Continuity and change in Xhosa historiography during the nineteenth century : an exploration through textual analysis

Tisani, Nomthansanqa Cynthia (2001) Continuity and change in Xhosa historiography during the nineteenth century : an exploration through textual analysis. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.

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Abstract

This study is an exploration of the making of Xhosa historiography from the end of the eighteenth century to the close of the nineteenth century. Continuity and change are key features that are identifiable in the writing of Xhosa history over the period. Selected documents provide evidence on how different writers built on the works of their predecessors. At the same time, over a period of hundred years, due to changing socio-political contexts, new ideas and perceptions crept into Xhosa history. European writers, who dominated the writing of Xhosa history, were made up of colonial officials, missionaries, and travellers. Sharing a common European Christian background these writers brought along their particular understanding of history, and held assumptions about the indigenous people and their past. However such assumptions were always in a state of flux. South-east Africans were also major contributors to the making of Xhosa history. Their oral traditions were important sources from which Xhosa history was produced. The African and European encounter in the making of Xhosa history meanHhat historioracy and historiography came together in the production of Xhosa history. At the end of the eighteenth century there were a handful of European travellers who explored the interior of southern Africa and recorded their observations of indigenous communities. These observations of south-east Africans, whom they divided into three racial groups, formed the basis of later writings about the indigenous communiti~s. The beginning of the nineteenth century brought the establishment of British rule at the C,ppe. This introduced new players into the African-European drama that was being acted out on the frontier. Colonial officials set out to inform themselves about the indigenous people, and this meant writing up their history. From the 1820s missionaries were a main source of information on amaXhosa. Xhosa history produced under the missionary influence included works by African converts, among whom Noyi was the most noteworthy. As British imperialism gained ground from the middle of the nineteenth century, history was increasingly used by British officials as a tool to justify their colonial expansion. Under Governor Grey there was a deliberate production of a Xhosa history that depicted amaXhosa as having a barbaric past and in need of civilisation. Theal who consulted Dutch and British archives as well as oral tradition made a major contribution to the writing of Xhosa history. But Theal later began to select evidence to show that amaXhosa were recent immigrants into southeast Africa. During the last quarter ofthe nineteenth century a band of literate Africans, using newspapers like Isigidimi and later Imvo Zabantsundu, embarked on writing African history. This study highlights the development of certain themes in Xhosa history, themes which remained central in later years. The royal theme became pivotal and in the process displaced other histories in African communities, like clan histories. This study has also traced the roots of some historical myths. For example claims by early travellers about an empty land fed into the migration theme which sought to explain amaXhosa as recent immigrants into south-east Africa. Xhosa historiography, just like its European counterpart, marginalised ordinary people, especially women, and became primarily an account of the lives and activities of ruling men.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Xhosa, History
Subjects:D World History and History of Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, etc > DT Africa > South Africa
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > History
ID Code:2532
Deposited By: Mrs Carol Perold
Deposited On:15 Mar 2012 13:21
Last Modified:15 Mar 2012 13:21
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