The Gift

Speaking to a !Kung bushman called !Xoma about a custom called hxaro, the anthropologist was told:

Hxaro is when I take a thing of value and give it to you. Later, much later, when you find some good thing, you give it to me. When I find something good I will give it to you, and so we will pass the years together

Asked about what would count as a fair exchange, !Xoma wouldn’t answer. Would three strings of beads be fair in exchange for a spear? Would two? Would one?

He explained that any return would be acceptable because we don’t trade with things, we trade with people

Excerpted from Deborah Tannnen’s (1990) You just don’t understand: Men and Women in Conversation, which is far better, far more sociolinquistically weighty and far more fun than it probably sounds.

(Mapping of how patterns of hxaro gift exchange between tribes maintain social networks here)

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