The Cruel Oppression of Prosperity

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Like many, I’ve been intrigued by the proliferation of quality wines from the newer growing areas of the world. So when I saw an interesting Shiraz / Pinotage blend from South Africa at the local store, I decided to try it out. The wine, a 2004 bottling by Goiya, was pleasant – but the label! Goiya, I was told, “means wine in the language of the San people of the Kalahari Desert. The unique subsistence lifestyle of these nomadic bushmen, now under threat from the modern world, is the inspiration behind this wine.” (Italics added.)

One would certainly hope that the “subsistence lifestyle” of the San (and everyone else, for that matter) would be threatened by modernity. Hunter-gatherer may be a romantic lifestyle, but it’s a harsh and unpleasant life. And that point has been made even by such liberal voices as the BBC, whose Brian Leith noted on Radio 4 that “the traditional San life of [his] grandparents was a matter of harsh reality and a struggle to survive.”

Does Goiya (a label of Texas-based importer Hemingdale and Hale, which partners with a large South African wine outfit, Westcorp International) seek to perpetuate this heritage of poverty? One hopes not, but in today’s “dancing with wolves” culture, it’s possible. Too many Americans seem to believe that providing any opportunity for these people to join the modern world, live normal lifespans, and participate in a global economy is cultural imperialism.

Cross-cultural marketing does not always go smoothly and the wording of this label may simply reflect an American marketer seeking to add glamor to a new wine-growing region. Moreover, there are many who believe that the poor of the world are a “unique” resource to be “protected” from the contamination of our modern materialistic world. Still, I hope that the company does redesign its label – or perhaps funds a few scholarships for San students. Some of them, I suspect, would like to be able to afford to drink such wines in the future – and live long enough to do so.

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