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Once Upon a Time is Now: A Kalahari Memoir

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Once Upon a Time is Now

A Kalahari Memoir

Megan Biesele

Full Text PDF | Full Text ePUB Made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license with support from Knowledge Unlatched.

286 pages, 14 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-80073-879-9 $145.00/£107.00 / Hb / Published (July 2023)

ISBN  978-1-80073-881-2 $19.95/£15.95 / Pb / Published (July 2023)


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“This is the finest of ethnographic memoirs. I know the Kalahari and its people, but Megan Biesele knows them much better. An African explorer’s life, a cross-cultural whirlwind, and an intellectual adventure all between two covers. A marvelous read." • Melvin Konner, Emory University.

“This book is exceptional on two counts. Firstly, it is an engaging, highly readable and disarmingly honest guide to the realities behind a style of anthropological fieldwork that is increasingly impossible … Secondly, this book represents a sophisticated and deeply informed insight into Ju/’hoan life.” • Chris Low, University of Oxford

“A superbly written, masterfully crafted and well organized monograph on a central issue in anthropology: the trials and tribulations of ethnographic field work.” • Mathias Guenther, Wilfrid Laurier University

“Her book illustrates how language transforms experience, but also provides a very personal history of how immersion in another culture and its language transformed her.” • Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, University of California, Davis


Fifty years after her first fieldwork with Ju/'hoan San hunter-gatherers, anthropologist Megan Biesele has written this exceptional memoir based on personal journals she wrote at the time.

The treasure trove of vivid learning experiences and nightly ponderings she found has led to a memoir of rare value to anthropology students and academics as well as to general readers. Her experiences focus on the long-lived healing dance, known to many as the trance dance, and the intricate beliefs, artistry, and social system that support it.

She describes her immersion in a creative community enlivened and kept healthy by that dance, which she calls "one of the great intellectual achievements of humankind."

From the Preface:
A few years ago I finally got around to looking back into the box of personal field journals I had not opened for over forty years. I found a treasure trove. It was an overwhelming experience. So much that I had forgotten came vividly alive: I laughed, wept, and was terrified all over again at my temerity in taking on what I had taken on. To do justice to the richness of these notebooks, I realized, I would have to do a completely different sort of writing from anything I had ever done before.

Megan Biesele has taught anthropology at several universities in Texas and in South Africa. In 2023, on its fiftieth anniversary, she steps down as Director of the Kalahari Peoples Fund. KPF, a US 501(c)(3) nonprofit she co-founded in 1973 with colleagues in the Harvard Kalahari Research Group, benefits and advocates for peoples of the Kalahari. Megan lives in Austin, Texas.

Subject: Anthropology (General)Cultural Studies (General)Development Studies
Area: Africa

Once Upon a Time is Now by Megan Biesele is available open access under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) with support from Knowledge Unlatched.

Full Text PDF | Full Text ePUB

OA ISBN: 978-1-80539-066-4


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