The Ambivalent Engagement with Christianity in the Writing of Nineteenthand Early Twentieth-Century Africans in the Eastern Cape

Nxasana, Thulani Litha (2009) The Ambivalent Engagement with Christianity in the Writing of Nineteenthand Early Twentieth-Century Africans in the Eastern Cape. Masters thesis, Rhodes University.




Until recently much of the literature recording the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the Eastern Cape focused purely on frontier conflict and missionary activity, ignoring the evolving culture of the colonized people. But as Somande Fikeni declares, “[i]t is important when celebrating the country’s heritage to look beyond battle sites, monuments and wars and to pay attention to South Africa’s intellectuals and knowledge producers” (quoted in Hollands 4). This is indeed the central purpose of my research. This thesis seeks to examine the influence of Christianity on early South African writing by Africans and the ambivalence with which Christianity is often treated in their work. In South Africa, as elsewhere in Africa, Christianity played a central role in the development of African literature through the influence of mission schools and printing presses. Thus from the outset the development of written literature was inseparable from the spread of Christianity. Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writing by Africans reflects this: Christian idioms, biblical stories and images colour their work and yet are not employed unthinkingly. Each of the writers whom I will explore has a complex and at times ambivalent relationship with Christianity, and they use religious discourse for a variety of ends, some of them clearly at odds with their origins in the “civilizing mission” of Europe. According to Yunus Momoniat, “Their works . . . are the beginnings of an engagement not only with the world of words on a page, but also with the politics of literacy itself” (1). The subject of this research is three Xhosa writers from the Eastern Cape: the Reverend Tiyo Soga (1829-1871), the renowned novelist and “National Poet” S. E. K. Mqhayi (1875-1945), and the little-known poet Nontsizi Mgqwetho (Dates uknown, writings 1920-1929), who is described by Mbeki as “the most prolific woman Xhosa poet of the twentieth century” (6). The reason for focusing on the Eastern Cape is because the Xhosa “were the first Bantu people to be exposed to Christian proselytising and to receive a literate education” (Gerard 24). As a result much of the early literature in isiXhosa consisted of translations of the Bible and other Christian tracts, and such “improving” texts as Pilgrim’s Progress. In other words, it is in this work that the first roots of the influence of Christianity in southern Africa can be traced.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:African authors, South African literature, Eastern Cape, South Africa, Christianity and literature, Ambivalence in literature
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PL Languages and literatures of Africa, Eastern Asia, Oceania > African languages and literature
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > English
ID Code:2400
Deposited By: Ms Chantel Clack
Deposited On:25 Jan 2012 06:11
Last Modified:25 Jan 2012 06:11
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