The encounter between Europe and Africa has spanned five centuries, and progressed through missionary contact, colonisation, interactions with anthropologists, archaeologists and ethnographic filmmakers, through to the economics of development in the post-colonial era. When the victorious ‘scientific’ order of knowledge was faced with cultures predicated on other kinds of world-views, it responded through two mutually exclusive avenues:
– the world view and behaviour of the Other was treated as ‘priest-craft’[ii] and consequently something to be vanquished. The early history of contact between San and white (and black) settlers whom they encountered, for example, is dominated by extermination. Conversely,
– science tried to ‘conserve’ the Other in museums, in film, photographs and video, in body through mummification and even in the field itself. Rob Gordon (1985) calls this ‘death by conservation’.
However, a third avenue characterized by postmodernity, has collapsed the modernist distinctions between science and priest-craft. The respective narrators of Dancing at the future (Stander 1996) and The art of tracking (Discovery Channel 1996) have, as I will argue in the next chapter, located ethnography at the intersection of these previously opposed discourses. Ethnography is then commodified via the language of cultural tourism, thinly dressed up in the semantics of ‘conservation’ and ‘development’. This particular language of conservation is embedded in the mystique of ‘priest-craft’ and indigenous knowledge, and is evoked for ‘scientific’ and development purposes.
Claims made in the late 1990s, by researchers on the validity of ‘ancient indigenous knowledge’ in relation to ‘science’, however, blur the previous separation of the Western Same and the anthropological Other. The new ethnospiritual/ecoscience integrates the mystical, the empirical and the theoretical. These intersect within a meta-discourse of a global fraction of capital, that of eco-tourism. ‘Man’ – that is to say, some ‘men’ – e.g. the ‘Bushmen’ – are ontologically rejoined with ‘nature’, which has now become a ‘scientific’ pursuit in the interests of cultural tourism.
Anthro-tourism and human conservation
When science draws on the paradigm of ‘conservation’ it tends to view indigenous cultures as autonomous objects of study and manipulation. Indeed, this ‘scientific’ value for the ‘scholarly research’ of creating reserves for Bushmen is a recurring call (Gordon 1992: 60, 64, 148). As Dancing at the future and The art of tracking suggest, rehabilitation through eco-tourism satisfies ‘… the practical demands of Western science’ (Dancing 1996). N.A.A Davis (1954: 53), reports, for example, that the 1950s policy of the South West African Administration (SWAA)[iii] was to preserve ‘the genuinely primitive Bushmen’ and ‘make them useful and contented people’ (Davis 1954: 57). The SWAA-ethnologist KFR Budack classified the ‘Bushmen’ as quintessential hunter-gatherers, knowing no other economy. Assumptions which derive from this hold is that Bushmen: a) are incapable of future planning; b) lack objectivity with regard to the natural world; c) are ‘conditioned’ to killing animals and cannot therefore raise them; and d) have no experience or knowledge of farming (quoted in Volkman 1985). These are recurring motifs in the films discussed in this book. As Gordon (1992: 216) states:
… science has a vested interest in the Bushmen, for, as Trefor Jenkins said, from the vantage point of science, the Bushmen are ‘southern Africa’s model people’ (Jenkins 1979: 280). Whereas filmmakers and journalists were the Bushmen image makers par excellence, it was scientific research that lent credibility to their enterprise.
The ‘exterminating’ impact of Uys’ The Gods must be crazy (1980) on the Ju/’hoansi, is a topic discussed by Robert Gordon (1992: 1). This film’s use of tongue-in-cheek documentary codes includes the ‘pseudoscientific narrator’ humorously relating the central San character’s first encounters with the signs of modernity (a coke bottle, tyre tracks in the sand, etc.). This narration draws on the naturist perceptions of the Other, so successfully popularised by early anthropology, and by commentators like Ross (1976), and Davis’ informants (1954).[i]
Alby Mangels’ commentary in Adventure bound (1993) sums up the debilitating Western common sense: ‘They do not seem to carry the pressure of the past as we do in the West’. Trapped in time as the Bushmen are, all ‘we’ (the West) can do is ‘dance’ (with them) as the encounter straddles ‘then’ and ‘now’. What is ironic in Mangels’ commentary is that it unwittingly intercepts a root metaphor for Ju/’hoansi symbolic action. The ritual of dancing offers a way of accessing ‘boiling energy’ to effect spiritual contact, healing and to address dislocations in the harmony of quotidian life (cf. Katz et al. 2001; Katz 1982). Mangels’ visualisation of this idea, however, evokes a Western view of the Bushmen as non-rational, given to instinctive impulses rather than intellectual cognition. The result is to exoticise an activity that has serious cultural and spiritual dimensions. I now turn to our negotiation of the multiple texts – popular memory, film, and social – that we encountered in Otjozondjupa.
Development: Dancing with time
Otjozondjupa is serviced by the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia (NNDFN) and various state agencies (Health, Environment, and through the often erratic provision of food rations). While we were there in July 1996, the average individual calorie intake was 2,500 a day. This dropped to 1,000 in 1997, when government rations were not delivered (P. Wiessner, Personal comment, 5 April 1998). We interviewed villagers at N/aqmtjoha and the /Aotcha Pan on the films about them, and especially on their perception of the Herero, who were pushing northwards into Otozondjupa with their cattle.
Photo-elicitation techniques applied by Jeursen and Morgan, with regard to a 1992-Spoornet calendar in which ‘Bushmen’ are shown to be living in traditional and environmental splendour, however, revealed no agreement that life ‘long ago’ was better than it is now. The ‘old days’ were a ‘hard existence’, the villagers of Kapteinspos told us.
Some informants at /Aotcha Pan explained that their contemporary settled existence was better in quality than the indeterminate time reflected on the calendar.[ii] Some of these informants included the now elderly people who had first met the Marshalls in the early 1950s – ‘Kaptein’ Kgau//au and !U, amongst others. From his experience of translating the sound tracks at DER in 1994, ≠Oma Tsamkxao observed that he had learned about the history of the Ju/’hoansi from these films: ‘I heard about their complaint of how they lived in the old days and how they live now. I can say now that the Bushmen in the old days had no option or opportunity to have an education or lead a better life … The children can go to school and study’.
The Ju/’hoansi conception of history in terms of “the old days” or “long ago”, is described by Lorna Marshall (1976: 53):
Although they look respectfully to the past, they are not history-minded. They make no effort to hold actual past events systematically in mind or teach them to their children – neither events that concern the living people nor those concerning their forebears. They remember what they happen to remember their father and grandfathers telling them.
Where Global Contradictions Are Sharpest ~ Stories To Tell, Stories To Sell: Hidden Transcripts, Negotiating Texts
Post-Birmingham cultural studies have been severely criticised for offering little more than a ‘“white on white” textual orientation’ (Giroux and McLaren 1994: x). Edward Said (1979: 93) writes of a ‘textual attitude’, which prefers ‘the schematic tendency of a text to the disorientations of direct encounters with the human’. The mess and confusion found in everyday life, as well as the supernatural is ‘bracketed out’ because they obscure the clarity of the structure (Husserl 1969). Texts become walls that academics insert between ‘us’ and ‘them’ to protect ‘us’ from having to deal with the ambiguities, contradictions, and confusion of everyday life (Malan 1995; Conquergood 1998; Pollock 1998). Students often delight in the prospect of analysing oral literatures in typed translation, via the application of the usual post-structuralist French gurus. The result inevitably is a white, usually French-shaped Eurocentric reading of oral and other narratives in non-European regions.
Reverse cultural studies: Voices from the field
Academy-bound textualist scholarship claiming to be studying the ‘popular’, though often exquisitely analysed and written, tends to background quotidian empirical significance. Detail, immediacy, and self-reflexivity are as important as is texualised theory, in which human agency is described and recognised, and in which voices from the field, our ‘subjects of observation’, are engaged by researchers as their equals (in human dignity and thus as co-producers of knowledge).
The analytical textualist disjunction between distance and immediacy, separation and immersion, exploitation and collaboration, holds that ‘there is nothing outside the text’ (Jackson 1989: 184). Textualism thus legitimately ignores the flux of human interrelationships and the ways in which meanings are intersubjectively integrated, embodied in gestures and performance, as well as in words (Jousse 1997; Bakhtin 1986: 6). De Saussure’s semiological logic, for example, imprisons us in a nominalist world of linguistic structures. If semiology is itself one such structure, then trying to ‘see through’ it leaves nothing to which reference can be made, except possibly some prior structure in a potentially infinite regress (Shepperson and Tomaselli 1999).
One result of textualism, and especially binary assumptions in some studies and the popular imagination, is to assume the myth that the ‘Bushmen’ have ‘disappeared’ and that when they were ‘living’, they always only had one ‘way of life’. Such analyses, which pepper much contemporary literature, lack historical periodisation, and assume that all San speak/spoke only one language (cf. Wilmsen 1986a for a critique of this position; also see Chapman 1996: 21-31). This homogenizing effect is the result of antecedent theorising about the indigenous other as an undifferentiated mass, an authorising of the textual over its relationship with the contextual, and of assumptions about history.
In the postmodern age of hyper-mediated realities and fractured development periodisations, the Other becomes a resource for discursive rearticulation, integration, and expropriation. The mythical images, sounds, and values offered by so-called First Peoples are appropriated by advertisers to expropriate long-lost mythical images to sell something (in South Africa, for example, cars [Mazda], telephone services [Telkom], toothpaste [Colgate], railways [Spoornet], an Internet book store [Kalahari.net], Game Parks [Kagga Kamma], a cut price airline [Kulula.com], and others). What is sold has nothing to do with the ‘actors’ (whether real or imagined), but with the imperative of capital, which integrates anything that communicates into messages that encourage consumption. Ironically, the very people used to retail such products are themselves largely unable to afford them. They remain materially isolated from the very texts they are promoting, de-linked from consumption despite their performance, and in spite of their textualisation and inter-textualisation. Nothing – not epistemology, not ways of seeing – is unsettled in the exchange. They remain ‘them’; we remain ‘us’, secure in our distanced otherness.