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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Lorna Marshall

Published: August 11, 2012



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Women of Discovery: Lorna Marshall

When Lorna Marshall was in her mid-fifties, the start of the second half of her remarkable life, she decided to go somewhere “where there was nothing written on the map.” So she left her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts and traveled with her husband and two grown children to the Kalahari desert in southern Africa to live with the !Kung, one of the last remaining hunter gatherer tribes in the world. There she documented the tribe’s social and family relationships and later wrote several books about her studies. Marshall died on July 8.

Nyae Nyae !Kung Beliefs and Rites, available from Harvard University’s Peabody Museum Publications, by Lorna J. Marshall
To order click here.

With style and depth, Lorna Marshall leads the reader through the intricacies, ambiguities, and silences of !Kung beliefs. Her narrative, based on fieldwork among the Bushmen of the Kalahari in the early 1950s, brings into focus a way of life that appears to have existed for millennia. She presents the culture, beliefs, and spirituality of one of the last true hunting-and-gathering peoples by focusing on members of different bands as they reveal their own views. This account, with photography by John Marshall, presents a system of beliefs, one in which personified deities and unpersonified supernatural forces (n!ow and n/um) interact with man and the natural world. The !Kung believe that this interaction accounts for much of the mystery of life and the vicissitudes of the good and evil that befall mankind. The book also depicts an egalitarian lifestyle based on sharing and group awareness, a lifestyle that has not survived intact the increasing integration of the Bushmen into the modern world.

A companion volume to her 1976 work, The !Kung of Nyae Nyae, this book is published to mark the recent one-hundredth birthday of Lorna Marshall.

Audio Features

Commentator and Author Sy Montgomery met Marshall nearly twenty years ago, and she has this tribute.

Marshall, L., bibliography

1957a "N!ow." Africa 27(3):232–40.

1957b "The Kin Terminology System of the !Kung Bushmen." Africa 27(1):1–25.

1959 "Marriage among !Kung Bushmen." Africa 29(4):335–65.

1960 "!Kung Bushman Bands." Africa 30(4):325–55.

1961 "Sharing, Talking and Giving: Relief of Social Tensions among !Kung Bushmen." Africa 31(3):231–49.

1962 "!Kung Bushman Religious Beliefs." Africa 32(3):221–52.

1965 "The !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert," in Peoples of Africa. J. Gibbs, Jr., ed., pp. 241–78. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York

1968 "Discussion," in Man the Hunter, R. Lee and I. DeVore, eds., pp. 152–53. Aldine Publishing Co., Chicago.

1969 "The Medicine Dance of the !Kung Bushmen." Africa 39(4):347–81.

1975 "Two Ju/wa Constellations." Botswana Notes and Records 7:153–59.

1976 The !Kung of Nyae Nyae. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

1980 "The Marshall Chronicles," in Odyssey, pp. 10–15. Public Broadcasting Associates, Inc., Boston, Mass.

1986 "Some Bushman Star Lore," in Contemporary Studies on Khoisan Part 2, R. Vossen and K. Keuthman, eds., pp. 169–204. Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung vol. 5.2. Helmut Buske Verlag, Hamburg.

Marshall, L., and M. Biesele
1974 N/um Tchai: The Ceremonial Dance of the !Kung Bushmen. A Study Guide. Documentary Educational Resources, Somerville, Mass.

Marshall, L., and L. K. Marshall
1956 "!Kung Bushmen of South West Africa." South West Africa Annual 1956:11–27.

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