Humility Among the Kung!

Humility is a valuable attribute in the character of an individual, in society and in a culture. Cultivating this value in can be learned through psychological exercise, misfortune, costly mistakes, and various other methods. Such was the case with Ontah, the anthropologist in the story, “Eating Christmas in the Kalahari.”
As an expression of gratitude towards the !Kung Bushmen and there families for there cooperation, Ontah purchased the largest meatiest ox he could find for the Christmas festivities. After living with the !Kung Bushmen for three years, with experience and observation of the Tswana-Herrero custom of slaughtering an ox for Christmas, makes it apparent that Ontah’s ox was not the choice of a novice.
As the word circulated around the village of his polite gesture, he was baffled by the accusations that he had chosen an ox that was worthless and amounted to nothing more than a bag of bones. Ontah carefully measured this ox before he bought it. This ox was five feet high at the shoulders, five feet across the horns and estimated at 1200 pounds. According to his expert consumption calculations this ox was large enough to feed every man, women and child of the 150 Bushmen in that area! So how could it be said by everyone in the village that his choice of ox was skin and bones, would dampen the excitement of the festivities and since it was not enough to go around it would most likely cause a fight between rivals among the Bushmen, who would accuse one another of taking too much meat or hording the most choice pieces for themselves.
Pressured by the continuous grumblings and ridicules throughout the villiage, Ontah was tempted to forego the Christmas festivities. But his driven passion for anthropology superceded his desire to run in shame. The Christmas morning slaughtering and distribution of this so called old skinny ox would be the perfect opportunity to observe the reaction of the Bushmen when the meat supposedly would run out. That Christmas morning the ox was slaughtered with one shot to the head. As the men prepared to butchered the ox, with Ontah standing close by to observe the quality of his pick, it became clear that this ox was more than sufficient to feed everyone. Ontah celebrated the abundance of fat, meat and large bones of the ox. Mingle with his celebration was the laughter of the Bushmen at Ontah’s relief of frustration. Ontah realized that the joke was on him. This was no consolation to his baffling experience. But it brought on more misunderstanding as to why would the whole village play such a terrible joke on him?
Through investigation of his informants, the lesson behind the joke became clear. These people live very close to the earth. They hunt for their food. When a hunter brings in a kill, it is unacceptable for him to be braggadocios about it. So when the hunters are successful, there efforts and there rewards are always belittled. One informant explained to Ontah that if a young hunter kills a large beast he feels like he is a big man and everyone else is inferior. This is not acceptable. If a braggart goes unchecked, then his pride will cause him to kill someone. For this cause all kills are spoken of as worthless. The proper attitude a hunter should have about his kill is with modesty and humility. To share a kill with the rest of the village is not a big deal. It is something that is always done.
This psychological game brought a moment of introspection on Ontah. He was the outsider. There was no need for him to hunt for his food since he had a two months supply at all times. He didn’t share his rations and was thought of as stingy and a miser. He was the supplier of all the much desired tobacco in a thousand square miles. At times he would withhold tobacco from those who did not cooperate with him. All of his misunderstanding was understandable under the circumstances. He was perceived of as arrogant and was the perfect subject for a lesson in humility.

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