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Animal Studies Journal

Abstract

This article documents a peaceful, albeit tense relationship between Ju/’hoan and lions in the Nyae Nyae region of the Kalahari during the 1950s.1 Unlike contexts where lions kill livestock and people and are persecuted in return, the Ju/’hoan and lions of the Nyae Nyae shared waterholes without conflict. The recorded and oral histories, and cultural traditions of the Ju/’hoan suggest that this peaceful relationship had evolved over centuries. Lions were recognised as powerful creatures but unlike hyenas and leopards in the region, they were not killers of humans. Lions were seen as social superiors, and addressed with respect but this was as much a social obligation steeped in tradition as an act of self-preservation. This social engagement of lions and Ju/’hoan redraws the lines around human social groups, not only challenging who it is that constitutes the social ‘we’ but reconfiguring the evolution of human social intelligence as a multispecies affair.