Storytelling Songs of Two Zulu Women

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This is a study of two Zulu women, storytellers, one who performed stories in 1868, the other in 1972. Lydia umkaSethemba and Asilita Philisiwe Khumalo are two African women, one hundred years apart, both accomplished storytellers: their stories, in their similarities and variations, provide insights into the nature of stories and the evolving of stories from one generation to the next. At the core of their stories are identical structural underpinnings; the facade of those stories varies to the point that the narratives seem wholly unlike. Each of the women takes a traditional tale from the oral repertory, and, as storytellers have done from the beginning, organizes tradition as a context for the contemporary world. In each case, an ideal world is envisioned, for Lydia umkaSethemba a world of plenty, a realm distinct from the reality of her environs in the 1860s. For Asilita Philisiwe Khumalo, it is a world of freedom, an escape from the apartheid reality that characterized her country in the 1970s. The two raconteurs build their works around familiar swallowing monster stories, conventional movements into the heavens, seasoned tales dealing with transformation from one being to another. Each takes the familiar and makes it peculiarly her own.


“ ... As intriguing and beguiling as these Zulu tales are, Dr. Scheub reminds us to read them not literally, but with ‘thinking hearts.’ By organizing the tales of these two Zulu women who lived a century apart into three thematic categories – depths, heights, and mythic transformations – Dr. Scheub reveals through his commentaries the deep structures that unite the tales across time ... He urges the reader to perceive the art of these stories as ‘through a glass prismatically,’ by simultaneously viewing the images of the physical world evoked in the stories along with their deeper metaphorical patterns. In comparing the taleteller’s art to that of the sculptor, he enriches our appreciation of the storyteller’s artistry. While Dr. Scheub’s commentaries broaden our understanding of these compelling songs from Zululand, they appropriately only point the way, leaving much to ponder in our own thinking hearts.” – (from the Foreword) Professor Elizabeth C. Fine, Virginia Tech

“In this book, Dr. Harold Scheub builds on his previous scholarship on the quest for the essence and universality of Story as a central element that links and perhaps defines all humanity. By featuring two Zulu women storytellers who lived a century apart, he simultaneously emphasizes the timelessness of Story and confirms the place of woman as producer of culture and provider of nurture ... Dr. Scheub relies on a deep knowledge of eclectic scholarship on art, literature, folklore, and philosophy that provides a strong armature for the interpretation of a variety of stories rooted in Southern Africa. He provides commentaries and footnotes that explicate thoroughly the social, geographic and historical contexts of the stories, thus making certain the reader does not miss the cultural nuances they bear. Above all, however, it is supremely significant that Dr. Scheub lets Story speak its own truth ...” – Professor Aliko Songolo, University of Wisconsin

“Dr. Harold Scheub’s four decades of research on South African oral narratives has yielded memorable insights into the structure and performance of oral narrative as well as the theory that emotions are the focal point and organizing principle of oral narratives. More than most scholars, he has taught us to recognize storytellers as foremost theorists and philosophers of the art of storytelling. Having worked with storytellers living under apartheid, Dr. Scheub waited until the end of formal apartheid to illuminate the political dimensions of the oral narratives, thus showing a perfect example of protecting one’s informants ... As he has done over the last four decades, Dr. Scheub continues, with this book, to give his theory of oral narrative more depth, more breadth, and more richness. Apart from the truly remarkable tales it contains, this book is another landmark in the scholarship on African oral narratives and oral narratives in general.” – Professor Joseph L. Mbele, St. Olaf College

Table of Contents

Foreword by Elizabeth C. Fine
Prologue: Song for Thinking Hearts
Part I: CHIMERA – “Out of the Belly of Hell”
Part II: GOSSAMER – “Bussing the Clouds”
Part III: MYTH – “Instead of a Redbird, … A Young Man”

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