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Bitter Melons - please comment below

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 2 months ago


Film Review: Bitter Melons

Film Info


No date
30 minutes

This is a film about a small band of /Gwi San. Ten people share a camp, including a blind musician Ukxone, his wife and son, two older women, two boys, and another man, !Gai, with his wife and child. Ukxone plays music that he has composed on his hunting bow: songs in praise of melons, about trapping antelopes, about shouting and being lost in the bush. Bitter Melons, his favorite song, is about a woman who learned from her Bantu neighbors to plant melon seeds. Wild melons taste bitter, the agriculturalists said. Ukxone's favorite songs evoke the /Gwi landscape and its diverse wildlife, as well as the routines of daily life: collecting, hunting, catching a tortoise that is cooked alive and shared.
!Gai, a member of the band, returns one day with a group of his relatives. Visitors and hosts enjoy the social occasion, as young boys play animal games (porcupine, hyena), and make their own traditional music on the bow (animal songs, like giraffe and kudu). Men and boys dance the "ostrich courting dance." The fluidity of /Gwi bands is revealed when !Gai and his family depart with their other relatives, disappearing into the tall grass of the veld to the sound of Ukxone's Bitter Melons.
Following the film, we will have a discussion on the following topics:
Family organization and the social group
Economic life
The use of resources
Use of music among the /Gwi San
Courting dance
This film as a reflection of broader cultural phenomena

Begin your comments here . . .
[Dave Roberts, dlr4@geneseo.edu, 10-23]
1.) The ostrich dance looked in many ways similar to capoeira, the martial art/dance that enslaved Africans invented in Brazil. I wonder if those Africans had any relation to the !Kung...
2.) The bow instrument was remarkable in it's versatility. While beating a rhythm, a player changed the pitch of the string by bending the bowstring, effectively creating a bassline. Over this bassline the player would strike harmonics to form a melody. Harmonics (The bell-like noise prevalent in many songs, including "Bitter Melons" ) are performed by lightly placing a finger on the string at a certain point and striking or plucking the string. Harmonics are common in guitar playing, and to see them performed on the bow was surprising for me.
3.) The fact that there was no running water around the group's settlement was wild. Life would have to be a constant fight to stay hydrated. That and the fact that their diet was apparently very high in vegetables and not much meat would present some problems in terms of proper nutrition. This was made painfully obvious in the bloated and swollen stomachs of the clearly undernourished children. Even so, they seemed very energetic considering.


[Dan Lilly, djl5@geneseo.edu, 10/23]

Bitter Melons


KINSHIP/MARRIAGE: The film hinted at the fact that people are only responsible to take care of their close relatives, but !Gai took care of Ukxone, who was blind, even though they were not (at least closely) related. This says a lot about the hospitable nature of the !Kung, because survival in the Kalahari is not easy. Also, the way in which the girl Ukxone was in love with turned him away much like the Inuit might, when she simply stood and asked her tribe "Who is this man?"

IDEOLOGY: Clearly, their musical structure is far different from ours. The song "Shouting," which was about Ukxone's frustration at people not shouting to guide him when he was lost, sounded to our western (or is it eastern European?) ear as an upbeat and happy piece. The musical scales of the !Kung, and the meaning that they have, must be very different from our own concept of music.

ENVIRONMENT: Burying the turtle in a fire pit showed a good amount of ingenuity. I'd only ever heard of that as a very old way to cook beans, I didn't know it was a practice among any indigenous peoples. The !Kung have managed to fashion themselves an oven in the middle of the Kalahari.





[Heather Warren, hrw1@geneseo.edu, 10/23]


  1. Symbolism: I like how few interjections there were in the movie by the narrator. The only interjections were explanatory of certain activities. Also did not censor things like blood and gore, which allows the preservation of all the activities.
  2. Economics / Ideology: I thought it was really cool how large the range of sounds that Ukxone can create on his bow which doubles as a musical and hunting instrument. I also thought it was interesting that they used their chins as well as hands to play.
  3. Symbolism: I liked that the movie showed some children’s games. It allows the audience to relate to the people since all children play similar games as children. It also shows the unique cultural influences on the children.




[Elen De Oliveira, emd10@geneseo.edu, 10/23]


Bitter Melons


1. Environment: It was really eye opening to realize that all they had was the surrounding land and animals. There were no houses, barely any clothing, a scarce amount of water, and only a small amount of people. They made a living off of what they had and found ways to entertain themselves through music and games. It really makes you realize how much you have and take for granted.


2. politics: because there was such a small amount of people in one place, rank didn't really come into play. No one seemed to be more in charge than anyone else and even the children were included in many of the activities that were done.


3. Kinship and family- family seems to be an important thing for the kung becuase they each only really have one another. They all seemed to be very close and even looked like a pack of lions sometimes, just lounging around on the ground really close to one another. In order for marriage to take place and for the family to expand and continue, they would have to come in contact with other groups, but they seem content and happy to be with one another.




[Larkin Kimmerer, llk5@geneseo.edu, 10-24]

Bitter Melons

1. KINSHIP: The group of individuals who lived together were not all related, and because of this they were not required to take care of the others in terms of subsistence. However, they generally still did so. While it was not a genetically linked family, it seemed to be as much of a family as any--if one person had less than the others, he could not contribute to the good of the group, so it behooves everyone to help everyone else out.

2. ENVIRONMENT: It was amazing the way that the !Kung got water from an environment where it was so scarce. The succulent plants of the desert were squeezed and used as though they were drinks--it was amazing!

3. IDEOLOGY: The dances were really interesting and seemed like a lot of fun. It was a way for the younger children to interact with the adults and learn their roles as adults, especially as hunters through games and dances.




Lanh Nguyen, ltn2@geneseo.edu, 10/25

Bitter Melons

1. Kinship/Family: The !Kung people are nomadic and very dependent upon one another. They seem to live in small bands consisting of a mother, father, and children. Unlike other indigenous cultures, the !Kung people don't seem to place the male figure above everyone else. It seems as though they are all equal and they all contribute to the survival of the band.

2. Ideology/Myth: I thoroughly enjoyed the songs and instruments that the males used as entertainment. It was interesting to hear that they sang songs based on their hunting and environmental conditions. In a greater sense, they are like us. We create songs of love, hate, humor, fear, etc. Although we do not write about or environmental conditions, we still write down our experiences. It shows that the !Kung view their environment as most important while we view our experiences in life as a whole is more important.

3. Ideology/Myth: How cute were those children?! It was amazing how they are able to entertain themselves through their games. Their use of sound and clicks were so fascinating~ Did you see the boy that was biting the other boy's butt? We would never get that close to anyone's butt, unless it was in an intimate situation. What does that tell you about our culture?..PRIVACY






[Dilek Canakci, dc11@geneseo.edu, 10/28]

Bitter Melons

Environment: The music that the old man produced was about their natural environment and how their environment keeps them alive. He sang about their subsistence and the changes in food they face due to seasons.

Use of music among the /Gwi San: The old man was passing his musical talent to the child so that he can take his role after he dies. It was interesting the little boy had so much talent in singing and playing the string. It was also interesting that it was not a female child.

Family Organization and the social group: It was interesting that the role of women was ever mentioned. Even the celebrations included mostly men dancing and teaching the younger males their traditional dances. No women or female children had an important role in their celebrations.




[Jonathon Baker, jlb22@geneseo.edu, 10/28/07]

Bitter Melons

Environment: How amazing that the !Kung really don’t have any water sources just sitting around. I didn’t know that any human groups lived in areas where the only sources of water were fruit and animal rumens. I would have thought that there would be insufficient water from using only these sources especially in such an hot environment.

Politics: How interesting that their social behavior seems to be quite similar to the eskimo in many ways. They certainly are mutually more similar to each other than to any of the other groups we have learned about. They live in widely spaced small groups that sometimes come together into a larger group based on seasonality and food availability. This says a lot regarding the relationship between environment and social structure.

Language: All the characters such as the ‘!’ in !Kung must stand for sounds that we do not have in our language. It would be cool learn how many extra symbols we must throw in to translate their language into written English and also what the sound for each symbol is.




[Dan McConvey, dpm5@geneseo.edu, 10/30/07]


Bitter Melons



KINSHIP- This culture has a strong foundation in sharing resources because it is essential to their survival and storing food is not practical at all. Despite this emphasis on sharing, kinship has a strong influence on how much support will be given to others. If one has the strength to support someone else in the tribe, he is not obligated to if his relations are not close enough.

This is more of a fictive kinship but is important nonetheless. The people see the necessity to share food but once everyone is fed kinship plays an important role in the society. This must encourage people to foster and maintain good relations with one another because without these relations one is left without any assistance from the other people in the tribe.

RELIGION/IDEOLOGY- The !Kung in this film clearly have very close relations with the animals around them. Their regard for these animals and their environment overflows into their rituals, songs, games, and dances. The music that we see in this movie is closely related with these animals. There are specific songs that coincide with the movements and nature of specific animals. They are recognizable to all of the people in the culture. The games that the people play are also closely associated with the animals that surround them. The ostrich dance is a great example of this as through this dance we see how closely associated the people feel with this animal through mimicking it.

I think that these games, songs, dances and rituals that reflect the !Kung’s association with animals is very important in understanding the values of the !Kung. Clearly they are not going to create songs about things that do not matter to them. These different activities can show us how the !Kung’s ideology is deeply rooted in these animals and the environment around them.


ENVIRONMENT- As a continuation from ideology I think that really looking at the !Kung’s different interactions with their environment is important to understanding the people. I thought it was really interesting that they bury the turtle underground for cooking. It reminded me of pig pit cooking methods at Luaus in Hawai’i. I also thought it was interesting that they were able to get water from the rumen of some animals.

All cultures are dependent in some way on their environment, I think it interesting how highly the !Kung regard their environment and how aware they are of this environmental dependence. This can be seen, as said before, through their rituals and ideology, but also through their actual interactions with their environment. The !Kung have come up with several ways to live in harmony with their environment. I think that we could learn a lot from how close this culture is to its environment.


[Skye Naslund, sjn1@geneseo.edu, 11-1-07]


“Bitter Melons”

1-Economy-Because meat is so rare to the !Kung, it is priced above roots and therefore must be shared between the families in the group. Roots, however, though they make up the majority of the !Kung diet, do not need to be shared as they are rather plentiful.

2-Environment-In the traditional !Kung culture, because the environment lacks much water, the little water that the people have can not be wasted on washing. This means that the !Kung use sand to wash their hands, something that would be considered dirty in our culture.

3-Ritual-The games and music played by the people revolve around copying animals. This shows the important role that animals play in !Kung and the value that is placed on them by the !Kung people.






[Anne Kim, ak13@geneseo.edu, 11/1]


Film: Bitter Melons

1. Environment – It is apparent that the songs that are composed have a lot to do with plants and animals. The songs talk about how hard it is to find water, which is only few of the struggles that they face in everyday life. The dry environment makes even the simplest task, such as, retrieving water, the hardest task of the day.

2. Kinship – The kinship can be seen when the family gathers melons together. The whole family gets involved and is not only a job for men, women, or just children. Kinship can also be seen when the small group dances together and grow in fellowship. Kinship is also grown because they see each other for a very long time in close proximity.

3. The uses of resources – I was actually surprised to see how the people used the resources around them to obtain water and nutrients. They not only got water through the melons but also from the roots underground and animals. It is shocking to see how these unexpected resources can provide the basic needs for life.




[Shamiran Warda sw11@geneseo.edu 11/8]

Film Review: Bitter Melons

Environment: What I noticed in this film is the conditions these people lived in. One would wonder how on earth they are surviving in the dry grassland. However, after getting to witness these people more in their environment, you begin to understand their ways and how well they are adapted in all. It just intrigues me learning how other various people live their lives and how they survive in areas where one would assume cannot such as the case with the Igwi people.

Ideology: Another fascinating aspect of this film is how almost everything is told through music: music played on hand made instruments. To these people music is not just sound but rather their way of life, for often times they tell their stories of hunts and animals through music. In all, I believe the songs enable us to learn more about these very interesting people.

Environment: One thing I noticed is how well adapted these people are to their surroundings. They live in an area where there is not much water however, somehow they have managed to find other sources of obtaining water; such as from the womb of animals. In addition, the scene where the turtle was cooked amazed me because they somehow found other ways to cook it rather than using a built fire- just amazes me how well trained they are. -END-

(Cameron Mack, cfm6@geneseo.edu, 11/15)

Bitter Melons

- The environment of the !Kung is one dependent upon their adaptations to it. By living in an isolated, dry area, they must be able to properly adapt to what their environment provides them with. The !Kung's unique ability to survive in such a desolate region is certainly a huge aspect of their culture. In the film, the tribe digs a hole in the dehydrated ground to cook their turtles, something I found very adaptive of them. Their traditional methods of dealing with their less than abundant area still allows them to exploit what they can and adapt to the rest. A great society to analyze and study. I especially enjoyed seeing their methods of reciprocity, something maybe we should practice. Due to their environmental conditions, this kind of generosity is essential to their comfortable survivial.


[Kaitlyn Northrop, krn3@geneseo.edu, 11/19]

Bitter Melons-Film Review

Social- I thought it was interesting how a lot of the songs that were created were about food and when fruit would have water and what kind is best to eat at what time of year. I also thought it was interesting how everyone was involved in planting the "melon land." This was important because it was done as a group to ensure everyone's survival.

Kinship- The food that the women collect which provide water that can be drank right away is only shared among the immediate family and not with the whole group. Another source of water for the families is in an antelope, and the families are not obliged to share the meat but they usually do anyway.

Social- When the group assembles, the children spend their time playing animal games as well as the whole group doing a courting dance. I thought it was interesting how most of the childrens games resembled games that we would have played as children, except theirs were simpler and had to do with things surrounding their environment.




[Steph Aquilina, sma8@geneseo.edu, 11/23]


Film Review: Bitter Melons


ECONOMICS: Their livelihood was dominated by gathering because herds of game often failed to migrate where they lived. When hunters did catch an animal, the meat would be shared with everyone; frequently, there was too much meat and not all the body parts could be utilized before going bad.




Charlie Genao, cg7@geneseo.edu 12/10/07


Economics: When I was watching the movie I was comparing American culture and the Gwi San culture. I really liked the kinship. The people were so nice to each other despite the fact that they werent even related biologically. The share food and every man was a father to every child so thier was no such thing like "biological father" In America you dont see that. You are taught to take care of yourself and basically be self absorbed. Sometimes I think "wow" how simple thier lives are they dont even need laws to make sure people stay in line. Although I have to realize that these are 10 people in a camp compared to the U.S a population of 300 million and counting.....


{Isobel Connors, icc2@geneseo.edu, 12/12}


Bitter Melons

Music of the Gwi San: I was particularly intrigued by the similarities between children’s game songs among the San and that of American culture. The !Kung children incorporate clapping and simplistic imitative dance into their music to pass the time and learn how to interact with their environment. Similarly, when I was a child, and still today in America, children play clapping games that establish a simple beat as well as hand eye coordination. The songs are often uncomplicated and nonsensical rhymes that help to pass the time during school and at home. In addition to clapping games, jump rope songs also emanate San children’s songs. They often involve strategically placed dance moves that imitate cultural norms, just as the San children use their songs to imitate their environment. These children offer microcosms of San and American cultures that pass through oral tradition prevalent among illiterate groups. Rarely does someone learn the rhymes of, let’s say “Miss Mary Mac” or “Cindeerella Dressed in Yella” from a book—they learn from other children.



[Jennifer Ritzenthaler, jkr5@geneseo.edu, 12/13/07]

Bitter Melons

Environment: I thought it was really insightful for the !Kung to relate their music so much to the subject of the song. The giraffe song was slow, the antelope song was fast, and the hyena song sounded fast and dangerous. Animals seem to have such a big impact on the culture, even permeating to dance and games.



[Lok Yung Yam, ly5@geneseo.edu, 12/13/07]

Bitter Melons

Environment: This movie really left an impression on me because I have taken water for granted for so long. Seeing the !Kung dig for roots for water made me realize how valuable a resource water is. It also opened my eyes to the extents people have to change their lives for water because it is so vital to survival.



[Laurie Sadofsky, las22@geneseo.edu,12/14]

Film Review: Bitter Melons       

Environment: The harsh environment forces the /Gwi San people to rely heavily on each other.  Their surroundings do not provide enough water and they are forced to use water stored in spiked fruit, bitter melons or the insides of tortoises and antelope.  In addition to the limited amount of water, food supplies are also minimal since animals and plants also need water to survive.  This environment strengthens the bonds between the members of a band.   Men hunt and are expected to share their results with the entire band since some the hunters may not be successful all on the same day.  When hunting results are not sufficient, the main subsistence is the roots and other edible items collected by the women. 


[Jennifer Mahoney, jrm30@geneseo.edu, 12/15]


Bitter Melons


This film gave insight into the ideology of the !Kung.  I was amazed by the courting dance and enjoyed watching the complex steps and movements of the ostrich dance.  Its interesting that many of the Gwi San's dances and songs simulate the animals of their environment.  These animals are vital to the survival of the !Kung and thier presence in the songs and dances of this tribe demonstrate their significance.




Alfred Dilluvio ajd12@geneseo.edu 12/15


This film interested me because of the many rythmns the songmaker Ukxone is able to keep in check. He performs three different tempos and beats with his voice and both of his hands. The multiparted style of music production is typical of the !Kung whose ability to manipulate space and song in a different way than us is very interesting.  



[Brendan Ryan, bmr4@geneseo.edu, 12/16]


Since they live in such a hot and dry area of Africa, their culture revolves around their environment.  Certain activities like hunting and searching for food can only be undertaken during specific times of the day.  It’s interesting to see how this has manifested itself within their art.  For example some of the songs that they play are devoted to how difficult it is to find water and things of that nature.


[Genevieve Beninati,gb3@geneseo.edu  12/17]


The song and dance of the !Kung is facinating.  In this film we saw many different dances that corresponded to the animals the !Kung are in close contact with.  The !Kung children seemed to learn these dances at a young age.  The children were very involved in these dances with their elders.  This example of kinship shows how much children are valued in this society of small groups of hunter-gatherers.



[Rebecca Coons, rsc2@geneseo.edu, 12/17/07]


Bitter Melons – As part of the group researching the !Kung, this film showed just one of the ways they find water during the dry seasons, showing their ability to adapt to harsh environments and also lending some insight into how our ancient African hominid ancestors would have survived in a similar environment.





[Adam Saunders, ars11@geneseo.edu, 12/16/07]


“Bitter Melons”


Main ideas that I have learned about that !Kung people are for one the amazing survival capabilities of the human being. In the area of scarce water sources the !Kung have devised brilliant methods of finding drinkable water. Partially based off of the title bitter melons, the melons store water for long periods of time, and this is just one of many water sources that they have discovered. From plants to animals such as thr turtle, these ways of water storage and usage is built into their culture. A second idea that I learned from the !Kung is the ritual dances and games in which the children play, were mostly demonstrated by the men. It was during this time that women were not largely pictured in ethnographies and men were the primary attention of a culture from the viewpoint of those studying them. I have learned how much this viewpoint differs from the one we have now. How men and women were no always viewed as equally on an ethnographical standpoint.




[Justin Wilmott, jmw23@geneseo.edu 12/17]

"Bitter Melons"

The !Kung’s musical abilities are unbelievable.  The importance of song in their culture was interesting to see because music has not been something that seems as important to other indigenous cultures as it does to the !Kung.  The musician ship that can bee seen from Bitter Melons is truly inspiring.  Using the bow much like a washtub bass from the south of the United States, it was truly inspiring to see these people playing an instrument that is closely related to a commonly used instrument in the United States.


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