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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Read a feature on Jeff Opland and Pamela Maseko, the main editors and translators of the Jeff Opland Series on Xhosa writers

These features were published in The Sunday Independent.

A feature on Jeff Opland and Pamela Maseko, the main editors and translators of the Jeff Opland Series on Xhosa writers, recently appeared in the Sunday Independent.

Read an extract from the two pieces here:

It is common when thinking of a literary archive in the South African indigenous languages, to focus only on the knowledge of literary heritage of a few authors and their selected writings.

In particular, writings that were used at the point of the introduction of literacy for didactic purposes are the only considered as a literary canon of the language.

It is also common that these selected writings are studied and appreciated only for their literary attributes or as far as they are able to tell us about the biographies of their writers.

The meaningful value of a literary archive is embodied in a letter written in the newspaper Isigidimi, in 1887 by Wellington W. Gqoba. Writing in his capacity as an editor, he says, “But there are reasons for me not to remain idle but to deal briefly with minor aspects of … chronological stories of our national stories … motivated as I am by national envy in doing so. My fervent desire is that our history should be well known and brought into print because all nations who possess a history continue to live and do not die even if they are fragmented.

We are taught the events of the nations of Greece, Rome, Egypt, of the English and so on, who they were and what they are today. Thus, they are very much alive, because even we who never shared their experiences or saw them, at least today we know something about them. Through their historical books, we see them, we discuss them and make an example of some of their sayings and habits as reflected in their present day legacy.”

Gqoba argues that a literary heritage reflects and preserves the national, social and cultural identity of a nation. He posits that from these we can deduce the knowledge and intellectual thoughts of the society on whom the writings are based, knowledge that can be shared with other nations.

He is the author of the first volume in the Opland Xhosa Literature Collection Series. Most of his works, which appeared mainly in Isigidimi were copied and collected by Professor Jeffrey Opland and form part of Opland’s Library Collection.

The Gqoba volume was published in 2015 and was translated and co-edited by Opland, Maseko and Kuse. The works reflect, through various literary genres, the intellectual thought of the isiXhosa-speaking Nguni people of the Eastern Cape, reflecting the African ways of knowing.

As Series Editors, Opland and Maseko are driven by the possibilities that these works can add to the body of knowledge in various disciplines in the academy.

They say it is sad that the academy is silent about African intellectual thought when Africa is teeming in its presence. The right to speak your language, as enshrined in the Bill of Rights, is not enough, if one cannot use it to understand, share and process knowledge in the context of one’s past experiences, and ways of knowing.

Continue reading the features on Opland and Maseko here:

Pamela Maseko Sunday Independent Article

 
 

DLP Yali-Manisi: Iimbali Zamanyange

Book details

 
 

William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe esinembali

 
 


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“Handle history with care – it might come back to bite you”: Stephen Coan on Tribing and Untribing the Archive


 

Former features writer for the Witness, writer-director in film and theatre, and freelance journalist, Stephen Coan, recently wrote an article on Tribing and Untribing the Archive, edited by Carolyn Hamilton and Nessa Leibhammer, discussing the significance of past events which has shaped the current political order. Read Coan’s insightful piece here:

Decolonisation. The use of the word is much in vogue at present; usually invoked to advocate a move away from a Eurocentric focus to one that is Afrocentric. If the concept is to be pursued with serious intent it could have quite unexpected implications for traditional leaders, not only in the province of KwaZulu-Natal but the whole of South Africa.

These implications are made clear in Tribing and Untribing the Archive – Identity and the Material Record in Southern KwaZulu-Natal in the Late Independent and Colonial Periods, edited by Carolyn Hamilton and Nessa Leibhammer, published in two slipcased volumes and consisting of twenty essays and an epilogue drawn from a multidisciplinary team of contributors, including archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, art historians, archivists and curators.

According to the editors the essays provide a window into “not only to see how archives give shape to history, but also how history gives shape to archives.”

But what exactly is “the archive”? On one level it is what has been written: what is found in state repositories, missionary records, personal papers, recorded oral testimony and newspapers. However Tribing and Untribing the Archive goes further, drawing attention “to the extent of the material culture record … little appreciated by researchers outside art history and archaeology.”

Consequently material objects such as snuff spoons, sticks, photographs and artworks are brought within the compass of the archive thus allowing scope for such essays as Nontobeko Ntombela’s Shifting contexts: Material, Process and Contemporary Art in Times of Change and Hlonipha Mokoena’s quirky and intriguing ‘Knobkerrie’: Some Preliminary Notes on the Transformation of a Weapon into a Swagger Stick, or Sometimes a Stick is Not Just a Stick which teases out out the meaning and complexities of a photograph (c.1890) depicting two policemen, one (white and seated) with a swagger stick and the other (black, barefoot, and standing) holding a knobkerrie.

Another group of essays, which include an aspect of Christoph Rippe’s pioneering work on the photographic collections at Mariannhill Monastery plus André Croucamp’s delving into tourism promotion by the Natal Government Railways, reveal how the image of “the Zulu” popularly assumed to be a product of the Zulu heartland north of the Thukela was in fact constructed much further south with paintings and photographs made within easy travelling distance (firstly by horse, then rail) of Durban.

Whatever a contributor’s particular focus all the essays coalesce under the umbrella of the title essay, Tribing and Untribing the Archive by Hamilton and Leibhammer, which elaborates on how “yoked together in the service of colonial and later apartheid rule, the pernicious combination of tribe and tradition continues to tether modern South Africans to ideas about the remote past as primitive, timeless and unchanging, despite substantial scholarly and public critical discussion of the fallacy of these notions.”

Speaking at the book’s launch in Johannesburg contributor John Wright said the most frequent response to its content was: “‘Well, if we can’t call them tribes, what can we call them?’”
“It’s the wrong question,” he countered. “The issue is not about finding new names for a category, but rethinking the nature of the category altogether. Historical work is showing that before the 19th century Africans lived not in bounded, relatively homogeneous ‘tribes’, but in polities, for which we have no word in English, that were fluid, relatively loosely structured groups, organized round the exigencies of making and remaking alliances, and incorporating newcomers.”

“Many people – black and white – today find it very difficult to think beyond Africans as ‘always’ having lived in tribes. They find it very difficult to think historically about African polities.”

While Tribing and Untribing the Archive has a specific regional focus – that of southern Kwazulu-Natal, bounded by the Thukela River in the north and the Mzimvubu in the south – the insights it contains have far wider application. “This area had a very distinctive colonial experience,” said Hamilton at the launch. “And it had a very distinctive experience before that, both before and after Shaka built up his power. What happened in this region has ramifications for the rest of the country.”

With the arrival of white settlers in significant numbers from the 1840s onwards southern KwaZulu-Natal became subject to colonial administration which saw Theophilus Shepstone, the Diplomatic Agent to the Native Tribes, devise a form of indirect rule which controlled African communities via the power of their chiefs. Non-compliant chiefs were either marginalised or, as in the case of the Hlubi leader Langalibalele kaMthimkhulu, designated rebels and violently subjugated. However, the great majority of chiefs recognised by Shepstone happily acquiesced in this system of government and turned it to their advantage. Thus by the end of the nineteenth century the concept of the “tribe” as the basic social and political unit of African society had become rooted in the minds of both the coloniser and the colonised.

Since 1994, as Grant McNulty details in his essay (Re)discovering the Correct History, numerous communities in KwaZulu-Natal have called for recognition of their pasts and identities both before their assimilation into the Zulu kingdom during the time of King Shaka kaSenzangakhona or their later status under colonial rule, “wrestling with how best to navigate these oppressed histories and how and what to present as evidence in support of their claims.”

This has seen frequent recourse to the archive, as the Campbell Collections in Durban and local state repositories can attest, in order “to strengthen and validate claims for traditional leadership submitted to the Nhlapo Commission and the Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims.” The archive has also been used by lawyers investigating land claims while many members of the public have taken to researching their histories to try and re-establish their roots and identity.

According to McNulty the resultant re-emergence of the pre-Zulu history of the Hlubi, Ndwandwe, Quabe, and Nhlangwini represents “a direct threat to the authenticity and power of the Zulu king as a custodian and symbol of a unified Zulu nation.”

Post-1994 the liberation movements deliberately moved away from the tribal concept, a trajectory widely expected to continue. “Paradoxically, the opposite has happened,” according to Wright in Making Identities in the Thukela-Mzimvubu Region.

“National and provincial governments sought first to accommodate and then to win the support of ‘traditional leaders’ by recognising and augmenting the authority they exercised in terms of ‘customary law’ in ‘tribal areas’ based on those established in the eras of colonialism and apartheid.” Or, to put it another way, what is the decolonisation project to do with traditional leaders whose status came into being as the result of collaboration with the colonial regime or direct colonial appointment?

There are no easy answers to such questions and if nothing else, as Mbongiseni Buthelezi puts it in his perceptive epilogue: “These volumes show us that we know neither enough about the past before colonialism nor about the ways in which local institutions were reshaped in the early years of colonialism to suit a form of indirect colonial rule.”

“We need more investigation into the longer past because the more we know about the forms of social organisation, leadership, relations between neighbours and so on that existed prior to the advent of European settlement, the better we give back to the present and future their pasts.”

Tribing and Untribing the Archive marks both a beginning of that process and a challenge to the current political order.

 

Tribing and Untribing the Archive

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Living Together, Living Apart? explores social cohesion in South Africa

These ‘interventions’ are spurred by what in South Africa today is a buzz-phrase: social cohesion. The term, or concept, is bandied about with little reflection by leaders or spokespeople in politics, business, labour, education, sport, entertainment and the media.

Yet, who would not wish to live in a socially cohesive society? How, then, do we apply the ideal in the daily round when diversity of language, religion, culture, race and the economy too often supersedes our commitment to a common citizenry? How do we live together rather than live apart? Such questions provoke the purpose of these interventions.

The interventions – essays, which are short, incisive, at times provocative – tackle issues that are pertinent to both living together and living apart: equality/inequality, public pronouncement, xenophobia, safety, chieftaincy in modernity, gender-based abuse, healing, the law, education, identity, sport, new ‘national’ projects, the role of the arts, South Africa in the world.

In focusing on such issues, the essays point towards the making of a future, in which a critical citizenry is key to a healthy society.
 
 
 

Contributors include leading academics and public figures in South Africa today: Christopher Ballantine, Ahmed Bawa, Michael Chapman, Jacob Dlamini, Jackie Dugard, Kira Erwin, Nicole Fritz, Michael Gardiner, Gerhard Maré, Monique Marks, Rajend Mesthrie, Bonita Meyersfeld, Leigh-Ann Naidoo, Njabulo S. Ndebele, Kathryn Pillay, Faye Reagon, Brenda Schmahmann, Himla Soodyall, David Spurrett and Thuto Thipe.

Christopher Ballantine, Michael Chapman and Gerhard Maré are professors emeriti who are affiliated to the University of KwaZulu-Natal. They have all published prominently in areas of the humanities and social sciences in South Africa. Kira Erwin is a researcher at the Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology. Her publications focus on race, space and urban identities.

Contents

Introduction
1 At Ease with Being ‘Citizen’ and ‘Human Being’
Njabulo S. Ndebele

2 Human Variation: What Can We Learn from Genetics?
Himla Soodyall and Faye Reagon

3 Agreeing to Disagree
David Spurrett

4 The Danger of Empty Words: from Rhetoric to Action
Kira Erwin

5 What Social Cohesion? Binding through Shared Austerity
Gerhard Maré

6 Where Walls Don’t Divide: Dreaming a Suburban Life
Monique Marks

7 Bound by Tradition: Chieftaincy in a ‘New’ South Africa
Thuto Thipe

8 ‘AmaNdiya, they’re not South Africans!’ Xenophobia and Citizenship
Kathryn Pillay

9 ‘Them’ and ‘Us’: Politics, Poetry and the Public Voice
Michael Chapman

10 ‘Urban Cool!’ Social Bridging in Language
Rajend Mesthrie

11 Sounds like a Better Future: Musicking for Social Change
Christopher Ballantine

12 Embroidering Controversy: The Politics of Visual Imaging
Brenda Schmahmann

13 Mothers, Children and Mathematics: Ways to a Better Society
Ahmed Bawa

14 Coercion or Cohesion? Educators in a Democracy
Michael Gardiner

15 Sexual Harassment and Violence: Higher Education as Social Microcosm
Jackie Dugard and Bonita Meyersfeld

16 The ‘Hidden’ Curriculum of South African Sport
Leigh-Ann Naidoo

17 The Global Obligations We Owe: A Source of Domestic Cohesion?
Nicole Fritz

18 The Death of Jacob Dlamini
Jacob Dlamini

Living Together, Living Apart?

Book details

  • Living Together, Living Apart?: Social Cohesion in a Future South Africa by Christopher Ballantine, Kira Erwin, Gerhard Mare
    EAN: 9781869143329
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Durban book launch of Tribing and Untribing the Archive: Volumes 1 and 2

University of KwaZulu-Natal Press invites you to the launch of Tribing and Untribing the Archive. Dr Vukile Khumalo will be in conversation with editors Carolyn Hamilton and Nessa Leibhammer.

Both volumes of Tribing and Untribing the Archive will be sold as a single set.

Event Details

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The Illustrated Glossary of Southern African Architectural Terms an insightful look at the culture of southern Africa’s rural builders

Since 1994 South Africa has undergone a steady erosion of its indigenous built environment, with a concomitant loss of indigenous building technology and its specialised terminology.

This glossary is based on the premise that you cannot understand the culture of a people unless you have a grasp of the nuances and hidden meanings of their language and brings together in one single volume the terminologies that are used by southern Africa’s rural builders. It covers the terminology used by indigenous builders as well as subsequent colonial white settlers including buildings of the so-called Cape Dutch, English Georgian, Victorian and Indian Traditions.

The text is set out in alphabetical order. It comprises each term in its original language, its translation where appropriate into isiZulu, and its definition in English and isiZulu. One of the strengths of this book is its visual component of accompanying sketches that expertly illustrate the terms.

This book is designed not only to assist in the teaching of architecture, but also to aid others who are interested in the field. Researchers and practitioners in disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology, culture studies and building science will find it a valuable addition to their libraries.
 

Franco Frescura was Professor and Chair of Architecture at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has published widely in the fields of indigenous architecture, colonial settlement and culture conservation. He has lectured in Europe, North America and South-East Asia. In 2010–2011 he was appointed Erasmus Mundus Scholar at the Technische Universität Darmstadt.

Joyce Myeza was a Fulbright Scholar at Simmons College, Boston. She is currently the Director of Libraries and Special Collections at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her current research interests include indigenous knowledge systems and enterprise architecture.

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Jeff Opland awarded the Order of Ikhamanga: Silver for his contribution to history and South African literature

Jeff Opland has been awarded the Order of Ikhamanga: Silver for his outstanding contribution to the field of history and an impressive body of works in literature. The award read: “Your work exhumes stories of the dead and brings them to life so that the living can continue to learn and benefit.”

The Ikhamanga flower (more commonly referred to as the strelitzia, crane, or bird or paradise flower) is one of the world’s most recognisable flowers and is indigenous to the Eastern Cape. The Ikhamanga is the central motif of the Order of Ikhamanga and symbolises the unique beauty of the achievements of South Africans in the creative fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport.

The Opland Collection of Xhosa Literature is the academic library of Jeff Opland assembled in the course of his research into Xhosa folklore, especially praise poetry, and the history of Xhosa literature. Its contents include field recordings of Xhosa poets (1969–85), books and pamphlets in isiXhosa, and copies of literature published in ephemera. The Publications Series draws on material in the Collection, and presents diplomatic editions with English translations of significant works in isiXhosa, for the most part previously unrecognised or unavailable as published books, and studies of material in the Collection.

The ceremony will be held at the Presidential Guest House on 28 April 2017.

John Solilo: Umoya wembongi

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New: Ordered States: Welfare, Power and Maternalism on Zimbabwe’s (Once White) Highveld by Andrew MC Hartnack

Ordered Estates offers a sophisticated and nuanced portrait of Zimbabwe’s contemporary agrarian landscape, providing a valuable contribution to the growing body of work about changes in different social, political, structural and cultural spheres generated in the post-2000 “Fast Track” era.

- Amanda Hammar, MSO Professor of African Studies, University of Copenhagen

Ordered StatesUKZN Press is proud to present Ordered States: Welfare, Power and Maternalism on Zimbabwe’s (Once White) Highveld by Andrew MC Hartnack:

There is a growing body of work on white farmers in Zimbabwe. Yet the role played by white women – so-called “farmers’ wives” – on commercial farms has been almost completely ignored, if not forgotten.

For all the public role and overt power ascribed to white male farmers, their wives played an equally important, although often more subtle, role in power and labour relations on white commercial farms. This “soft power” took the form of maternalistic welfare initiatives such as clinics, schools, orphan programmes and women’s clubs, most overseen by a “farmer’s wife”. Before and after Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence these played an important role in attracting and keeping farm labourers, and governing their behaviour. After independence they also became crucial to the way white farmers justified their continued ownership of most of Zimbabwe’s prime farmland.

This book provides the first comprehensive analysis of the role that farm welfare initiatives played in Zimbabwe’s agrarian history. Having assessed what implications such endeavours had for the position and well-being of farmworkers before the onset of “fast-track” land reform in the year 2000, Hartnack examines in vivid ethnographic detail the impact that the farm seizures had on the lives of farmworkers and the welfare programmes which had previously attempted to improve their lot.

About the author

Andrew Hartnack holds a PhD from the University of Cape Town. He is a Director at the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, a leading South African research and advocacy organisation.

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University of KwaZulu-Natal Press at the 2016 Hilton Arts Festival

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University of KwaZulu-Natal Press will be strongly represented at the Hilton Arts Festival this year.

The Hilton Arts Festival takes place from 16-18 September at Hilton College in KwaZulu-Natal.

Cash only tickets can be purchased at the venue door from 30 minutes before each performance.

For more information visit www.hiltonfestival.co.za!

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Zulu Plant Names by Adrian Koopman

17 SEPTEMBER • 12 noon – 1pm • CFI Lecture Theatre

Zulu Plant NamesIn this book Adrian Koopman details the complex relationship between plants, the Zulu language and Zulu culture. Zulu plant names do not just identify plants, they tell us a lot more about the plant, or how it is perceived or used in Zulu culture. For example, the plant name umhlulambazo (what defeats the axe’ tells us that this is a tree with hard, dense wood, and that usondelangange (come closer so I can embrace you) is a tree with large thorns that snag the passer-by. In a similar vein, both umakuphole (let it cool down) and icishamlilo (put out the fire) refer to plants that are used medicinally to treat fevers and inflammations. Plants used as the base of love-charms have names that are particularly colourful, such as unginakile (she has noticed me), uvelabahleke (appear and they smile) and the wonderfully named ungcingci-wafika-umntakwethu (how happy I am that you have arrived, my sweetheart!). And then there are those plant names that are just plain intriguing, if not mystifying: umakhandakansele (the heads of Mr Ratel), isandlasonwabu (hand of a chameleon), intombikayibhinci (the girl does not wear clothes) and ukhuningomile (piece of firewood, I am thirsty).

Adrian Koopman is an Emeritus Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He retired as Professor of isiZulu Studies after 37 years of teaching Zulu language and literature.

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Writing Home: Lewis Nkosi on South African Writing edited by Lindy Stiebel and Michael Chapman

17 SEPTEMBER • 1.30pm – 2.30pm • CFI Lecture Theatre

Writing HomeLewis Nkosi’s insights into South African literature, culture and society first appeared in the 1950s, when the ‘new’ urban African in Sophiatown and on Drum magazine mockingly opposed then Prime Minister HF Verwoerd’s Bantu retribalisation policies. Before his death in 2010, Nkosi focused on the literary-cultural challenges of post-Mandela times. Having lived for 40 years in exile, he returned to South Africa, intermittently, after the unbannings of 1990. His critical eye, however, never for long left the home scene. Hence, the title of this selection of his articles, essays and reviews, Writing Home. Combining the journalist’s penchant for the human-interest story with astute analysis, Nkosi’s ideas, observations and insights are as fresh today as when he began his 60-year career as a writer and critic.

Lindy Stiebel is a professor of English Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and visiting professor at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Michael Chapman is affiliated as a senior researcher to the Durban University of Technology. He is also an emeritus professor and fellow of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction by JU Jacobs

17 SEPTEMBER • 3pm – 4pm • CFI Lecture Theatre

Diaspora and Identity in South African FictionSouth African identities, as they are represented in the contemporary South African novel, are not homogeneous but fractured and often conflicted: African, Afrikaner, ‘coloured’, English, and Indian – none can be regarded as rooted or pure, whatever essentialist claims members of these various ethnic and cultural communities might want to make for them.All of them, this book argues, are deeply divided and have arisen, directly or indirectly, out of the experience of diasporic displacement, migration and relocation, from the colonial, African and Indian diasporas to present-day migrations into and out of South Africa and diasporic dislocations within Africa. This study of twenty works by twelve contemporary South African novelists – Breyten Breytenbach, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Aziz Hassim, Michiel Heyns, Elsa Joubert, Zakes Mda, Njabulo S. Ndebele, Karel Schoeman, Patricia Schonstein Pinnock, Ivan Vladislaviç and Zoë Wicomb – shows how diaspora is a dominant theme in contemporary South African fiction, and the diasporic subject its most recognisable figure.

JU Jacobs is Emeritus Professor of English, Senior Research Associate and Fellow of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. He has published extensively on South African and postcolonial fiction and autobiography.

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Don’t miss the launch of John Solilo: Umoya wembongi: Collected poems (1922–1935) in Grahamstown

Invitation to the launch of John Solilo: Umoya wembongi: Collected poems (1922–1935)

 
John Solilo: Umoya wembongi: Collected poems (1922–1935)UKZN Press and the Rhodes University School of Languages: African Language Studies would like to invite you to the launch of John Solilo: Umoya wembongi: Collected poems (1922–1935) edited by Jeff Opland and Peter T Mtuze.

Come and celebrate the publication of the third volume in the Opland Collection of Xhosa Literature at the National Arts Festival on Tuesday, 5 July. The launch will start at 2:30 PM, with an introduction to the series by Pamela Maseko.

Entrance is free and refreshments will be served.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

 
About the book

Publication of the Opland Collection of Xhosa Literature Volume 3

John Solilo (1864–1940) was a prolific contributor to Xhosa-language newspapers. He submitted letters and articles on a variety of issues, local news reports from Cradock and Uitenhage, and a considerable body of poetry. His major literary contribution was his collection of poems entitled Izala (A Rubbish Dump), published in 1925, the earliest volume of poetry by a single author in the history of Xhosa literature.

Solilo’s literary reputation today, however, is at variance with his prominence as a major author in the first four decades of the twentieth century: he is hardly mentioned, if at all, by literary historians, Izala has long been out of print, and copies can no longer be located. In restoring to the public domain the 65 poems that made up Izala and adding an additional 28 that were published in newspapers both before and after the appearance of Izala, the editors hope to revive Solilo’s reputation as a poet, and to establish his status as a preeminent Xhosa author.

In his poetry, Solilo urged passivity and opposed political revolt, but he could also be scathing in his denunciation of black indignities suffered under white control, inspired as he was by umoya wembongi, the spirit of the imbongi, the praise poet whose stirring declamations roused his audiences to action or contemplation.

About the editors

Jeff Opland has devoted himself to defining and restoring the heritage of literature in the Xhosa language. Among other works, with Peter Mtuze he edited two anthologies of Xhosa literature, Isigodlo sikaPhalo (1983) and Izwi labantu (1994). Opland is currently Visiting Professor in the School of Languages: African Language Studies at Rhodes University.

Peter T Mtuze is the most prolific living isiXhosa writer: he has produced novels, short stories, essays, drama, poetry, autobiography and language books. Mtuze’s first book, UDingezweni (1966), is regarded as a classic novel. One of his singular achievements was his translation of former President Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, into isiXhosa. He worked on the University of Fort Hare Xhosa Dictionary Project, at the University of South Africa and at Rhodes University, where he retired as Professor Emeritus.

 
Related links:

 

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Find out more about Impundulu, the Lightning Bird


 
Zulu Plant NamesRead an excerpt from Adrian Koopman’s paper “Lightning Birds and Thunder Trees” exploring the Impundulu of Zulu culture.

Koopman is the author of Zulu Plant Names, published late last year by UKZN Press.

This paper was published in Natalia in 2011, and is available to download for free.

 
Related links:

 

Read an excerpt:

The “lightning bird”, in Zulu both impundulu and inyoni yezulu (“bird of the heavens”) appears to manifest in two distinct ways in Nguni culture. On the one hand, it manifests specifically as a bird associated with lightning; on the other hand as the familiar of a female witch, in which case it may change its shape frequently (often to that of a handsome young man), and is associated with evil and malice rather than lightning.

Let us look first at the association of the impundulu with lightning. Callaway (1970:119) presents us with some interesting detail:

“The bird of heaven” is a bird which is said to descend from the sky when it thunders, and to be found in the neighbourhood of the place where the lightning has struck. The heavendoctors place a large vessel of amasi mixed with various medicines near a pool such as is frequently met with at the top of hills; this is done to attract the lightning, that it might strike in that place. The doctor remains at hand watching, and when the lightning strikes the bird descends, and he rushes forward and kills it. It is said to have a red bill, red legs, and a short red tail like fire; its feathers are bright and dazzling, and it is very fat. The bird is boiled for the sake of the fat, which is mixed with other medicines and used by the heaven-doctors to puff on their bodies (pepeta) and to anoint their lightning rods, that they be able to act on the heavens without injury to themselves. The body is used for other purposes as medicine. A few years ago some peacocks’ feathers were sold at a great price among the natives of Natal, being supposed to be the feathers of this bird.

We have already seen earlier in this article that the fat of a lightning bird is an essential element in making the medicinal mixture used to doctor pegs used for lightning protection. Of interest is the symbolism of the pot of amasi (sour milk) used to attract the lightning to a distant hill-top, presumably well away from human habitation. This would of course appear to work very well, given that lightning is naturally attracted to high hill-tops. Hammond-Tooke points out (1962:273) that in the homestead itself calabashes of amasi and milk must be hidden.

Berglund (1976:39) tells of a young man who was present when lightning came into a hut and killed an old woman and two children. His perceptions of the strike were as follows:

Looking, I saw the thing. It was fearful to see and moved very quickly. But I saw it clearly. It was a bird. The feathers were white, burning. The beak and the legs were red with fire, and the tail was something else, like burning green or the colour of the sky. It ran quickly, saying nothing, simply snatching those whom it took. Then it touched the grass with fire.

According to a number of Berglund’s heaven-herd sources, the lightning-bird is sent by the “Lord-of-the-Sky” when he “wishes to have a human” (op.cit., 40). His sources go on to say that there is no mourning for someone killed by lightning, as this would be regarded “as an arrogant act of rebellion against the Lord-of-the-Sky”. Nor, apparently, is there an ukubuyisa ritual for one struck by lightning.

The “lightning-strike-as-bird” metaphor is continued in the belief that when lightning strikes, the bird is alighting to lay its eggs. This idea has an extra spin to it in the Bhaca belief

… that electricity is the excreta of the lightning bird and that White people chase the bird until it excretes an oillike fat. This is electricity. The excreta is very fluid and everything it touches is burnt. (Hammond-Tooke, 1960:282fn)

Hammond-Tooke agrees that for the Xhosa and Bhaca the lightning-bird (impundulu) is associated with lightning (1960:382):

The spectacular and dangerous properties of lightning have formed the basis of another Bhaca belief, that in the intsaka yetulu, 13 the “bird of heaven”, called in Xhosa, impundulu. The impundulu is identified with the lightning; thunder is the beating of its wings, while the flash indicates the laying of its eggs that will hatch the following summer.

He goes a little further, though, on the relationship between lightning and evil, saying that the flicking of “muthi” around the borders of the homestead is “to drive away imishologu (evil influences, including the lightning) that encompass the kraal” (1960:272). This apparent relationship between lightning and evil leads us to the second manifestation of the lightning-bird, as a familiar, and Bhaca beliefs here clearly go way beyond what Berglund records about the impundulu in Zulu society. Hammond-Tooke begins (op. cit., 279) by saying that “no one knows for certain who is a witch” and that “the submissive young bride, outwardly demure and obedient, might be the possessor of the dreaded lightning bird, whose kick can cause sickness and death.” He continues
(op.cit., 282-283):

The bird may also be possessed by women as a familiar … [It] comes to its mistress in the form of a beautiful young man, often white and dressed in a grey suit, who has sexual connexion with her.

Clearly members of the Bhaca society must be very careful about how they deal with people even if they are “outwardly demure and obedient” for

The intsaka yetulu appears to a person in the form of a young man in a grey suit who asks why he is annoying its owner. There and then it turns into that old bird and kicks him until he dies.

It is worth noting that an intsaka yetulu may be sent to someone by letter. If you should open that letter, soon you will be visited by the same young man in a grey suit who will turn into a bird and kick you until you die.

Although there is no indication in the anthropological literature on the Zulus of this Protean bird which shifts easily between the personable young man in the grey suit and the bird with a fatal kick, it is worth noting that Doke and Vilakazi (1957:513) say for the entry impundulu that this is a “bird supposed to be used by women in witchcraft”.

They do not mention the link with lightning strikes. Bryant’s 1906 dictionary does not record the word impundulu, which makes me wonder if this is not a comparatively late adoptive into Zulu from Xhosa. There is a possible link between the word impundulu and the similar word impundu in Zulu. Doke and Vilakazi (1957:677) give three meaning for this word: “1) gate-post; 2) smaller lobe of beast’s liver; 3) species of plant, Gasteria glabra, whose bulbous roots are placed at the kraal-entrance to cause forgetfulness in would-be evil-doers”, and say it is derived from the verb phundula (“lead astray, mislead, puzzle, confuse, frustrate”). Bryant (1906:516) says the same, but in more detail:

impundu: one of the posts standing on either side of the entrance to the isibaya (not kraal); the smaller lobe of a beast’s liver, said to make a man forgetful if he eats it, therefore the perquisite of the old women; a certain plant whose bulbous root is stuck at the entrance to kraals in order to make the abatakati forgetful of their evil practices.

Both Hutchings (1996:35) and Pooley (1998:342,430) recognise impundu as a Zulu name for various species of Gasteria, with Hutchings saying of Gasteria croucheri that the leaf infusions are used as protective sprinkling charms and that the plant is cultivated on hut roofs as protective charms against lightning.

Before we move on to the “thunder tree”, it is interesting to note other bird species linked to lightning and other forms of weather. Hammond-Tooke (1960:288) tells us that

… if the uthekwane [Hamerkop] or indlazanyoni [Speckled Mousebird] flies over a kraal or alights on it, it is said that lightning will strike the homestead, but if the bird is killed or driven away the evil will be averted

and that

The owl (isikhova) is also considered a bird of ill-omen, for if it hoots round a kraal someone will become sick, or lightning will strike the stock.

Krige (1950:315) tells us that

The commonest fat used as an ingredient in this [anti-lightning] pegmedicine is that of the Ngqungqulu bird (Helotarsus ecaudatus) [Bateleur Eagle] which, when flying quickly, makes a noise like thunder, and to this is sometime added fat of a “peacock” which is said to cry and ruffle its feathers before thunder.

Krige also associates the Bateleur Eagle, as well as the Ground Hornbill, with rain (op.cit., 321):

The insingizi bird [Ground Hornbill] is closely associated with heaven and the rain, for if many izinsingizi walk in the open country and cry, it is an omen that it will rain. Another heaven-bird, for the death of which the heavens will mourn, is the iNgqungqulu [Bateleur] … it, too, is killed for rain. If this bird cries while flying it foretells rain.

Woodward and Woodward (1899:97) noted much earlier of the Ground Hornbill, “It is generally heard crying before rain, from which the natives think it has the power of bringing rain …”, and although they do not mention it, Burchell’s Coucal (Z. ufukwe) is also known by the colloquial name “the Rain Bird”.

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