tempting the gods

The Gods Must Be Crazy

The Gods Must Be Crazy is a film released in 1980, written and directed by Jamie Uys. Set in Botswana and South Africa, it tells the story of Xi, a Sho of the Kalahari Desert (played by Namibian San farmer Nǃxau) whose tribe has no knowledge of the world beyond. The film is followed by four sequels, the final three of which were made in Hong Kong.


The first film is a collision of three separate stories—the journey of a Sho to the end of the earth to destroy a Coca-Cola bottle, the romance between a bumbling scientist and a schoolteacher, and a band of guerrillas on the run.

The Sho of Xi's tribe are living well off the land in the Kalahari Desert. They are happy because the gods have provided plenty of everything, no one in the tribe has unfilled wants. One day, a glass Coke bottle is thrown out of an aeroplane. Initially, this strange artifact seems to be another boon from the gods—Xi's people find many uses for it. But unlike anything that they have had before, there is only one bottle to go around. This exposes the tribe to a hitherto unknown phenomenon, property, and they soon find themselves experiencing things they never had before: jealousy, envy, anger, hatred, even violence.

Xi decides that the bottle is an evil thing and must be thrown off of the edge of the world. He sets out alone on his quest and encounters Western Civilization for the first time. The film presents an interesting interpretation of civilization as viewed through Xi's perceptions.

There are also plot lines about biologist Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers) who is studying the local animals; the newly-hired village school teacher, a former newspaper reporter named Kate Thompson (Sandra Prinsloo); and some guerrillas led by Sam Boga (Louw Verwey), who are being pursued by government troops after an unsuccessful coup d'état. Also taking a share of the limelight is Steyn's Land Rover, dubbed the Antichrist (also Son of Maraka) by his assistant and mechanic, M'pudi (Michael Thys), for its unreliability and constant need of repair. Also part of the chaos is a fresh safari tour guide named Jack Hind (Nic de Jager), who would often steal Steyn's thunder.

Xi happens upon a farm and, being hungry as well as oblivious to the concept of ownership, shoots a goat with a tranquilizer arrow. For this he is arrested and jailed for stealing livestock. M'pudi, who lived with the Sho for a long time, realizes that Xi will die in the alien environment of a prison cell. He and Steyn manage to hire Xi as a tracker for the 11 weeks of his prison sentence, with the help of M'pudi, who speaks Xi's language. Meanwhile, the guerrillas invade the school where Kate teaches and use her and her pupils as human shields for their escape by foot to the neighboring country. Steyn and Xi manage to immobilize the guerrillas as they are passing by and save Kate and the children. Steyn allows Xi to leave to continue his quest to the edge of the world.

Xi eventually finds himself at the top of a cliff with a solid layer of low-lying clouds obscuring the landscape below. This convinces Xi that he has reached the edge of the world, and he throws the bottle off the cliff. This scene was filmed at a place called God's Window in what was then called the Eastern Transvaal, South Africa (now a separate province called Mpumalanga). This is at the edge of the escarpment between the Highveld and Lowveld of South Africa.

Themes and reception

The first two films both present the Ju/wasi (referred to then and today as Bushmen, although this is a pejorative, with Sho or San being equally correct without bias) as noble savages leading a simple, fairly utopian life in contrast with Western culture. There are several slapstick situations, accentuated by the use of fast motion.

In the film, the arrival of a Coca-Cola bottle, thrown from a passing light aircraft, represents the only exposure that the Ju/wasi have with Western culture (reminiscent of so-called 'Cargo Cults'). However, by the time the movie had been filmed, the massive exposure to cultures outside of their own had shaped the Ju/wasi life in almost every respect; a fact Richard Lee helped bring to light in his book chronicling his anthropological fieldwork.

While a white Western audience found the films funny, there was considerable debate about its racial politics. The portrayal of Xi (particularly in the first film) as incapable of understanding the gods was viewed as insulting by some, including the government of Trinidad and Tobago who consequently banned the film. However, its many fans believe that it is exactly the opposite, a send-up of so-called civilization and condemnation of racism with Xi as the hero.

Some of the debate centered on Xi's reaction to the first white people he met, assuming they were gods since they were strange (he had only known other Sho before), had road vehicles (which he also had never seen before), and were comparatively huge. However, within minutes he began doubting they were gods. The second film clearly shows Xi's greater understanding as he tells the children about the people he had met: "Heavy people ... who seem to know some magic that can make things move," but are "not very bright, because they can't survive without their magic contrivances."

It should also be noted that the films' depictions of the Sho, even if they were accurate in the 1980s (also a source of debate), are clearly no longer accurate. The DVD's special feature "Journey to Nyae Nyae" (N!xau's homeland in northeastern Namibia), filmed in 2003, demonstrates this.


The Gods Must Be Crazy II

A sequel, The Gods Must Be Crazy II, was filmed in 1985 but not released until 1989. Xi's name was changed to Xixo in this film. In it, Xixo's two young children encounter poachers in the Kalahari and explore the back of their truck, and become unable to jump off once it starts moving. Xixo must once again travel great distances to retrieve them, and once again encounters various other western characters who are on quests of their own. The film is notable for the increased role of animals throughout the story, and for its light-hearted treatment of the civil war still raging in nearby Angola at the time.

The Gods Must Be Crazy III-V

N!xau was featured in three low-budget Hong Kong film comedies that continued the fish-out-of-water aspects of the original films. They were filmed in Cantonese and dubbed in other languages. There was also a fourth film that, while unrelated to the series, was marketed on video in some markets as The Gods Must Be Crazy IV.

Fei zhou he shang (非洲和尚, 1991)

Literally: An African Buddhist Monk
Also known as:
* Crazy Safari (English title in Hong Kong)
* Fei jau woh seung (Cantonese title in Hong Kong)
* The Gods Must Be Crazy IIIN!xau The BushmanVampires Must Be Crazy (International English titles)
Plot synopsis: A hopping vampire wreaks havoc in N!xau's tribe, but soon they discover how to handle him and he becomes a great asset to them. Meanwhile a Chinese necromancer, sent by the corpse's descendants, searches for him, together with a bumbling cowardly representative charged with ensuring that the necromancer returns his ancestor as desired.

Heung Gong wun fung kwong (香港也瘋狂, 1993)

Literally: And Hong Kong Goes Crazy
Also known as:
* Crazy Hong Kong (English title in Hong Kong)
* Xiang Gang ye feng kuang (Mandarin title in Hong Kong)
* The Gods Must Be Crazy IV (International English title)

Fei zhou chao ren (非洲超人, 1994)

Literally: An African Superman
Also known as:
* Fei jau chiu yan (Cantonese title in China/Hong Kong)
* The Gods Must Be Crazy VThe Gods Must Be Funny (International English titles)

Yankee Zulu (1993, IMDb)

Also marketed as The Gods Must Be Crazy IV

As of 2007, the three Hong Kong films have not been released in the United States, although they have been released on VCD format in China. The Gods Must Be Funny was recently released on DVD in South Africa.

Jewel of the Gods

The South African film Jewel of the Gods, which also starred Marius Weyers and Sandra Prinsloo, was marketed as a sequel to The Gods Must Be Crazy.


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