Interpretation of the Oral Narratives of the Xam Bushman and Other Southern African Khoisan Peoples


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships


A combination of archival and field research and textual criticism are employed in analysis of a number of narratives from several Khoisan oral traditions from the southern African region in order to test the existing interpretative paradigms that have been applied to them. In the course of this process, the study demonstrates that comparative studies are useful in discovering common cultural and narrative patterns but fail to take the singularity and historicity of the different oral traditions sufficiently into account. It argues that the narratives should be treated as discourse and their interdiscursivity and intertextuality investigated within the context of specific signifying systems and contexts of performance. This discursive turn is consistent with several strands in postcolonial studies. Indigenous knowledge systems are allowed to talk back to a hegemonic intellectual tradition that seeks to classify them in terms of its own categories. This has the effect of disrupting the exclusive claim to truth of this intellectual tradition and highlighting the capacity that indigenous knowledge systems have to generate multiple meanings and to interpret the world and themselves.