Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

//Kabbo's Challenge: Transculturation and the Question of a South African Ecocriticism

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

//Kabbo's Challenge: Transculturation and the Question of a South African Ecocriticism

Article excerpt


The presence of the "Bushman" in southern African literature and media is pervasive; it is arguably an ineradicable part of our regional identity. Literature derived from San or Bushman testimony provides both an opportunity and a problem for an ecologically orientated critic. This article focuses on Alan James's versions of the testimony of //Kabbo, in the Bleek-Lloyd archive, to explore the question of whether any articulations of the "Bushman" world view might provide a localised basis for a regionally-specific "ecocriticism". It suggests that both tradition and modernity will be inescapable elements of such an ecocriticism, best encompassed in a dynamic version of Ortiz's notion of transculturation.


Die "Boesman" is alomteenwoordig in die Suider-Afrikaanse literatuur en media; stellig is dit onuitwisbaar deel van ons streeksidentiteit. Literatuur afgelei van San- of Boesmangetuienis bled sowel 'n geleentheid as 'n probleem aan die kritikus met 'n ekologiese orientasie. Hierdie artikel fokus op Alan James se weergawes van die getuienis van //Kabbo in die Bleek-Lloyd-argief. Die oogmerk is om ondersoek in te stel na die vraag of enige verwoording van die "Boesman"-wereldbeskouing 'n gelokaliseerde basis vir 'n streekspesifieke "ekokritiek" kan verskaf. Daar word aan die hand gedoen dat sowel tradisie as moderniteit noodwendig elemente van sodanige ekokritiek sal uitmaak, wat ten beste vervat word in 'n dinamiese weergawe van Ortiz se opvatting van transkulturasie.


The following letter recently appeared in the Mail & Guardian:

   It appears that the hallowed Bleek records, housed at the
   University of Cape Town (UCT), could be an elaborate hoax
   perpetrated by the German linguist, Wilhelm Bleek, aided and
   abetted by his sister-in-law, Lucy Lloyd, and his daughter,

      This bombshell was dropped at a conference on marginalised
   languages by Bleek's great-grandson, Hans-Dieter Kepler, during a
   secret seminar on the Watson-Krog affair at UCT.

      "My grandfather had a very odd, almost postmodern, sense of
   humour," he said. "Lucy and he did spend time with the San
   prisoners as a front to their constructing a fictional language to
   intrigue and fool future generations of academics."

      News of this has occasionally been leaked. In Imogen Hartley's
   book, Borges, Bleek and Barthes, she suggested that the joke had
   inspired Borges's masterful allegory of imagination and reality,
   Tlon, Uqbar and Orbis Tertius.

      Supporting this thesis is Lucy Lloyd's letter to her sister,
   Emily, in which she referred to the San as having a wonderfully
   liberating scatological wit and as also being delightfully sly
   pranksters. None of this is evident in the UCT records.

      An interesting fact is that the only person who speaks the
   language is Alvin J. Klingman, a professor of linguistics at the
   University of Arkansas, who is currently rendering Ted Hughes's
   Birthday Letters into /Xam. (1)

The only sly prankster here, of course, is the letter-writer, Cape Town's comic poet Gus Ferguson. Ferguson nevertheless characteristically puts his finger on some important issues. His letter does recognise that the Bleek-Lloyd archive--some 12 000 pages of testimony taken down from said San ex-prisoners in the 1870s, and our primary source on San or Bushman (2) lore --has developed a substantial genealogy of scholarly commentary and creative "versions" of bits of it (see e.g. Hollmann [n.d.]; Skotnes 1996; Deacon & Dowson 1996; Lewis-Williams 2000; Bennun 2004; Bank 2006). Stephen Watson's accusing Antjie Krog of plagiarising his versions is only the (eminently satirisable) tip of that genealogy. Ferguson's delicious squibs about Borges and Barthes are a backhanded recognition that Bushman lore generally has had an immense effect on South African literature and culture. …

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