A Kalahari Family | Chicago Reader

A Kalahari Family

American moviegoers may recognize the Ju/'hoansi as the hunter-gatherers who starred in Jamie Uys's The Gods Must Be Crazy (1981). But according to this five-part documentary by John Marshall and Claire Ritchie, Uys's portrayal of the Ju/'hoansi as happy primitives living in harmony with nature in the Kalahari Desert is typical of the patriarchal mentality that keeps them hungry and ill. “A Far Country” (89 min.) chronicles the relationship between the tribe and Marshall's father, who in the early 50s helped build the roads that connected their desert community, Nyae Nyae, with the outside world. “End of the Road” (54 min.) and “Real Water” (54 min.) follow the Ju/'hoansi's attempts throughout the 60s and 70s to farm the land they once foraged; they're constantly thwarted by the South African government, which plans to turn Nyae Nyae into a game preserve where tourists can see “real” Bushmen. These first three episodes are rather dry, functioning at the level of a National Geographic special, but the two that follow are more politically charged: “Standing Tall” (54 min.) takes place at the end of apartheid and the beginning of Namibian independence, as Marshall and a coterie of Ju/'hoansi try to recruit tribesmen who've become wage slaves at white-owned ranches; “Death by Myth” (84 min.) focuses on Marshall's rueful discovery that the foundation his family created to help the Ju/'hoansi become self-sufficient has adopted the same arrogant view that the natives are better off wearing loincloths and eating berries. At a little under six hours total, this may be a long haul for the less anthropologically inclined, but it offers a persistent and compelling critique of our romantic notions of the third world.

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