I found a lot of information concerning the Hxaro relationship (eg: Wiessner 1982), but very little concerning !gu!na relationship. Marshall talks about it but doesn't compare it with the Hxaro.

Marcus & Flannery, K. (2012) talk about it:

Hxaro was not the only system used by the !Kung to create networks of partners. There were also networks of !gu!na, “namesakes,” built on the premise that names were magic. [...] Arriving at a distant camp, a visitor needed only to give his shared name to be welcomed by the family of his !gu!na.

Lorna Marshall (1957) talks specifically about the !gu!na. She provides the only example I found about what it concretely means :

Gao, the brother of /U, went on an errand for us to Khadum.[...] He had never been to Khadum before, and the /Kung Bushmen who lived there at once called him ju dole [(strangers)]. He was in haste to say that he had heard that the father of one of the people at Khadum had the same name as his father and that another had a brother named Gao. 'Oh,' said the Khadum people, in effect, 'so you are Gao's !gu!na ', and they took him to their fire and gave him a present of edible gum. [...] The /Kung who live in this region are not ju dole to each other. The name-relationship makes them feel they are one people.

I suppose !gu!na is a very light version of Xharo since the partners don't know each other, and thus don't know if the other will give back. What is the rule of !gu!na partnership (eg. what should they do, for how long, in what condition...)?

Any idea?

  • 3
    This question could desperately use a wee bit more context up top. We have rather a lot of users who don't have the familiarity with southern African social anthropology required to make sense of this, and the exclamation marks (used to mark clicks in the San languages) wreak holy hell with most search engines. – T.E.D. Mar 21 at 15:38

A good source for your question is Richard Borshay Lee's Book "The Dobe Juǀ'hoansi". he writes about both topics: about hxaro exchange in chapter 8 (page 130 ff.) and about the Juǀ'hoan*¹ kinship system in chapter 5 (especially page 71 ff.) - see link below, it's an exciting read! :)

To anyone interested in what these partnerships are:

  • Hxaro is a system of delayed exchange of goods, food and gifts. Unlike trade, it is not about the value of the goods exchanged, but about maintaining social relations and fulfilling social obligations. It can serve as a social security net for hard times. So if you have received a gift from a hxaro partner, you have the obligation to give some thing back at another time to keep the relationship going.
  • "ǃunǃa'an" means grandfather, or literally, "big name". "ǃuma" means grandson, but can also be translated "little name"*². So a ǃunǃa'an-ǃuma-relationship is the relationship between grandfather and grandson. It's a joking relationship, which means their relationship is relaxed, joyful and affectionate (as opposed to a respect / avoidance relationship, e.g. between parents and children). The same is true for "txún" (grandmother) and "txúnmà" (granddaughter). The reasons why they call each other big name and little name is that, roughly spoken, new-borns receive the same names as their grandparents. As an extension from this principle, people who share the same name are always in a joking relationship. When, say, ǂOma meets another person called ǂOma, they will most likely meet in a cheerful way. And when one ǂOma is older than the other ǂOma, they call each other "ǃunǃa'an" and "ǃuma", too. And so to say, Big ǂOma's sister is also Little ǂOma's sister, or more exactly she is in the same relationship category, Avoidance in this case. For example, this forbids that ǂOma could marry ǂOma's sister. So it is a very different thing from hxaro exchange.

Take note that these cultural practices are currently undergoing massive transformations because of heavy social changes, if at all they exist in the way we imagine them.

Source: https://voidnetwork.gr/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/The-Dobe-Ju-hoansi-by-Richard-B.-Lee.pdf

*¹ For better understanding: "Juǀ'hoansi" is how they call themselves and how they are now called by others ("Juǀ'hoan" means something like "real person" or "just a person", -"si" is the plural ending). "!Kung" is an old-fashioned word.

*² "ǃú" means "name", "nǃa'àn" means "adult, old", -"mà" is a diminutive suffix, meaning "little one, child, offspring" (the accents on the vowels mark tones).


The title of my question wasn't clear (the question was only asked in the body). I'm looking for the rules of the !gu!na relationship to evaluate the level of its importance in the !Kung cooperation system.

It's clear that the Hxaro relationship between partners played a central role in cooperation, but what about the !gu!na relationship?

I found only two pieces of information about it that seem to back up this hypothesis:

I suppose !gu!na is a very light version of Xharo since the partners don't know each other, and thus don't know if the other will give back.

Marshall (1961) describes the sharing of the meat in the order of distribution. Since it was (most probably) by far, the most precious thing to share, it's thus a good indicator of the importance of the different social bonding. For instance, the meat is first shared among the hunters and the owner of the arrow which killed the animal (if he is not hunting), then with their close kin, etc. Marshall's description confirms that the !gu!na relationship is quite shallow. It arrives at the very end of the order of distribution (even after the visitors).

Name relatives often receive generous portions of meat because they have the same name as the giver or because their names associate them with his close kin, but this seems to be more a favour than an absolute rule. =#=Toma said there were far too many men named =#=Toma for him to give them special consideration.{1}

The second clue I wrote above from Lorna Marshall (1957) backs up this point: people favor a little bit more those who share the same name, but not much.

So to my knowledge !gu!na relationship doesn't seem to be a really important cooperative tool for the !kung.

(If I'm wrong, please post your source to refute it).

{1: Marshall, L. (1998). Sharing, talking and giving. Relief of social tensions among the! Kung. Limited wants, unlimited means. A reader in hunter-gather economics and the environment, 65-85.}

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.