Anthropology, Department of


Room to Maneuver: !Kung Women Cope with Men

Patricia Draper, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Document Type Article

Published in To Have and to Hit: Cultural Perspectives on Wife Beating, Second edition, edited by Dorothy Ayers Counts, Judith K. Brown, and Jacquelyn C. Campbell (Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999), pp. 53–72. Copyright © 1999 University of Illinois Press.

Originally published in the first edition, which was entitled Sanctions and Sancruary: Cultural Perspectives on the Beating of Wives (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), pp. 43-61.


Among the !Kung San of Botswana, women are sometimes beaten by their husbands and coerced by other men, particularly their fathers. The factors that contribute to this form of aggression are various and are changing over time as a consequence of new economic and residential practices now seen among the !Kung as they have transformed themselves from mobile foragers to primarily sedentary food producers. The responses of women and their supporters to incidents of wife abuse are also changing. In this essay several episodes of wife beating that came to my attention during recent fieldwork among the !Kung will be reported and discussed in terms of the cultural values relevant to their former nomadic life and in terms of the realities of life-styles in the 1980S.! In a concluding section, the prospects for future patterns in wife abuse will be discussed. Before proceeding, a few words are in order regarding the general phenomenon of wife beating in society and regarding the particular subject of wife beating among the !Kung.