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Interpreting |Xam Narrative
Interpreting |Xam Narrative
Much of the material in this book has appeared in a different form and in various journals as listed below: Antjie Krog, Stephen Watson and the Metaphysics of Presence, Current Writing, 118 (3), 2007: 24-48 (www.ukzn.ac.za/currentwriting);
The Discursive Character of the |Xam Texts: A Consideration of the of the Girl of the Early Race Who Made Stars’, Folklore, 119 (1), 2007: 307-324 (www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/0015587X.asp); Myth of Origin or Play of Difference: A Discussion of Two Versions of the |Xam Story of the Moon and the Hare, Current Writing, 20 (1), 2008: 54-68 (www.ukzn.ac.za/currentwriting); New Directions in |Xam Studies: Some of the Implications of Andrew Bank’s Bushmen in a Victorian World: the Remarkable Story of the Bleek-Lloyd Collection of Bushman Folklore, Critical Arts: A Journal of North-South Cultural Studies, 22 (1), 2008: 69-82 (www.tandf.co.uk/journals/rcrc);
The Story in which the Children are Sent to Throw the Sleeping Sun into the Sky: An Exploration of Power, Identity and Difference in a |Xam Narrative, Journal of Southern African Studies. 34 (3), 2008: 479-494 (www.tandf.co.uk/journals/carfax/03057070.html); Text or Presence: On Rereading the |Xam and the Interpretation of their Narratives, Journal of Literary Studies, 24 (3), 2008: 20-39 (www.tandf.co.uk/journals/RJLS); The |Xam Narratives: Whose Myth of Origin? African Studies, 67 (3), 2008: 339-364 (www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/00020184.asp); Religion and the Interpretation of the |Xam Narratives. Current Writing, 20 (2), 2008: 44-66 (www.ukzn.ac.za/currentwriting); The Universal and the Local: the Trickster and the |Xam Narratives, English in Africa, 35 (2), 2008: 7-33 (www.journals.co.za/ej/ejour_iseaeng.html); Foraging, Talking and Tricksters: a Critical Appraisal of Mathias Guenther’s Contribution to Reading the |Xam Narratives, Journal of Folklore Research, 45 (3), 2008: 299-328 (www.indiana.edu/~jofr); Reading the Hartebeest: a Critical Appraisal of Roger Hewitt’s Interpretation of the |Xam Narratives, Research in African Literatures, 40 (2), 2009: 82-108 (http://inscribe.iupress.org/loi/ral).
Interpreting |Xam Narrative
Published in South Africa by Wits University Press 1 Jan Smuts Avenue Johannesburg 2001 http://witspress.wits.ac.za
Copyright© Michael Wessels 2010 First published 2010
ISBN 978-1-86814-506-5 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher, except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act, Act 98 of 1978. The original cover images are San (the 'dancing' Kudu) and Khoekhoen (the abstract figures) art at Twyfelfontein, Namibia accessed on http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San__Khoekhoen_rock_art_-_Namibia.jpg#file. The cover art for Bushman Letters has been reworked by Arlene Mahler-Raviv.
Edited by Alex Potter Indexed by Elaine Williams Cover design and layout by Hothouse South Africa Printed and bound by Ultra Litho (Pty) Ltd.
The Bushmen’s letters are in their bodies. They (the letters) speak, they move, they make their (the Bushmen’s) bodies move. They (the Bushmen) order the others to be silent .... A dream speaks falsely, it is (a thing) which deceives.
(Bleek & Lloyd, Specimens of Bushman Folklore, 1911)
FOREWORD ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY NOTE ON REFERENCES TO THE BLEEK AND LLOYD NOTEBOOKS INTRODUCTION
viii xi xii xiii 1
section 1: TEXT, MYTH AND NARRATIVE
CHAPTER 1: READING NARRATIVE: Some Theoretical Considerations CHAPTER 2: TEXT OR PRESENCE? On Re-reading the |Xam and the Interpretation of their Narratives CHAPTER 3: WHOSE MYTHS ARE THE |XAM NARRATIVES? CHAPTER 4: THE QUESTION OF THE TRICKSTER: Interpreting |Kaggen
INTERPRETING THE |XAM NARRATIVES: A Discussion of Three Books
CHAPTER 5: READING THE HARTEBEEST: A Critical Appraisal of Roger Hewitt’s Interpretation of the |Xam Narratives CHAPTER 6: FORAGING, TALKING AND TRICKSTERS: An Examination of the Contribution of Mathias Guenther’s Tricksters and Trancers to Reading the |Xam Narratives
CHAPTER 7: HISTORY AND INTERPRETATION: Some of the Implications of Andrew Bank’s Bushmen in a Victorian World: The Remarkable Story of the Bleek-Lloyd Collection of Bushman Folklore for Reading the |Xam Narratives
section 3: READING THE NARRATIVES
CHAPTER 8: HARE’S LIP AND CROWS’ NECKS: The Question of Origins and Versions in the |Xam Stories CHAPTER 9: THE STORY IN WHICH ‘THE CHILDREN ARE SENT TO THROW THE SLEEPING SUN INTO THE SKY’: Power, Identity and Difference in a |Xam Narrative
CHAPTER 10: THE STORY OF ‘THE GIRL OF THE EARLY RACE WHO MADE STARS’: The Discursive Character of the |Xam Texts
section 4: CONTROVERSIES
CHAPTER 11: RELIGION IN A |XAM NARRATIVE CHAPTER 12: ANTJIE KROG, STEPHEN WATSON AND THE METAPHYSICS OF PRESENCE
CONCLUSION BIBLIOGRAPHY INDEX
309 312 323
It is difficult to compose a preface for a brilliant book. In one sense, there is nothing more to say, as what the book contains reflects its own perfection. Yet the very essence of Michael Wessels’ extraordinary and rich study of |Xam narrative is that nothing is ever closed and final. The interpretive act is never complete; indeed, the book is about multiplicities. |Xam narrative exists, Wessels tells us, as something in process, something unfinished, never to be cast in stone. His chapters in the section, ‘Reading the Narrative’ constantly force us away from a single and singular reading. Instead, he emphasises the rich and intricate texture of the narratives and shows us the ways in which they invite multiple interpretation and elicit multiple meanings. He invites us to concede difference and to understand that there is no easily marked out common Khoisan tradition. His approach thus takes us away from what he rightly sees as the ‘generalising tendency in the field that holds that all Bushmen (or even all Khoisan) belong to a single culture’. Instead, the book focuses our minds on particularities – the specificities of the |Xam language, out of which his study comes, within the wider sweep of Khoisan languages. He reminds us too of the particular delineations of the individual speakers who passed on their often rich and detailed knowledge and creativities to their interlocutors, Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd, at their home in Mowbray in Cape Town. Through his meticulous research in the Bleek and Lloyd archives and his use of Andrew Bank’s work on the Bleek and Lloyd families and the |Xam informants themselves, Wessels presents for us the quite substantial differences between Bleek and Lloyd in their working habits and views of their informants’ culture. Lucy Lloyd emerges as a woman increasingly interested in the specificity of local cultures and the particularities of |Xam culture, thus moving away from her brother-in-law Wilhelm Bleek’s belief in the dominant theories of social evolution and racial differentiation of his era. Alongside the close gaze that Wessels asks us to engage in, we are taken into a new critical world. Bushman Letters sweeps away the stockades of an old critical habitus that has largely fenced off the study of what was/is often regarded as ‘traditional’ literature from texts seen as ‘modern’. This
approach has also assumed that ‘oral literature’ should be regarded as being linked to the past and not fully part of contemporary literary discourse. Wessels, however, wants an understanding of ‘the signifying practices of the |Xam discursive tradition itself ’. He argues most convincingly that earlier hermeneutic practices have been most interested in overarching patterns and structures, and not in the essence of ‘the thing itself ’. He brings to bear on the productive world of the |Xam narratives and their mediators the work of key contemporary thinkers such as Spivak, Foucault and Bourdieu. He sees the texts themselves as sites of creativity and contestation, which critics and readers have to keep in mind as they engage with the narratives – and, indeed, with similar cultural forms and traditions across the region. Like all fine scholars, Wessels does not see his own work in isolation, but situates it in a wider critical tradition, in his case one that has grown up around the |Xam archive and the hermeneutic principles that inform that tradition. He draws illuminatingly on the classic seminal work of scholars such as Hewitt and Guenther, and interrogates their positions. Finely, carefully and generously, he critiques these interpretations through offering alternative modes of reading, thus providing a kind of metacriticism of what has gone before. He asks us to assume that there may perhaps not have been a social function to the narratives. Neither, he argues, can we assume that the narratives fit into patterns of universal storytelling – this particularly for the stories around the ‘trickster’ figure, /Kaggen, and his family. And neither, he assures us, can we assume that the narratives mesh in some way with the archives of rock painting or sit comfortably with the narratives of other San people. Examine their textuality, he tells us, and do not always see them as the representation of something else – particularly as a representation of lost origins. In connection with the idea of the myth of origins, he engages in particular with the deconstructionist ideas of Derrida, who is one of the main influences on his work. Observe also the narratives’ intertextuality within the broader context of |Xam discourse, he urges. Startlingly, Wessels argues that the stories on which he focuses from the huge Bleek and Lloyd corpus, now digitised, belong not to the past, but to
the present. There is the tendency of certain forms of scholarship – in spite of the work of historians of the nineteenth century such as Penn and Bank – to position the |Xam and their culture in a timeless past. In this reading, therefore, they do not impinge on the present and on the construction of the South African ‘Now’. Yet we understand from Wessels’ book that this narrative world and its dense context are still with us. The |Xam language itself has not survived and its last speakers died at the beginning of the twentieth century, yet the wider world of the Khoisan is very much present. How is this? Many of the contemporary inhabitants of the Cape can claim some Khoisan ancestry. The book, therefore, in its wider vision is a call for both inclusivity and hybridity within the paradigm of the modern South African nation. Most of the groups that make up South Africa: Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaner, Tswana, Cape Coloured and so on possess in genetic, linguistic and cultural terms a strong Khoisan inheritance. In this sense of a hybrid identity within and part of an African society, therefore, the Khoisan past is part of the living present of South Africa. Moreover, the Khoisan inheritance deserves far greater centrality in discussions of what it is to be African. I want to thank Michael Wessels for the graceful complexity of his pathbreaking work. I predict that the book will become a classic text and will shape future research in the field of ‘Bushman letters’ and more widely in the field of contemporary literary criticism and critical discourse. It may also shape public knowledge, which, after all, is the site where history and culture are continually interpreted and reinterpreted. Liz Gunner WISER, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Generous funding from the National Research Foundation (South Africa) and the American Council of Learned Societies has made it possible to write this book. I should like to single out Liz Gunner, Duncan Brown, Cheryl Stobie, Mbulelo Mzamane and Barbara Barkhuizen from among the many scholars whose support and encouragement have been invaluable to me. Anne Solomon’s incisive comments and intellectual friendship have been a major contribution to the development of this book. All writers probably owe a special debt to librarians. I am grateful to the skilful and friendly assistance given me by the librarians of the Cecil Renaud Library, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg; and the librarians of the Manuscripts and Archives Department and the African Studies Library at the University of Cape Town. Much of the material in this book has appeared in different forms over the years in various journals as listed on page ii of Bushman Letters. I thank the editors and publishers of these journals for granting me permission to use material from the articles. The editorial staff of these journals and the reviewers who read my work have all contributed to the process that culminated in this book, as have the reviewers who reviewed the manuscript of this book and suggested revisions that have greatly improved it. I am especially grateful to Veronica Klipp, Julie Miller, Melanie Pequeux and the staff of Wits University Press, and to Alex Potter for his editing. I could never adequately acknowledge the places of sea, mountain and forest in which this book has been written. And finally, my heartfelt thanks to Linzi, Akira, Tao and Cynthia — for the days, the days.
NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY
The term ‘Khoisan’ refers to the pre-colonial inhabitants of southern Africa whose languages formed part of the same wide linguistic family and who can be distinguished linguistically from speakers of the Bantu family of African languages. A distinction is frequently made between Khoi pastoralists and San hunter-gatherers, but this division is not clear cut. Solomon (n.d.) notes that the term ‘San’ more usefully ‘describes language, not phenotype or economic identity’. The Nharo of the central and western Kalahari region, for example, were mostly hunter-gatherers, but spoke a Khoi or Khoe language. The hunter-gatherers of the region are commonly referred to as San or Bushmen. Both these terms have denigratory histories, and neither was invented by the people denominated by it. ‘San’ is a Khoiderived term that refers in an insulting fashion to people without cattle (Bennun 2005: 30), while ‘Bushman’ (or its Afrikaans equivalent, ‘Boesman’) is a term that was introduced by the settlers to the Cape to refer dismissively to the hunter-gatherers of the region. Lucy Lloyd was told by her informant |Han#kass’o that the |Xam and the Korana referred to each other as ‘Saa’, a term that Bank (2006: 289) notes ‘was a derivation of “San”, meaning “thief ” in the language of the Korana’. This book follows, where possible, the practice of writers who use the names that particular groups of ‘Bushman’ or ‘San’ people give themselves, names such as Ju|’hoan or |Xam. This signals an attempt to distance the study from the generalising tendency in the field that holds that all Bushmen (or even all Khoisan) belong to a single culture, with only minor variations. It also represents an attempt to avoid choosing between the terms ‘Bushman’ and ‘San’. It is impossible to avoid this choice altogether, however. Any discussion of the wider field in which a study of the |Xam narratives has to be conducted by reason of inescapable intertextual histories requires the use of one or other of the words. The terms ‘Bushman’ and ‘San’ are used interchangeably in the recent literature. Both have enjoyed at different times and for different reasons the status of politically correct signifiers. At present, the use of one or other of them seems a matter of the writer’s preference.
My decision to use the term ‘Bushman’ has been influenced by the fact that it is the term used in my primary source, the archive known as the Bleek and Lloyd Collection. In addition, this book explores the ideological component of the category of person to which the words ‘Bushman’ and ‘San’ refer. Both terms have the ability to carry the idealised version of the figure of the southern African hunter-gatherer that is examined in the book, but the term ‘Bushman’, in my view, is more appropriate a term to employ in the discussion, also conducted in the book, of earlier views of the ‘Bushman’ — views that were either explicitly racist or were coloured by Darwinian evolutionary ideas
NOTE ON REFERENCES TO THE BLEEK AND LLOYD NOTEBOOKS
I have followed generally accepted practice when quoting from the unpublished notebooks of the Bleek and Lloyd Collection, my primary source. The letter B or L, respectively, is used to indicate whether the notebook was compiled by Wilhelm Bleek or Lucy Lloyd. The Roman numeral, in the case of Lloyd’s notebooks, refers to the informants: |A!kungta (I), ||Kabbo (II), #Kasin (IV), Dia!kwain (V), !Kweiten-ta-||ken (VI) and |Han#kass’o (VIII). The Arabic number following the Roman numeral indicates the number of the notebook collected by Lloyd from a single informant. The final number(s) after the colon refers to the page(s) of all the materials collected in a set of notebooks from a particular informant. An apostrophe following this number indicates that reference is being made to the reverse pages that Bleek and Lloyd used to record information or make observations that illuminated the main text. Thus, a reference to the Lloyd notebooks might read: L.II.32:5506–13’. The Roman numerals that accompany references to Bleek’s notebooks refer to the number of the notebook rather than to an informant.
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