News and Reviews
A high court in Botswana dismissed a case the government had brought against four San men accused of hunting in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The men, some of whom may have been G/wi, escaped a possible penalty of up to five years in prison.
According to a report by Innocent Tshukudu published on August 5 in The Voice, a Botswana newspaper, the men supposedly had been seen personally by President Ian Khama in April 2012 while he was flying in his airplane over the CKGR. The president was on a hunting trip. Mongwegi Gaoberekwe, Mohame Belesa, Thoama Tsenene and Dipuisano Mongwegi were apprehended by police, who confiscated their personal possessions: bows and arrows, spears, and livestock.
The men said that they were unaware that it was illegal to hunt on their land—they were just trying to feed their families. They were represented in court by attorney Monamo Aobakwe of Duma Boko and Company. That Botswana law firm has been representing the San in their conflicts with the government since the English attorney Gordon Bennett, who had won several earlier favorable decisions against the government, was barred from the country just over a year ago.
Mr. Bennett had represented the San people in a major victory in the Botswana courts in 2006, which overturned the government’s earlier attempt to force the people completely out of their historic lands in the Kalahari Desert, where they have lived for millennia. Despite that court ruling—that the San people must be allowed to live and hunt in the CKGR—the government, under President Khama, imposed a complete ban on their hunting as of January this year.
His government’s policy does permit, however, hunting at private game reserves that are patronized by wealthy trophy hunters. Police and wildlife agents have intimidated and arrested scores of San hunters and, according to the reporter, it has imposed a “shoot-to-kill” policy against suspected poachers.
Survival International, a major human rights NGO headquartered in London, also reported the court victory. SI has consistently supported the San people in their ongoing struggles against the various repressive measures taken by the government of Botswana. The organization quoted Attorney Monamo Aobakwe as saying that his clients “are all overjoyed at the ruling.” He went on to express appreciation to SI for their continuing, essential help in trying to secure freedom and justice for the G/wi and the other San people.
The Lepchas, like most of the peaceful societies, are frequently stressed by changing cultural, social and economic forces, some of which affect their patterns of nonviolence. Anita Sharma published a book last year that seeks to enrich our understanding of, and appreciation for, those changes in Lepcha society. A major goal of her work is to update the classic ethnography by Geoffrey Gorer, Himalayan Village, which was based on his three months of field research there in 1937.
Sharma did her field research in the Dzongu Reserve in northern Sikkim, the heartland of Lepcha country, from September through November 2003. One major topic she reviews is their traditional approaches to resolving conflicts, and the ways they handle disputes today.
Traditionally, quarrels that erupted for no clear reason were considered to be the work of evil spirits. Gorer described how they held elaborate annual rituals in monasteries where they would exorcise those spirits from their communities. The rituals sought to destroy the spirits of enmity of speech, enmity of thought, and enmity of action. However, those rituals are no longer being performed in Dzongu.
In the past, on a practical level, a village official called a Gyapon would use all his wiles to resolve conflicts. If his tact did not work, he might order the parties to a dispute to prepare chi and get ready to spend huge amounts of money. He might threaten to impose large fines on them, naming sums of money far beyond their resources in an attempt to scare them into settling their issues. If the offenders were sufficiently frightened at that prospect, he would soften, settle for smaller amounts, and after they paid those fines, they could all eat and drink together.
Today, however, conflicts that cannot be settled within families or the larger patrilineal groupings are referred to ad hoc groups of village elders who attempt to resolve them. Only rarely is the local conflict resolution so unsuccessful that a dispute has to be referred to the next larger government level, the panchayat.
When a dispute is in fact referred to a panchayat, its members will take it seriously, investigate the intricacies of the issues, and reach solutions. It would be a stain on the community for the problem to have to be referred up to the next higher level of government, the court in Mangan, which is the administrative center of Dzongu.
Theft and crime, Sharma found, are rare in Dzongu, though petty thievery, such as stealing raincoats, umbrellas, and slippers, is increasing. In the remote villages, people rarely lock their doors. Theft remains an alien aspect of life. Lying—perjury—is considered to be a very serious crime, one which casts a permanent stain on a family’s reputation.
Another Lepcha issue that the author reviews carefully is changing gender relationships. Sharma finds that the status of women has declined somewhat since Gorer’s time, most likely due to the influence of Hindu beliefs and practices from the rest of India. But women in Lepcha society still are highly valued. Men and women are paid equally when they work together in communal work parties, though while men are permitted to perform any of the work projects that women do, women will never do the ploughing instead of a man.
While a woman is normally not the head of a family, within the nuclear family, men and women share in making decisions and are considered to be generally equal. Overall, though, women now have subordinate positions in their society compared to men. Nonetheless, the author maintains, women lead a “reasonably democratic existence (p.77)” as they continue to participate in many decisions about economic and social issues in their homes and communities.
Women are religiously prohibited from sacrificing animals, but for Lepchas who still follow the traditional Bon religion, the female Mon (the priestess) has more status and power than the male priest, the Bongthing. Traditionally, the birth of a boy baby prompted the family to sacrifice a pig, goat, or ox, but not the birth of a girl.
In former times, the Lepchas had a casual attitude toward female family members having sex. Presuming an unmarried girl did not get pregnant, the male members of her family didn’t pay much attention to her liaisons—they exhibited little if any jealousy. Things are different today. People are now much more restricted in talking about sex than they once were, and mothers feel a need to control the sexual activities of their daughters. However, Sharma writes, “Lepcha women assert their independence within their domain and do not seem to take kindly to overbearing male dominance (p.80).”
At the present time, people in Dzongu emphasize monogamy more than they used to. Also, marriages of very young girls are much less common now than they were in the past, and instead of the traditional negotiations and arrangements between families, young adults often elope. The economic costs for couples who do elect to have traditional marriages are also now reduced. The popular media prompt many Lepchas to be ashamed of their traditional social conventions.
In sum, Gorer described women as often being more self-assured than men. This status—of comparable worth—has been replaced, at least to some extent, by a Hindu-inspired social order in which men are viewed as having superior power and social standing, Sharma argues.
The Lepchas define themselves not as individuals but as members of a group. They rarely dramatize or show their emotions. They gain approval from their peers through passive behavior rather than self-assertion, which helps dampen manifestations of aggression or competition.
Sharma adds that the Lepchas are well known for their truthfulness and mildness. They are also known for not exhibiting strong emotions. They respect the needs of others for privacy and personal space. They are normally a very patient people—they frequently chastised the author if she seemed to be in too much of a hurry.
She concludes that, despite the changes in Lepcha society, they retain their egalitarian beliefs. She writes that “it would not be out of line to add that their intrinsic principles of simplicity, equality, joy and hospitality have been largely retained (p.76-77).”
Sharma, Anita. 2013. The Lepchas of Dzongu Region in Sikkim: A Narrative of Cultural Heritage and Folklore. New Delhi: The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage and Aryan Books International
News and reviews of publications relating to peaceful societies—and sometimes to related topics—are normally posted here on Thursday mornings (U.S. time) and are kept on this page for one week. Older news and reviews for 2014 are listed below, and ones from previous years are listed on the News and Reviews 2004-2005 page, the 2006 page, the 2007 page, the 2008 page, the 2009 page, the 2010 page, the 2011 page, the 2012 page and the 2013 page. All stories are also included in the News and Reviews Subject Listing. Recent ones are listed at the bottom of each society entry in the Encyclopedia of Selected Peaceful Societies, after the heading: Updates: News and Reviews. News and reviews about peacefulness in general are referred to from the bottom of the Facts page, while news stories about this website are linked from the About This Website page. News and Reviews can also be found with the Google search bar.
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