History in the literary imagination: the telling of Nongqawuse and the Xhosa Cattle-Killing in South African literature and culture (1891-1937)
Boniface Davies, Sheila
University of Cambridge
Faculty of English
St John's College
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Boniface Davies, S. (2011). History in the literary imagination: the telling of Nongqawuse and the Xhosa Cattle-Killing in South African literature and culture (1891-1937) (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.16188
E-thesis pagination different from hard-bound copy.
This thesis takes as its subject the millenarian movement of 1856–7, commonly known as the Xhosa Cattle-Killing. My project examines a range of literary representations of this seminal moment in South African history: novels, plays, and short stories in English or English translation. The period under consideration encompasses the earliest literary responses to the Cattle-Killing and includes critical historical-political moments such as: the incorporation of the last independent black territory into the Cape Colony, the creation of the Union of South Africa, the passing of the Land Act, the enfranchisement of white women and the enactment of Hertzog’s ‘native bills’. The project consists of close, contextual readings, and the approach is cross-cultural and interdisciplinary. In this dissertation I examine the meaning that has accrued to the Cattle-Killing, and the role that literary accounts have played in interpreting and defining this pivotal event in the historical consciousness of their sometimes considerable audiences. In some cases, these creative works have anticipated trends in formal historiography and suggested new ways to interrogate the evidence. But the accounts do more than creatively reconstruct the past. They are also implicated in their respective presents and use the Cattle-Killing to ‘write out’ contemporaneous concerns: be it female emancipation, ‘native education’ or Black Nationalism. The various manifestations of the Cattle-Killing story chart not only the shifting ‘truth’ of the event but also the ways in which it has been made relevant and useable for different communities at various points in South Africa’s history. To read these accounts of the Cattle-Killing, I argue, is to ‘read’ the history of this period. While taking as its subject an event from 150 years ago, and literary responses from shortly after, my project contributes to wider, on-going conversations relating to history as a field of argument and literature as a social and historical force. A related aim is to contribute to the revaluation of early South African literature, which has been neglected or homogenized in recent years. My dissertation seeks to recuperate and complicate by representing a variety of subject positions and resuscitating voices discarded or forgotten.
Xhosa Cattle-Killing, History
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.16188
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