The Tongue is Fire
South African Storytellers and Apartheid
Publication Year: 1996
With tape-recorder and camera in hand, Scheub registered the testaments of Swati, Xhosa, Ndebele, and Zulu storytellers, farming people who lived in the remote reaches of rural South Africa. While young people fought in the streets of Soweto and South African writers made the world aware of apartheid’s evils, the rural storytellers resisted apartheid in their own way, using myth and metaphor to preserve their traditions and confront their oppressors. For more than 20 years, Scheub kept the promise he made to the storytellers to publish his translations of their stories only when freedom came to South Africa. The Tongue Is Fire presents these voices of South African oral tradition—the historians, the poets, the epic-performers, the myth-makers—documenting their enduring faith in the power of the word to sustain tradition in the face of determined efforts to distort or eliminate it. These texts are a tribute to the storytellers who have always, in periods of crisis, exercised their art to inspire their own people.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Title Page, Copyright
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"But the tongue," said the apostle, James, "can no man tame. . . ."
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INTRODUCTION: SOME MOMENTS, FIGURES, AND THEMES IN SOUTH AFRICAN HISTORY
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Wandering through the rural countryside of South Africa, I came upon a rocky outcrop, undistinguished from a distance: grass and bushes, and a few isolated trees marked the spot, and rondavel-style homes punctuated the farmlands that ringed the area. A sparse grove of stunted trees cloaked the slate of rock, but as I ventured around the trees, I could see shadowed behind them a concave...
Prologue: FOUNDERS OF THE INHERITANCE
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"Let Me Go Back"
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The storyteller and the historian strengthened the will of the people to withstand apartheid's onslaught by firmly weaving images from the past into the experience of the present. We therefore launch this odyssey into the world of the storyteller with a set of genealogies, "Origins of the Xhosa," created by a respected Xhosa historian, Ndumiso Bhotomane, in 1967. A number of Xhosa elders were in...
ORIGINS OF THE XHOSA
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The Xhosa are a nation that came down from the north, from the north of Africa. Xhosa, the one after whom the Xhosa people are named, descended, and during his emergence from the north he fathered Malangana: Malangana then fathered Malandela, Malandela fathered Nkosiyamntu, Nkosiyamntu fathered Tshawe, Tshawe fathered Sikhomo, Sikhomo fathered Togu, Togu fathered Ngconde, Ngconde fathered Tshiwo, Tshiwo fathered Phalo.
Part One: CULTIVATING THE PAST: "THIS IS GOD'S PLACE"
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Storyteller, historian, epic-performer, poet: all create their works in much the same way, in the sense that each manipulates and patterns relations between images of the past and those of present time. Nongenile Masithathu Zenani, a Xhosa storyteller,4 reveals this function of the storyteller when she describes the role played by the ritual master of ceremonies in real life, as he orders and shapes the actions of...
THE NECESSARY CLOWN
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She 1 was taken to be married to her homestead by marriage. The bridal party consisted of two young women, one being her sister who came directly after her in age. The other was also from the village. Also in the bridal retinue were two older women, an older woman together with an inkazana 2 who, in comparison with the other, was still young. And there were two men, an older man together with a younger.
THE ENDLESS MOUNTAIN
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This epical narrative, the beginning of what would become a seventeen-day performance, began in mid-morning on July 1, 1975, at Nongenile Masithathu Zenani's home in Nkanga, Gatyana District, the Transkei. In the audience were seven women and two men: they remained a constant audience throughout the performance. Other men and women joined them from time to time, as the audience waxed and waned during the seventeen days. Mrs. Zenani had heard this story as a teenager, and had told it in parts...
Part Two: AMBIGUOUS PROMISE: "IT KEEPS ON HAPPENING, IT KEEPS ON HAPPENING"
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The tale-teller is the person who most regularly and persuasively touches every member of the community. This creator moves behind the facts of history, and clarifies, defines, and elucidates the experiences of the people. She thereby sustains the society's traditions, those institutions that give context and meaning to daily life. Noplani Gxavu's story "Malikophu's Daughter" and Emily Ntsobane's...
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Noplani Gxavu, a Gcaleka woman about thirty-five years old, performed this story on September 17, 1967, along a hillside in Nkanga, Gatyana District, in the Transkei. In the audience were seven women, three men, and five children. (673; tape 13, side 2) In another time, three destitute men journeyed to seek work. There were no vehicles for transporting people in those days, so the men set out on foot, sleeping along the way. On the morning that began...
THE DEADLY PUMPKIN
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Emily Ntsobane, a Hlubi woman, performed this story on September 28, 1967, in the late afternoon. The performance took place at the back of a home in Mgugwani, Lusikisiki District, in the Transkei. Mrs. Ntsobane, originally from Matatiele District in the Transkei, was forty years old. The audience consisted of some fifteen children and teenagers. (786; tape 18, side 1) A certain man married. His wife arrived at his home, and she conceived;...
Part Three: THE THREATENED DREAM: "THE LAND WAS SEIZED"
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Like the storyteller, the poet and the historian take the names and events of the past, and cast these into metaphors and stories that give them cultural meaning. The poet takes history and, by placing shards of history into the resonant embrace of metaphor, links people and their acts to the mythical essence of the culture. If the poet adds metaphor to history, the historian adds story to names,...
SO TALL HE TOUCHED THE HEAVENS
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The Mpondomise poet, Mdukiswa Tyabashe, was seventy-four years old when he performed this poem on August 12, 1967. Mr. Tyabashe was formerly the official poet, the imbongi, of Chief Lutshoto of the Mpondomise. This poem was performed at the royal residence of Chief Diliz' Iintaba Mditshwa at Mdibanisweni, Tsolo District, in the Transkei. In the audience were about two hundred Mpondomise men and women. (122; tape 3, side 2)
ALL THE LAND OF THE MPONDOMISE
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Mdukiswa Tyabashe, seventy-four years old, was a respected Mpondomise historian. This history was related on the evening of August 10, 1967, before an audience of six Mpondomise elders. It took place in a home in Ngcolosi, Tsolo District, in the Transkei. (119; tape A-1, side 2) FROM THE BLUE REGION THE EMERGENCE OF THE MPONDOMISE NATION On the origin of the Mpondomise.... A nation emerged from above, from the lakes in the blue region. It was...
SNAPPING AT THE WATER'S FOAM
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Mtshophane Mamba, a Swati and an official court poet, was about sixty years old when he performed this poem on October 9, 1972. The performance took place at the royal residence of King Sobhuza II, in Entfonjeni, Swaziland. The audience consisted of ten men, five women, and one child. (NS-1426; tape 33, side 2)
THE LAND WAS SEIZED
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Chief Ndumiso Bhotomane, an eightY-four year old Gcaleka, related this history on September 10, 1967, at his home in Rwantsana, Centane District, the Transkei. Three Gcaleka elders were in attendance. (589; tape 10, side 2) Something occurred over there at Bawa, in Nqenqa's jurisdiction, among the Nzotshwa clan over there. There they are: beer was being brewed on the occasion of the marriage of the daughter of the son of Ngcayechibi.
THE LAND HAS GROWN OLD
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The poet and performer was Ashton Ngcama, a Mpondo, born in 1923; he has lived among the Xesibe since he was a child. This performance took place on August 24, 1972, in Mount Ayliff District in the Transkei. In the audience were seven Xesibe men. (NS-486; tape 15, side 2)
TEARS IN YOUR STOMACH
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Ashton Ngcama performed this poem on August 25, 1972, at the foot of Nolangeni Mountain in Mount Ayliff District, the Transkei. The audience consisted of about twenty men, women, and children. (NS-520; tape 16, side 2)
Part Four: UNCERTAIN HOPE: LIGHTING "AN UNCONTROLLABLE FIRE"
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The struggle for freedom and land began almost as soon as the Dutch set foot on South African soil in the mid-seventeenth century. A century of sporadic wars occurred from 1750 to 1850, and there were many efforts to resist the development of white apartheid which was present from the beginning, in fact if not in name. Many Africans struggled, some dying in the effort, against white encroachment...
SHE SPOKE ABOUT THE RESURRECTION: NONGQAWUSE AND THE CATTLE KILLING OF 1857
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The story of Nongqawuse was related by Chief Ndumiso Bhotomane on September 10, 1967, at his home in Rwantsana, Centane District, in the Transkei. The audience consisted of about twenty Gcaleka men and women. (589; tape 10, side 2) In 1857, the Nongqawuse episode occurred.1 Nongqawuse was the daughter of Mhlakaza of the Ngqosini clan. She spoke here at Gxarha. She spoke in the village of the Thembu, the one...
NO PERSON AROSE
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What follows is excerpted from a lengthy account of the Nongqawuse story related by Nongenile Masithathu Zenani, the Xhosa storyteller, doctor, and historian. The account was given on July 20, 1975, in Mrs. Zenani's home in Nkanga, Gatyana, the Transkei. (35-328, tape 18, side 2) This is the story of Nongqawuse, this is the way it happened. In older times, there was happiness in all the land of the Xhosa. There...
CHAKIJANA, THE TRICKSTER
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The performer of this Zulu story about the fictional trickster, Chakijana, was Sondoda Ngcobo, a Zulu man about forty-five years old. The performance took place on February 7, 1968, in a home in Mahlabatini District, Zululand. The audience consisted of fifteen women, one man, and ten children. (3597; tape 70, side 1) It happened.... There was a woman who had a child, a small child. She had had another child in her maidenhood, before she had married.
CHAKIJANA, ZULU FREEDOM-FIGHTER
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Sondoda Ngcobo, the storyteller, now becomes Sondoda Ngcobo, the historian. During the evening of February 10, 1968, Mr. Ngcobo related an account of the historical Chakijana, a freedom-fighter who was active during the Bambatha Rebellion. The performance took place in a home in Mahlabatini District, Zululand, before an audience of six men, six women, and three children. (3750; tape 73; side 1) He is Ndaba of Chakijana! Chakijana was, here in the land of the...
SO EVERYBODY WAS AFTER CHAKIJANA
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This account of the historical Chakijana was related by Frederick William Calverley, an eighty-year-old, blind, white South African. He told this story on September'17, 1972, at his home in Melmoth village, Zululand. The audience varied, usually including from five to seven members of his family. (NS-852; tape 22, side 2) Now, my dad was not very well educated. My father's name was William James Calverley. My name is Frederick William Calverley. My age-I'm
THE WHITES WERE TO BE KILLED
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P. W. Van Niekerk, a government administrator for many years in Zululand, was the magistrate in Mahlabatini District in 1968. He spoke to me about Chakijana in his office in Mahlabatini on February 19 of that year. (3891, tape 76, side 1) At the time of the Bambatha Rebellion, which was a rebellion that was initiated by one Bambatha Zondi [Bambatha, chief of the Zondi people] in the Greytown Magistracy, to go and murder the whites because they...
Epilogue: SEIZERS OF THE INHERITANCE
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Nomusa Makhoba's Zulu tale, "]abulani Alone," comes from the same oral tradition as the stories performed by Noplani Gxavu and Emily Ntsobane. Like Ntsobane, Makhoba weaves fear and uncertainty into a tale about the movement into adulthood of a boy. The various "seizers of the inheritance" of ]abulani were, Makhoba argued in discussions about her story, characters who were encoded: this, she asserted, was the effect...
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The performer of this story of Jabulani was Nomusa Makhoba, about forty-five years old, a Zulu woman. The performance occurred on February 10, 1968, in a home in Mahlabatini District, Zululand, in the Dlamini area. The audience consisted of six men, six women, and three children. (3749; tape 73, side 1) DEATH OF THE FATHER "I KNOW THAT YOU'RE RATHER SHARP WITH WOMEN. ..." There was a woman, the mother of Jabulani. Now, Jabulani's father died,...
AGE AND DEATH
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On August 31, 1967, the Xhosa poet, Magagamela Koko, a Mfengu, about eighty years old, performed these two poems about age and death. The performance took place in a home overlooking the Kei River valley, in Nqancule, Ngqamakhwe District, in the Transkei. The audience consisted of ten women, two men, and ten children. (451; tape 8, side 2)
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Publication Year: 1996