N!ai: The Story of a !Kung Woman

By John Marshall and Adrienne Linden. Anthropologist: Patricia Draper

This film is about N!ai, a woman of the !Kung people in North Eastern Namibia. N!ai tells her own story, and in so doing, the story of her people’s life over a thirty year period – from the 1950s to 1978. (The footage of Nǃai as a young girl, including her wedding ceremonies, was recorded in 1951.)

...as a resource for courses dealing with culture change, colonization, Africa, race relations, sex roles, conflict, stratification, and political economy, it [N!ai] should prove invaluable ... N!ai, with its thought-provoking message, belongs squarely to the genre of committed films and is bound to become a classic of the ethnographic film-makers' art. R. Gordon

The ǃKung are a San people living in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia, Botswana and in Angola. Historically, the ǃKung lived in semi-permanent camps of about 10–30 people usually located around a water body. Once the water and resources around the village were depleted, the band would relocate to a more resource-rich area. They lived a hunting and gathering lifestyle, and were highly dependent on each other for survival. Hoarding and stinginess were frowned upon, and the ǃKung's emphasis was on collective wealth for the tribe, rather than on individual wealth.

In the first part of the film, N!ai is in her early years, living this nomadic hunting and gathering life among the Ju/wasi group of the !Kung in North Eastern Namibia in the 1950s. "Before the white people came we did what we wanted," N!ai recalls.

In the second part of the film, N!ai describes the situation of the !Kung in 1978. They are now restricted to a government reserve much smaller than their original land. N!ai and her family are among the !Kung who live in a sedentary government camp. They exist on maize meal and earnings from tourists who come to take their pictures. The only substantial cash income comes from young men who are recruited into the South African army.

The film has won many prizes including the Blue Ribbon at the American Film Festival, Grand Prize at the Cinéma Du Reel in Paris, and Gold Medal at the International Film and Television Fesival of NewYork. 

 Globala filmklubben Program HT 2016 (288 Kb)