The Image of Bushmen: From a Strange Wanderer to a Human Being
1University of Oulu, Faculty of Humanities, Department of History
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|Persistent link:|| http://urn.fi/urn:nbn:fi-fe19991197
|Publish Date:|| 2001-11-26
My study is focused on the Finnish missionary work among Bushmen in eastern Ovambo and Kavango in Namibia and on the image of Bushmen conveyed by it. The encounter of the cultures gave rise to new elements of the Bushman way of life that are partly based on the tradition of the encounter of cultures in the area and on the requirements of the local natural conditions. This helped to give the Bushmen the strength to resist acculturation, and the meeting of cultures brought regular elements, which I have called the borderline culture, to the outskirts of the missionary stations. Increased information reduces uncertainty. This fact began to come to surface in the 1950s in the descriptions of Bushmen by Finnish nurses in Kavango in which the emotions of fear, sympathy and care were present. The pressures for missionary work among the Bushmen towards the end of the 1950s broke the old image of Bushmen. In eastern Ovambo and Kavango, the missionary work among Bushmen which was expanding in the 1960s made the image of Bushmen a more everyday matter in the emerging borderline culture, in which it was typical to associate the image of the Bushman to work and success at work. The missionaries did not yet quite understand the life of the Bushmen, although they were clearly interested in it. They tried to dictate the conditions for the encounter in the 1960s in accordance with the old ideology of missionary work. Thus the 1960s was the era of a Bushman image that was controlled by the preachers who tried to defend the justification and methods of missionary work.
The breaking of the language barrier was an important factor on the way to the next change in the image of Bushmen which was seen clearly in the borderline culture which was established in the 1970s. Language meant improved and more profound information and therefore confidential relationships between the missionaries and the Bushmen. The understanding of ethnic cultures improved in general. The new ideals were partly due to the strivings for independence in the area and to more general international pressures in which mission and colonialism were subjected to criticism. The borderline culture had been established, and the life of Bushmen was felt to be part of everyday life. The interest of the missionaries in the Bushmen's way of life was increased. In the early 80s, the image of the Bushman had become much more diversified and uniform. The Bushman way of life was known quite well, although based on the description of a few missionaries only. As a consequence of the Namibian Civil War, the work of the Finnish missionaries ended in the stations in eastern Ovambo, but the work among bushmen continued in the form of developmental aid in Kavango. The last image of the Bushmen there was given by the quiet missionaries, the nurses, just like in the early stages in the early 1950s. The concerns over care and everyday nursing were common in their descriptions, but the Bushmen were not any longer strange wanderers in the forest but familiar people in a borderline culture.
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