Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Earth as Home: Nature and Refuges/Living Spaces in Some Afrikaans Narratives

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Earth as Home: Nature and Refuges/Living Spaces in Some Afrikaans Narratives

Article excerpt

In The Poetics of Space (1969), Gaston Bachelard argues that a home constitutes a special place in the collection of metaphors relating to humankind's spatial experience. He argues that the essence of human existence can be seen to be contracted and concentrated within specific protective borders.1

Establishing a home is an important cultural act.2 The appropriation of space and the construction of homes and shelters constitute part of a human being's efforts to understand his/her existence in and link to the world.3 This essay investigates three recent Afrikaans narrative works which reveal how humankind's understanding of their place in nature as context finds expression in the processes of the building and organizing of homes.

The works selected for this study are Engela van Rooyen's volume of recollections of her youth, Met 'n eie siekspens, published in 1994 and reprinted in 2005, and two publications from 2007: Sabbatsreis by Annelie Botes and Chinchilla by Nanette van Rooyen.4 In these works, nature is an essential, integral part of the processes of demarcating and establishing personal space through the design and building of sheltering and living spaces. In other words, humankind's interaction with nature forms part of the way(s) in which personal space is occupied and defmed.

The relation between humans and nature has been an important theme in Afrikaans prose writing since its beginnings in the late-nineteenth century.5 Since then, the corpus of works in Afrikaans depicting human coexistence with nature has grown constantly,6 which means that one has to be selective to keep the project within manageable proportions. This essay forms part of a broader comparative investigation of the interaction between humans and nature and focuses on specific contemporary works.

Works with evident differences were chosen. The present selection serves to cover the experiences of characters at various stages in life: the young child CMet 'n eie sie/cspens); the young adult (1Chinchilla); and the middle-aged {Sabbatsreis). Exploring experiences of nature and spaces of refuge and home by such characters may contribute to establishing more reliable conclusions about human nature interactions as depicted in Afrikaans prose.

Further, the texts selected involve characters confronting widely differing situational factors. Met 'n eie sie/cspens depicts experiences within the boundaries of a more or less normal way of life. The two other works feature characters caught up in extraordinary situations, challenged by events which are out of the ordinary but which are particularly relevant to our times. The main character in Sabbatsreis fmds herself in a diasporic situation: like other Afri4 kaners, she has to move to another country in search of work. The central figure in Chinchilla is the victim of another devastating phenomenon in society, that of domestic violence.

These differences are intended to add to the reliability and significance of resemblances found in analysing the characters' means of interaction with nature, both in different life phases and in diverse situational contexts. A final way to ensure reliable results and conclusions flowing from this study was to choose texts that represent different prose traditions in Afrikaans. Van Rooyen's book belongs to a tradition of remembrance literature,7 Botes's work is autobiographical, and Van Rooyen's fictional.

Central to this investigation is the literary manifestation of the interface between two spheres: that of cultural expressions as the outcome of humans' interaction with their context, and that of nature, a sphere explicitly integrated in the building and occupation of homes, as represented in these literary works. My interest focuses on the processes by which boundaries fade away, specifically those conventionally believed to exist between the spheres of nature and culture in situations where human-nature experiences form the core of cultural expression. …

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