Representations of Chaos in Xhosa Myth and Storytelling

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 07 December

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Jeremy Solnick will lead a discussion of the use of myth & chaos in Xhosa storytelling


The Xhosa storyteller, Nongenile Masithathu Zenani, making an ‘Ntsomi’  – ©Harold Scheub (2006)

The Xhosa, the tribe of Nelson Mandela, are Nguni people; a Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa closely related to the Zulu.  Their traditional homeland is in the Eastern Cape.  They have a rich mythology full of spirit animals, monster frogs, tricksters,  enchanters and cannibalistic demons (Zim).  They also have a strong tradition of performance storytelling called ‘ntsomi’.  Many of the traditional storytellers are women. The artist draws on her traditional stock of mythical images and stories to create a performance within the bounds of the general theme. According to Harold Scheub:

This theme centres on the need for order in the human community, an order which finds its perfect metaphor in nature. Disorder (Chaos) in the ntsomi by fantastic creatures.  The ntsomi performance moves easily back and forth between the reality of the contemporary milieu to the worlds of nature and fantasy, with their talking birds and beasts, monsters and sub-human cannibals. [1]

In this week’s session we will discuss transcripts of two stories (“A boy becomes pregnant” and “A boy murders his sister“) performed by traditional storytellers and consider how the artist uses myth and chaos to show disturbance in the order of society and how the disorder is resolved (or not).

[1] Harold Scheub, The Xhosa Ntsomi, Oxford Library of African Literature (Oxford [Eng.]: Clarendon Press, 1975), 3.


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