11 June 2012

Living history

Forty-some years ago I had to do a quick study of a culture I'd never heard of: the Kalahari Bushman. That hunting and gathering culture was to be the "stand in" for prehistoric, stone age hunter-gatherers in a World Studies course I was to teach.

The ethnography of anthropologist Richard Lee and the teaching materials developed Malcolm Carr Collier and her team from the American Anthropological Society were wonderful. The Bushmen became the first unit of study for the course I taught for twenty years.

Over the years since then, the Bushman or San culture has come to my attention now and again as one of those quickly vanishing ways of life. Governments have tried to fence them in and get them to be farmers. Those plans were very difficult to fulfill since the people are independent and used to moving from place to place every few weeks and since the Kalahari is a great sandy desert.

Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) have used the Bushmen and their dying culture as a central feature in their latest Detective Kubu mystery, Death of the Mantis. Kubu, if you've forgotten, is a huge man with a huge appetite who, when he's not eating, is Assistant Superintendent of Detectives David (Kubu) Bengu in Botswana.

A number of suspicious deaths in the Kalahari bring Kubu into contact with a Bushman friend he'd gone to elementary school with. The deaths also cause Kubu to deal with a policeman who is convinced that Bushmen are amoral, lesser beings capable of any evil deed. Kubu, with an educated Bushman friend, sees himself above such prejudice.

As police procedures go, the big city cops in Botswana are as sophisticated and well-equipped as those in American cities. The small town cops, not so much. (Sound familiar?) With helicopters, GPS units, bullet proof vests, desert-ready four-wheel-drive Land Rovers, and satellite phones, they pursue the bad guys.

All the equipment doesn't keep them safe or guarantee they'll find the bad guys -- especially when there are at least a couple kinds of bad guys. But it all makes a very good story -- especially when mixed together with the desperation of people whose culture is dying before their eyes.

Once again, the Michael Stanley men have written an intriguing and entertaining story. Add to that the cultural insights offered by two South Africans with remarkable appreciation for the people and the landscapes of southern Africa. This is the third Detective Kubu novel. If you haven't read the others, Death of the Mantis is a good place to start, but you might want to begin witht the first book in the series, A Carrion Death.

 Have you read Death of the Mantis or another of Michael Stanley's books? What did you think of them? Write and tell this little bit of the world about your reactions.

1 comment:

Sank said...

Mrs S and I love this series, great strories, very interesting back drop, well written.. A+