English South African Children's Literature and the environment/Engelse Suid-Afrikaanse Kinderliteratuur En Die Omgewing

Article excerpt

Abstract

English South African children's literature and the environment

Historical studies of nature conservation and literary criticism of fiction concerned with the natural environment provide some pointers for the study of South African children's literature in English. This kind of literature, in turn, has a contribution to make to studies of South African social history and literature. There are English-language stories, poems and picture books for children which reflect human interaction with nature in South Africa since early in the nineteenth century: from hunting, through domestication of the wilds, the development of scientific agriculture, and the changing roles of nature reserves, to modern ecological concern for the entire environment. Until late in the twentieth century the literature usually endorsed the assumption held by whites that they had exclusive ownership of the land and wildlife. In recent years English-language children's writers and translators of indigenous folktales for children have begun to explore traditional beliefs about and practices in conservation.

Key concepts:

children's literature; South Africa, English environment; conservation of national parks

Opsomming

Engelse Suid-Afrikaanse kinderliteratuur en die omgewing

Historiese ondersoek van natuurbewaring en die literere kritiek van fiksie oor die natuurlike orngewing bide ons 'n paar riglyne vir die bestudering van Suid-Afrikaanse kinderliteratuur in Engels. Hierdie soort literatuur kan op sy beurt weer 'n bydrae maak tot die bestudering van die Suid-Afrikaanse sosiale geskiedenis en letterkunde. Engelstalige verhale, gedigte en prenteboeke vir kinders is beskikbaar wat die mens se interaksie met die natuur sedert vroeg in die negentiende eeu weerspieel: van jag, die rnakrnaak van die wildernis, die ontwikkeling van wetenskaplike landbou, die veranderende rolle van natuurreservate tot by die hedendaagse besorgdheid oor die hele ekologie. Tot laat in die twintigste eeu het hierdie tipe tekste gewoonlik blankes se aanname onderskryf dat hulle die alleenreg op die land en sy wildlewe het. Redelik onlangs het skrywers van kinderboeke in engels en die vertalers van inheemse volksverhale vir kinders begin om tradisionele oorlewerings oor bewaring en bewaringpraktyke te ondersoek.

Kernbegrippe:

kinderlektuur; Suid-Afrika, Engels nasionale parke omgewing; bewaring van

1. A model for the criticism of children's literature featuring the environment

Wildlife and the natural environment have very often provided the backdrop and have frequently been the focus of attention in South African children's literature. Traditional oral literature in the indigenous languages is rich in this subject matter; as for written literature, the very first children's poem set in South Africa was a protest by the English writer, Rev. Isaac Taylor (1820:78), at the hunting of ostriches. The interest continues unabated. English-language authors' attitudes towards nature, and their didactic motives in writing about it, have varied. Much of what they have produced--which presumably was acceptable to the public at the time of publication--is repugnant to the contemporary reader.

Studies in ecological literary criticism and environmental history contextualise this writing, suggesting how it can be understood, appreciated and evaluated. In South Africa, literary critics and historians have explored the construction of "nature", hunting, indigenous culture, land ownership and use, nature reserves, national parks and their connection with white nationalism, social justice, concepts of nature conservation, and environmentalism. English-language children's literature, in turn, has a contribution to make to these studies, although literary scholars have largely neglected it.

Defining "ecologically-oriented criticism", Dan Wylie (2001:83) explains that it

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