"Abantu Abamnyama": A Prelude to a Book

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Seminar Date
March 30, 2011
By tantalising Ilanga lase Natal readers with the title Abantu Abamnyama even before the book was published, Magema Fuze was already making an argument without saying a word. As argued in the previous chapter, the title of the published book arrests the reader’s attention by being both direct and suggestive. It demands to be read and considered even if one does not read the book because it states it as a fact that black people had an origin; and that they came from somewhere. It tantalises because it does not hint at these whereabouts, but only suggests that they exist. One consequence of this provocative title is that it creates expectations in the reader that Fuze more or less failed to meet. But this failure is not, as one would expect, a reason for ignoring the book. On the contrary, although it is obvious that the book is not a history of the black people and whence they came, it contains enough adequate and readable accounts of the reigns of Zulu kings, the genealogies of different clans, and descriptions of cultural practices for it to be considered a coherent narrative. The difficulty is in deciding what to call this narrative: is it history, ethnography or autoethnography? The difficulty is com- pounded by the judgements passed on the text by the translator H.C. Lugg, the editor A.T. Cope and other readers and commentators who have highlighted the weaknesses and incompleteness of the work. In re- reading Abantu Abamnyama one faces the basic quandary of whether it is possible to transcend these limitations and to re-interpret the book as more than a failed attempt to write a history of abantu abamnyama.
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