Nyae Nyae !Kung Beliefs and Rites






Notes on the Text



Introduction : the Supernatural



The Gods

3 to 35


Sickness & Healing

40 to 62


Ritual Healing Dance

64 to 90



233 to 240


Supernatural Peoples

241 to 248



251 to 268

0-1. Notes; Introduction; The Gods



Notes on the Text


p. xxiv non-click special phonemes

authoress's orthography

its pronunciation

{proposed <arabi aequivalent}









{d & t}


aspirated /k/



ejective /k/ ("glottal croak")



n [allophone]








p. xxiv non-click ordinary phonemes

b, d, h, k, m, s, t, w, z

("-si" is the plural suffix in nouns)

p. xxiv in place-names on maps

authoress's orthography




orthography on maps




pp. xxv-xxvi click phonemes


written transcription

its pronunciation : "__ click"

{proposed <arabi aequivalent}


/ (slash)

dental (back of upper front teeth)



= (slashed aequality)

alveolar ("snap" at alveolar ridge; "accompanied by a slight sucking sound")

{t. (z.)}

! (exclamation point)

alveolar-palatal ("loud pop" at back of alveolar ridge)


// (double slash)

lateral (drivers' signal to horses)


(dot-centred circle)

labial ("kiss")


p. xxvi some Afrikaans words

Afrikaans word

its meaning


wild plant foods







Introduction : the Supernatural


p. xxxi deities

"the omnipotent creator, lives in the eastern sky where the sun rises. One of his names is "=Gao N!a.

The gods have wives and children."

The lesser god, best known by the name "//Gauwa," lives in the western sky where the sun sets.

p. xxxii human communication with deities

"The !Kung for their part communicate freely with the gods in personal, verbalized prayer or in reverie. Sometimes they dream that the gods come to them and they communicate face to face."

p. xxxiii n!ow

"N!ow is a force that interacts with weather. N!ow exists in all people and in certain animals. ... A person can ... observe what interaction his n!ow has with weather."

p. xxxiii praesences of n/um

!Kun who live at __

say that they possess the n/um of __

Gautscha ["/Gautsha" (p. xxiv)]

a Giraffe Song

N//o !Gao

the Honey Song

"the men who are the healers of sickness have such powerful n/um in them that they are called n/um k"xausi (owners of n/um)."

"Elands and giraffes have exceedingly strong n/um. Aardvarks and redwing partridges have n/um, but it is not strong.

Many plants and trees ... have n/um, including sha sha, =khali, //gwey, mai, and the zao and /ana trees."

"The n/um in ostrich eggs can cause madness in men and women in their procreative years".

pp. xxv-xxxvi primaeval people who became animals

p. xxv

"Animals were people in those ancient times. They could talk, and they lived together with the humans and intermarried with them. ... Eventually a new order came. The animals became the animals they are today ... . ...

In many of their deeds, the beings of the old tales ... were greedy and selfish, foolish and stupid, cunning and deceitful,

p. xxxvi

touchy, short-tempered, jealous, vengeful ... . They cheerfully and nonchalantly committed, by !Kung standards, the most heinous antisocial acts ... . To the !Kung this was wicked, unthinkable behavior. But the tales ... are told as though the way of life of those ancient folk was to them the normal, expected, proper way of life.

This egregious attitude is hilariously funny to the !Kung, who shriek and howl with laughter in telling the tales."

{In, e.g., regions of North America wherein myths about the Coyote-god are told, the audience is expected to react with laughter to tales of the hilarious misdeeds of the Coyote-god.}

p. xxxvi the 3 racial types of supernatural peoples

"the !Kung tell of three quite other supernatural peoples who are said to exist in the present. They are

the Gemsbok People,

the Wildebeest People, and

the people who have no knees, called the Knee Knee None, who are also called the People Who Eat the Sun."



The Gods

3 to 35

1.0 (pp. 3-4) gods

p. 3

"The sky above the natural sky belongs to the supernatural world, and it is in that sky the !Kung have placed their gods ... . They do not believe in an underworld ...; nor do they believe that supernatural beings ... live inside the earth. ... The upper sky, the abode of the sky beings, ... is very much like the earth ... . ... The sky beings walk about on it ... . ...

The great god, =Gao N!a, lives where the sun rises;

The lesser god, //Gauwa, lives where the sun sets.

All the spirits of

p. 4

the dead live with =Gao N!a at the place of sunrise."


1.2 (pp. 5-7) names of the deities

p. 5

the supreme god, having one earthly name (=Gao N!a 'old =Gao') and 7 divine names {originally all distinct gods?} :

His^e 'unknown' ("used by the Nharo and the Auen. ... . ... borrowed from the Auen").

Huwe "the brother of Hishe" (Schapera 1930:183).


!Gara "causes death ... and causes ... thunder."


Gani Ga.


p. 6

divine wives of =Gao N!a :

Khwova N!a (old Khwova) "the mother of bees".


{Ought only one of these 2 divine wives to be that of =Gao N!a; the other of the twain to be wife to //Gauwa?}

p. 7

divine son of =Gao N!a :

Khan//a (star alpha Crucis). {Khan//a may be son of //Khu (mentioned on p. 5)}

Kxoma (star gamma Crucis).


1.3 (pp. 9-22) =Gao N!a

pp. 10-2 human bones are foretold by a bird; a snake is weaponed; cooking-pot; sandals are obtained at the behest of a woman; tree-fruit; faeces/buggery

p. 10

"=Gao N!a ... pointed with his arm" at certain distant sights, to a paouw (a bird, the giant bustard Choriotis kori kori).

{There were "pointed out certain sights"(GM 92.b) to Kalos (GM 92.c), who had "invented the saw." (GM 92.b). The soul of Kalos became a bird, the partridge (GM 92.c).}

{">abraham ... sojourned in Grar" ('a saw', Strong's 1641). (B-Re>s^it 20:1)}

"The paouw cursed =Gao N!a and shouted at him, "Break your bones and die ... .""

{"a she-eagle ... found a tall skeleton ...; it could only be that of Theseus." (GM 104.i)}

"=Gao N!a ... said that he had beaten the snake with a stick".

{Theseus's father "noticed the Erechtheid serpents carved on the ivory sword-hilt" (GM 97.d).}

p. 11

"The paouw ... the snare caught".

{For his son, >abraham obtained Ribqah ('tied by the fetlock', Strong's 7259). (B-Re>s^it 24)}

"the pot burst ... and pieces of meat came whizzing out".

{Theseus "cooked all his remaining provisions in one pot" (GM 98.w).}

"The wives called him, "... you forgot your sandals." =Gao N!a ... got the sandals".

{Theseus's mother, "leading him to the ... hidden ... sandals, ... He ... recovered" them (GM 95.h).}

The wives were "laughing" at =Gao N!a.

{The wife S`arah "laughed" (B-Re>s^it 18:12).}

p. 12

"/Naru, a dung beetle, then came to sew up =Gao N!a". {cf. the Kemetic scarab-beetle-god H^PR, who pusheth the sun into the sky.}

{Daidalos imparted a clew of thread to be used by Theseus (GM 98.k). Daidalos's son Ikaros approached the sun in the sky (GM 92.f).}

{To Melki-s.edeq, >abram swore that he would "not take a thread" (B-Re>s^it 14:23).}

"=Gao N!a with his !num had made the heavy fruit able to fly from the tree and hit the women".

{"Not far from the sanctuary of Saronian Artemis, a wild olive is still shown" (GM 101.g); but Theseus's son was flown thence (GM 101.l).}

He sought to catch a supposed "little eland".

{>abraham beheld "a ram caught in the thicket" (B-Re>s^it 22:13).}

He fell into a cesspool which was full of faeces.

{Theseus was praesent when "boys" were buggered by Kentauroi (GM 102.d).}

{Sodomites buggered, intent upon >abraham (B-Re>s^it 19:5).}

GM = Robert Graves : The Greek Myths. 1955.

Strong's = Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of Bible Words.

pp. 13-4 eyeless hero of sensitive feet {tun!gama = Oidious}

p. 13

"=Gao N!a's young tun!gama [brother-in-law] ... was ... without eyes."

{Oidipous "blinded himself" (GM 105.j).} {"If the blind lead the blind ... ." (Matthaios 15:14; Loukas 6:39)}

"=Gao N!a watched his tun!gama's feet."

{The meaning of the name of Oidi-pod- is 'swollen feet', "because his feet were deformed by the nail-wound" (GM 105.b).} {The feet of Iesous Khristos were pierced with a nail.}

"=Gao N!a took his fire paddle and quickly pushed the coals over his tun!gama's feet."

{"One of the wheels bruised [Oidipous]'s foot" (GM 105.d).}

Thus was told by his tun!gama to =Gao N!a : "When you eat me, you will become dumb."

{"As a sheep is dumb before the shearers, so he opened not his mouth." (Acts of the Apostles 8:32; cf. Ys^a<yah 53:7) -- The sheep of Oidipous are mentioned (GM 106.2) by Hesiodos (Works and Days ll. 161 sq).}

p. 14

The tun!gama's corpse was supplanted "with earth".

{For an ally of a son of Oidipous, "Zeus cleft the earth ... and he vanished from sight ..., and now reigns alive among the dead." (GM 106.k)}

"=Gao N!a turns his wife =Tamsa in a bird called chu (a hornbill)".

{"Those who could not solve the riddle, she [Sphinx, a winged goddess] throttled and devoured" (GM 105.e).}

p. 15 disguised as woman; rapist of sleeping woman {=Gao N!a = Akhilleus}

=Gao N!a "disguised himself very cleverly as his own sister."

{In order to protect Akhilleus, his own mother "disguised him as a girl" (GM 160.j).}

=Gao N!a "raped Te in her sleep."

{Akhilleus lay with Helene "in a dream arranged by his mother" (GM 164.n).}

p. 15 This personality of =Gao N!a hath as "his son Kxoma"{; therefore this particular god of the =Gao N!a group must be the similarly named !Kxo (if Kxoma be an abbreviated form of !Kxoma). The name /!Kxo/ may, if derived from */!XKo/, be possibly cognate with <ibri /[Yi]S.H.aQ/}.

p. 15 giraffe

Women inveigle him into jumping into the pit of the "young giraffe".

{/B>er-lah.ay-ro>i^/ ('Well of the jaw-gazingstock', in B-Re>s^it 24:62) is sometimes emended to /B>er-lah.ay-r>em/ 'Well of the jaw of the Giraffe'. (This could refer the jaw-dropping astonishment of Yis.haq on seeing the beauty of Ribqah after he had obtained her (sight unseen) as bride.)}

pp. 16-7, 313-4 [successive] thefts of fire

p. 313, n. 1:8

[!Kun of Botswana (Biesele 1975a:222)] "The person who first found fire was a woman. ... But her husband ... had no fire ... . ... And he ate raw things.

p. 314, n. 1:8

But once the man caught his wife making a fire, and ... he came and stole it. ... Women had fire first". {This thieving husband must have been /Ka-/Kani.}

p. 16

"There was a time when no one had fire except one man, whose name was "/Ka /Kani." He had fire, and the name of his fire was "Doro." ... After a while =Gao N!a ... made a djani, ... weighting it with a tsi nut. ...

p. 17

=Gao N!a said ... that they must put a big paouw feather on it. This they did ... . =Gao N!a ... changed /Ka /Kani into a bird named =ore."

p. 313, n. 1:6

[quoted from Marshall 1976, p. 345] "The djani is an exquisite winged toy. Tossed high in the air, it floats down vertically, spinning."

{Evidently this word /J^ANi/ is cognate with /J^ANN/ and with /j^inn/, the <arabi categories of deities who rotate (and who are therefore thought to be in whirlwinds).}

p. 20 /Gwi mythology

"The /Gwi Bushmen in Botswana visualized Pisiboro ... as being of supernatural size -- enormous. In the tortures of his death throes, his thrashing and writhing limbs gouged out the omurimbi (shallow, ancient water courses), ... and his black hair became rain clouds."

[7:2 (p. 170) "the /Gwi Bushmen in Botswana ... have a myth ... which says that god, whose name is Pisiboro ..., tore the black, black hair from his head and threw it into the sky to make the rain clouds."]

{Was the hair of PISiboro torn out in handfuls? 'Handful' is the meaning of /PISSah/ (Strong's 6451). Also, cf. Brontes the thundre-kuklops : Artemis "tore a handful of hair from his chest" (GM 22.d). Pisiboro's watercourses may be aequivalent to the "river" (GM 22.2) of Alpheios who pursued (GM 22.g) Artemis.}

p. 22 lightning or thundre {The name of XU may be etymologically cognate with /H^aWay/ 'having used a fire-producing instrument and not emitted fire' (LA-L 1:539a), perhaps because lightning usually faileth to start any fire.}

[citing Schapera 1930, p. 184] "Huwe or Hu>e or Xu ... is the lord over rain and lightning".

{Minos "was at once answered by lightning and a clap of thunder." (GM 98.j)}

"butterflies are found here in superabundance, and the "great captain" feeds upon these".

{Quetzalcoatl is kept fed with immolated "butterflies" (TTES, p. 4c).}

LA-L = Georgii Wilhelmi Freytagii : Lexicon Arabico-Latinum. Librairie du Liban, Beirut, 1975.

TTES = Dan M. Healan : Tula of the Toltecs. U of IA Pr, 1989.



1.4 (pp. 23-6) //Gauwa

p. 23 cords; heart-eating {are these sky-cords related to "heart-strings"? cf. the Popol Vuh-&-Taoist "Heart of Heaven"}

//Gauab, //Gaunab, or //Gamab "is everywhere and moves between heaven and earth on cords." (Schapera 1930:188)

"The souls of the dead ... come to live with him, and he eats their hearts" (Schapera 1930:188-89)."

pp. 23-4 the 2 heavens (according to Schapera 1930:389)

according to the __

Tsui //Goab resideth in a __

//Gaunab resideth in a __


[p. 23] beautiful heaven

[pp. 23-4] dark heaven

[p. 24] Korana

Red Sky

Black Sky

p. 24 "The //Gauwa of the Nyae Nyae !Kung lives where the sun sets."

p. 24 heavenly divine reporter of earthly news

//Gauwa "tells the old man {god} in the east whatever he sees and hears. 'These people are staying well; those are not so well.'"

{"And YHWH said unto S`at.an : 'Whence comest thou?' Then S`at.an answered YHWH, and said : 'From going to and fro through the whole earth, and from walking up and down in it.'" (>iyob 1:7)}

p. 24 deathly odor of //Gauwa's whirlwind

"The !Kung call a whirlwind //Gauwa =a (//Gauwa smell). ... a whirlwind is a death-thing ... .

//Gauwa walks in the whirlwind; his smell is in it, and death is in it.

If the wind passes over a person, the =a goes into him, and he will become sick and die.

The spirits of the dead, the //gauwasi, also come in the whirlwinds."

p. 25 "The winds swirled ... into awesome black funnels ... . Sometimes white clouds condensed on their tops ... : "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way ..." (Exodus 13:21)."

p. 25 //Gauwa's abode

"//Gauwa first lived on earth, in a hole. ... The hole was like a springhare hole ... . There were two entrances ... .

//Gauwa later made a house in the sky. ... The house ... is built up off the ground -- the ground in the sky --

upon iron poles that are stuck into the ground and rise into the air. ...

{In Arnhem Land, " 'dua' moiety snakes stood up" ("EAL")[, thus alike unto the erect columns upholding //Gauwa's house.]}

When healers are in trance, their spirits go to that house. ...

Their spirits climb up by the cords that hang from the sky.

{Likewise Australian aboriginal "clever men" ascend, via praeternatural cords, into the sky.}

Near //Gauwa's house are two trees. ... The name of the tree that is toward the north is "/Gaie";

the one toward the south is named "!Dua." ...

{"For the Dua moiety, Bralgu Island was the location of the Land of the Dead." ("LD") Likewise, according to tribes in southern Australia an island is indicated : "These tribes believe that the spirit follows the path taken by Nguruderi to Naroongowie (Kangaroo Island ) after death" ("KIM"). [This Kangaroo Island is to the south of South Australia, just as "toward the south" is the direction of the Dua moiety. Bharatiya psychopomp-god Yama guideth towards the south, direction of the fig-tree.]}

They are more nearly like the camel thorn (Acacia giraffae Burch.), which incidentally has two names", "/gi"... ." {with "/GI" cf. "/GaIe"}

"EAL" = http://australianstamp.com/coin-web/feature/history/abdream.htm#1988Anchor

"LD" = "Land of the Dead" http://austhrutime.com/land_of_the_dead.htm

"KIM" = "Kangaroo Island Mythology" http://austhrutime.com/kangaroo_island_mythology.htm

pp. 25-6 //Gauwa's personal appearance

p. 25

"The healers frequently see //Gauwa ... . =Gao N!a sends him as his messenger, and the healers become familiar with him. Anyone may see //Gauwa in dreams. ...

p. 26

//Gauwa is the size of a mouse and has legs like a mouse ... . //Gauwa is covered all over with short yellow hairs. ... //Gauwa is like a man in form, but ... has yellow hair over his whole body. ... Another Bushman ... said that //Gauwa has the form of a man but is only about a foot tall."


1.5 (pp. 27-30) the //gauwasi (immortalized souls of the dead)

pp. 27-8 how the //gauwasi are accepted into heaven

p. 27

"the spirits of the dead, the //gauwasi, ... live immortal lives in the upper sky ... . ... When a person dies, //gauwasi soon come

to take his spirit (n/).

{"n/" would be cognate with "NAS.S." 'to sparkle' (Strong's 5340). As for the Saami soul of the dead, "in his hair there will be sparkling stars." ("N&HE", p. 126)}

The children of the gods are sometimes the ones who come ... . The //gauwasi draw the spirit out

through the head of the corpse. ...

{/NAS.iya/ 'fore part of the head'; /ta-NAS.aw/ 'seize by the forelock' (A-ED, p. 1140a)}

The //gauwasi draw it out of the person's dead body, and

they take the heart and the blood of the person as well.

{Separate disposal of the spirit-heart from that of the souls is characteristic of the Kemetic afterlife.}

The //gauwasi carry these vital parts first into the western sky ..., but they do not leave them ... . They carry them farther, around by the south to the east, to the place where =Gao N!a lives.

p. 28

=Gao N!a receives the spirit, heart, and blood of the dead person and transforms these elements into a //gauwa. To do this, he makes a fire under the tree that grows near his house. He sets a pot on the fire, and in it he boils certain n/umsi. ...

=Gao N!a then hangs the spirit, heart, and blood of the dead person in the tree. ... Smoke rises from the pot, carrying the n/um in its smell. It flows around the dead person's spirit, heart, and blood and transmutes them into a //gauwa. =Gao N!a then

{This process is similar to the consecration of an idol by censing with incense. The word "N/uM" is cognate with <ar. "NaS.Mah" ('idol').}

smears the //gauwa with fat. This fat is not from an animal; it is a special substance ... and ... is called !thu."

{"!Tu" is cognate with "T.aTa[>]" 'excreted faeces' (LA-L 3:41b) -- cf. the Hindu ritual purification by smearing with cow-dung.}

"N&HE" = Louise Backman : "The Noajdie and his ecstasy". In :- Nils G. Holm (ed.) : Religious Ecstasy. Almquist & Wiksell Internat, Stockholm, 1982. pp. 122-7.

A-ED = J. M. Cowan (ed.) : Arabic-English Dictionary.

p. 28 rejuvenation of souls of the dead; dead children; food for souls of the dead; dead couples

"=Gao N!a gives the //gauwasi everlasting life. They grow older, but before they are very old, he rejuvenates them. He has a n/um for this ... .

Children who die remain children. ...

The //gauwasi eat food, ... but they have their own supplies, and they have plenty. They are particularly fond of honey.

The //gauwasi keep their own spouses if they wish, and they live together but do not beget children. ... .

... if a //gauwa tires of his wife and wants another, he may kill a living woman whom he finds attractive ... . And a strong young hunter might be killed by a female //gauwa who wanted him."

p. 29 differentiation in status, by mode of death (according to the Auen) (Schapera 1930:168)

"people who die a good death die easily ....,

whereas those who die in agony die a bad death :

"People who die a 'good death' are said to go to !khutse ...,

those dying a 'bad death' to Gaua.

The former have a good time and live in plenty;

the latter, on the other hand, often suffer hunger and distress"".

p. 29 afterlife of suicides

"Among the Nyae Nyae !Kung, only people who commit suicide are believed to be excluded afrom the afterlife with =Gao N!a inthe eastern sky. They have immortal life, but they live with //Gauwa in the west."

{The god of the west is Varun.a, whose implement is the noose (which could be used for an agonizing suicide).}


1.6 (pp. 30-5) interrelationship of deities

pp. 31-2 divinities's favoring of bees

p. 31

"Burning bees ... displeases =Gao N!a intensely. He likes bees; his wife is the "mother of the bees" ... . ...

p. 32

When men go to look for honey, they may pray to Khwova N!a, the mother of bees".


PEABODY MUSEUM MONOGRAPHS, No. 8 = Lorna J. Marshall : Nyae Nyae !Kung Beliefs and Rites. Harvard U, Cambridge (MA), 1999.