The social relationships of changing Hai||om hunter-gatherers in northern Namibia, 1990-1994
This thesis analyses the social relationships of a group of northern Hai||om, who also call themselves Akhoe, in the Oshikoto region of Namibia. The Hai||om are a Khoisan-speaking group, labelled "Bushmen" or "San" by outsiders, who were dispossessed of their land during the colonial period. Today most Hai||om combine hunting, gathering, agriculture, handicrafts, wage labour, and cattle-keeping in a mixed economy. The Hai||om changing economy has elements of an immediate-retum strategy aimed at gaining access to the delayed-return economies of neighbouring groups, particularly Owambo-speaking agropastoralists, and farmers of European origin. Based on long-term participant observation with the Hai||om, this thesis shows the flexibility and versatility of Hai||om social organization and its institutions. Particular reference is made to the ways in which social categories are established on the basis of material transactions (sharing, gift-giving, bartering and commercial exchange), and are grounded in shared classifications of land and its resources. The thesis documents and analyses how Hai||om construct and maintain social relations, including relations with outsiders, in everyday social interaction. Patterns of Hai||om social practice involving these social relations emerge in language pragmatics, in the usage of space, and in ritual activities. The thesis also includes an analysis of representations of ethnic identity and economic difference in Hai||om folklore. The investigation shows that Hai||om social relationships and social values continue to shape the diversity and overall flexibility that characterize Hai||om life today. Although Hai||om have little power to influence the conditions imposed on them by national and international contexts, Hai||om social strategies across changing conditions can be explained on the basis of a set of instituted social practices centred around open accessibility and informal common ground.