Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

B.W. Vilakazi and the Birth of the Zulu novel/B.W. Vilakazi En Die Ontstaan Van Die Zuluroman

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

B.W. Vilakazi and the Birth of the Zulu novel/B.W. Vilakazi En Die Ontstaan Van Die Zuluroman

Article excerpt


B.W. Vilakazi is rightly famous for his Zulu poems that integrate the Zulu creative genius with established European poetic trends. He was also the creator of the Zulu romantic novel having written the first three examples of the genre dealing with both personal and national romantic ideals. These are, however, seldom analysed. This article reflects on the emerging literatures in African languages, their aims, contents and forms. After a general introduction on Vilakazi's life and innovative approach to creative writing within the context of the African mini-renaissance period of the 1930s, there is a brief exposition of Vilakazi's vision of an African literature, rooted in the need for self-identification, and recognition of perceived historical greatness. Then each novel is contextualised and analysed, through a description of the characters that exert the greatest influence on the events, since plot and character are also the highest achievement of the folktale, when told by expert performers. An attempt is also made to identify Afro-centric narrative elements and to justify perceived shortcomings in plot construction.


B.W. Vilakazi is ten regte bekend vir sy Zulugedigte wat die kreatiewe Zulutalent integreer met gevestigde Europese poetiese neigings. Hy is ook die vestiger van die romantiese roman in Zulu deurdat hy die eerste drie voorbeelde van hierdie genre geskryf het, waarin sowel persoonlike as nasionale romantiese ideale betrek word. Hierdie tekste is egter nog min geanaliseer. Hierdie artikel ondersoek die opkomende literatuur in Afrikatale, en die doelstellings, inhoud en vorms daarvan. Na 'n algemene inleiding oor Vilakazi se lewe en sy innoverende aanslag in kreatiewe skryfwerk binne die konteks van die Afrika-minirenaissanceperiode van die dertigerjare van die vorige eeu, volg 'n kort uiteensetting van Vilakazi se visie van 'n Afrika-literatuur wat gegrond is op die behoefte aan selfidentifikasie en erkenning van verworwe historiese statuur. Elke roman word daama gekontekstualiseer en geanaliseer deur 'n beskrywing van die karakters wat die grootste invloed op die gebeure uitoefen, aangesien, die uitbeelding van intrige en karakter in 'n volksverhaal (folklore) die hoogste gereken word wanneer dit deur bekwame uitvoerders vertel word. Daar word ook gepoog om Afrosentriese narratiewe elemente te identifiseer en om telkens waargenome tekortkomings in die konstruksie van die intrige te regverdig.

1. Who is B.W. Vilakazi

This article offers an overview of Benedict Wallet Vilakazi's life (1906-1947), followed by aspects of his literary work that place him in the historical background and justify his fame, especially in poetry. The favourable creative climate at the beginning of Zulu written literature in the 1920s and 1930s is characterised by a drive to artistically portray African problems, culture and history. Vilakazi embraced this challenge as his guiding light. His three novels are then analysed, paying special attention to Afro-centric elements expressed in them.

Vilakazi was born in Groutville, near the KwaZulu Natal border. He attended the local primary school founded by the famous American missionary and linguist Lewis Grout. He was trained as a teacher at Mariannhill under Father Bernhard Huss, an innovative educationist who upheld the validity of African culture and inspired students to scrutinise the western culture inculcated by the British-based school syllabi to identify and possibly integrate elements compatible with African traditions. The Mariannhill archives possess the manuscripts of the famous twelve dramatic sketches, created and performed by the students in 1921-1922, representing stories taken from the Bible, British history, and also notably African history and folklore. These are often considered the first examples of Zulu creative writing. The neat handwriting supposedly belonged to Vilakazi, who was acting as secretary to Fr. …

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