We Spend Our Years As A Tale That Is Told: Oral Historical Narrative in a South African Chiefdom by Isabel Hofmeyr
Wits University Press l 30 September 1993
Paperback | 344 pages
Taking its title from the Book of Psalms, this book investigates three related areas: oral storytelling, literacy and historical narrative. The author takes gender to be the decisive division in the storytelling genre, whereby men tend to tell "true" historical stories while women specialize in fictional narratives. With originality and humor, Isabel Hofmeyr examines how the male and female genres interact and plots the changes that have occurred in the oral history tradition.
Part One sets out to reconstruct, through interviews and ethnographic material, the form that an active storytelling tradition may have taken in Valtyn, a chiefdom in the Transvaal close to Potgietersrus. Part Two presents a series of case studies examining such influences as literacy purveyed by missions and the impact of literate bureaucracies, both of which changed historical storytelling. It also looks at forced removals which account for the virtual disappearance of male historical storytelling today while female storytelling continues. Parts Three and Four use a set of stories relating to the seige of the cave of Gwasa in the northern Transvaal by the Boers in 1854 to examine orality and literacy in context.
The work is the first sustained investigation within southern African studies of the wider context of oral storytelling from which oral historical narrative derives its techniques and styles, the impact of historical change on a particular chiefdom and its institutions, and the technique of oral history itself.
This highly original study deals with both literary and historical methods, with the role of gender in storytelling and of oral narratives in a range of communities.