Married at twelve, then separated, divorced and widowed, Nisa is the mother of four children, none of whom survived. She is strong, capable of foraging on her own in one of the world's most hostile environments, not dependent on any man for her daily sustenance and ready to talk to anyone as her equal. Wise, full of humour at the absurdities of life and courageous in the face of its defeats, she is bawdy, practical and incurably romantic. She is a woman of the !Khung people who live by means of humanity's oldest survival strategy - gathering and hunting. This book is the remarkable story of Nisa's life, told in her own words to Marjorie Shostak. It is a story full of echoes from a female past that we can never know directly. But it is also Nisa's unique story, her own voice, her own dignity. In anyone's culture, she is a remarkable woman.
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The story of two women--one a hunter-gatherer in Botswana, the other an ailing American anthropologist--this powerful book returns the reader to territory that Marjorie Shostak wrote of so poignantly in the now classic Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. Here, however, the ground has perceptibly shifted. First published in 1981, Nisa served as a stirring introduction to anthropology's most basic question: Can there be true understanding between people of profoundly different cultures? Diagnosed with breast cancer, and troubled by a sense of work yet unfinished, Shostak returned to Botswana in 1989. This book tells simply and directly of her rediscovery of the !Kung people she had come to know years before--the aging, blunt, demanding Nisa, her stalwart husband Bo, understanding Kxoma, fragile Hwantla, and Royal, translator and guide. In Shostak's words, we clearly see !Kung life, the dry grasslands, the healing dances, the threatening military presence. And we see Shostak herself, passionately curious, reporting the discomforts and confusion of fieldwork along with its fascination. By turns amused and frustrated, she describes the disappointments--and chastening lessons--that inevitably follow when anthropologists (like her younger self) romanticize the !Kung. Throughout, we observe a woman of threatened health but enormous vitality as she pursues the promise she once discovered in the !Kung people and, above all, in Nisa. At the core of the book is the remarkable relationship between these two women from different worlds. They are often caught off guard by the limits of their mutual understanding. Still, their determination to reach out to each other lingers in the reader's mind long after the story ends--providing an eloquent response to questions that Nisa so memorably posed. It was not that we had become the best of friends or like close family. It was simply that she and I had the most straightforward connection I had ever had with anyone, before or since. It was as if the !Kung culture and my talks with Nisa touched something beyond reason in me. Even though I didn't necessarily like everything Nisa said, nor everything about her, my heart had been captured. But how often I wished Nisa had been more noble, more selfless, and more philosophical. Nisa had to be known well to be appreciated, for she was complex and difficult. She probably would say much the same about me. We both wanted things from each other, and neither of us got as much as we hoped for. That we both got some of what we wanted--well, that made our friendship extremely valuable. --from the Epilogue
Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan was a gentle girl, the great-great-great grand-daughter of the Tiger of Mysore, and the daughter of the Sufi teacher Inayat Khan, who founded the Sufi movement and Sufi Order in the West. When war broke out, in 1939, she was already achieving her first successes, As a harpist she had been heard at the Salle Erard. Her stories were appearing on the children's page of 'Le Figaro' and broadcast on Radiodiffusion Francaise, her 'Twenty Jataka Tales' being brought out by a London publisher; she was just founding a children's newspaper. Later she was betrayed to the Sicherheitsdienst and as a prisoner of importance was held at their HQ on the Avenue Foch. After a daring attempt to escape, via the roof, she refused to give parole and was sent to Germany, where she was kept for most of the time in chains, before being shot at Dachau. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Crois de Guerre.