Where the Roads All End; Photography and Anthropology in the Kalahari by Ilisa Barbash ’77. This book tells three stories. First is the story of Lisa Barbash, Curator of Visual Anthropology at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, who sorted through 40,000 photographs taken during the course of eight excursions to Africa, went through all the notes and papers of the participants, interviewed those who were still around, and put it all together into this beautiful book, which memorializes the other two stories. The overriding narrative concerns the Marshall family, their travels and their efforts to keep a record of their interactions with the indigenous people they met and befriended. When the family began their adventures, Laurence and Lorna, the parents, were in their fifties and John and Elizabeth were teens. Laurence, an extremely successful businessman, could have rested on his laurels, but instead he wanted to bond his family by traveling deep into the Kalahari (where the roads all end) to see if there were really hunter-gatherers uncontaminated by modernity. The third story concerns the Ju/’hoansi (and to a lesser extent the /Gwi). When the Marshalls encountered these people, commonly called Bushmen, they were living in successful equilibrium with their environment, having enough to meet their needs. In the course of the 11 years of the expeditions, from 1950 until 1961, the Marshalls witnessed the encroachment of the surrounding world. They watched sadly and tried to help as events overtook Ju/’hoansi traditions and way of life.
The Marshalls proved to be quick studies at the science of anthropology. Laurence organized, Lorna studied the children and kinship, John made several acclaimed films showing the people going about their lives, and Elizabeth wrote books including The Harmless People. They were guided by Margaret Mead; Lisa quotes her statement that the best way to understand ethos is through disciplined use of the observer’s own emotional response. With human beings, disinterested measuring and observing provide only shallow results. I think of John Barth’s line in Lost in the Funhouse: “the observer makes perfect observation impossible.” Heisenberg shows that this holds true even in the more pure sciences. Out on the Kalahari, the emotional bonds that form between scientists and their subjects is at the core of the story. At one point Lorna says that if she had it to do over again, she would not have come because the ruts carved out by their trucks led the way to the isolated people and hastened the end of their world. Africa was of course going through all manner of upheaval during those times. New nations were emerging as colonial powers lost their hold. White farmers, profiting from the chaotic times, sometimes captured Ju’/hoansi and made them slaves. In moves reminiscent of what native Americans endured, their land was taken over. Here we see the story first hand through the poignant and gorgeous photographic record.