Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Story of a /Xam Bushman Narrative

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Story of a /Xam Bushman Narrative

Article excerpt


This article explores the intricate discursive histories that have accompanied the telling, transmission, publication and reception of the narratives in the Bleek and Lloyd collection. I will use as an example the story that David Lewis-Williams calls "The First /Xam Man Brings Home a Young Lion" in his selection of materials from the Bleek and Lloyd Collection, Stories That Float from Afar: Ancestral Folklore of the San of Southern Africa. I argue that a contemporary reading of the narrative, either in the notebooks or in the form in which it appears in Lewis-Williams's book, has to take into account a series of events and interventions that undermine its ontological unity. These include the performance and reception of the narrative in various real and virtual spaces as well as its recording, transcription, translation and interpretation.


Hierdie artikel verken die verwikkelde diskursiewe geskiedenisse wat met die vertelling, oordrag, publikasie en resepsie van die narratiewe in die Bleek en Lloydversameling gepaardgegaan het. Ek neem as voorbeeld die verhaal waaraan David Lewis-Wiliams die titel "The First /Xam Man Brings Home a Young Lion" gegee het. Hierdie verhaal is geneem uit sy keuse van verhale uit die Bleek en Lloydversameling getitel Stories That Float from Afar: Ancestral Folklore of the San of Southern Africa. Ek voer aan dat 'n eietydse lesing van die narratief kennis moet neem van gebeure en intervensies wat die ontologiese eenheid daarvan ondermyn. Dit behels benewens die opvoering en resepsie van die narratief in verskeie werklike en virtuele ruimtes ook die opname, transkripsie, vertaling en interpretasie daarvan.

Introduction: A Story

The people who are today generally referred to as the San or Bushmen first came to the attention of the German linguist, Wilhelm Bleek, in the mid-1850s when he was resident in the new British Colony of Natal (Bank 2006: 25). (1) Some fifteen years later Bleek persuaded the governor of the Cape to release into his custody in his home in Mowbray, Cape Town, a number of male /Xam Bushman prisoners from the northern Cape who were incarcerated in the Breakwater Prison. These men became ethnographic informants. This enabled Bleek and his collaborator, his sister-in-law, Lucy Lloyd, to conduct research on /Xam language, culture and mythology for a decade. //Kabbo, the second of the informants, and the oldest, arrived in the Bleek household in early 1871. He proved to be a skilled storyteller and a rich source of information on the way of life the/Xam had pursued before frontier farmers usurped their land. In 1873, towards the end of his stay in Mowbray, //Kabbo related "The Story of a !Khwe // na ssho !kui who Brought Home a Young Lion to Use as a Dog"--a story contained in a number of Lloyd's notebooks (L II.-26. 2320-2412; 27. 2413-2504; 29. 2597-2687; 30. 2688-2779; 31. 2780-2873). (2) It is also available today in David Lewis-Williams's selection of/Xam materials from the Bleek and Lloyd Collection Stories That Float From Afar (2000:174-2005). This story will serve as the basis for the discussion in this essay. I am not primarily concerned with analysing the story itself, though; I have done this elsewhere (Wessels 2011). Here I wish to use it to illustrate my contention that the /Xam materials cannot be treated as timeless examples of mythology or traditional folklore. This is not only because narrative participates in the multivocality of discourse but also because there is no point outside history from which a/Xam narrative could be viewed as a stable artefact.

Michel Foucault (1970, 1972) uses the term episteme to refer to the particular conditions and power differentials that pertain to, and make possible, the constitution of knowledge and its discourses, including aesthetic practices such as literature, in specific epochs. He later acknowledges that different epistemes may coexist within a broader powerknowledge system (1980). …

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