The University of Wisconsin Press

African Studies / Folklore and Oral History / Literature & Criticism / Religion


The World and the Word
Tales and Observations from the Xhosa Oral Tradition
Nongenile Masithathu Zenani
Edited by Harold Scheub

Winner of the 1993 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Books Award

A master storyteller of the Xhosa people of South Africa, Nongenile Masithathu Zenani gives us an unprecedented view of an oral society from within. Twenty-four of her complex and beautiful tales about birth, puberty, marriage, and work, as told to the renowned collector of African oral tradition, Harold Scheub, are gathered here. Accompanying the stories are Zenani's detailed commentaries and analyses and Scheub's striking photographs of her in performance. The combination of these historical and cultural observations with a richly symbolic collection of tales from a single traditional storyteller make The World and the Word a remarkable document.

"The storyteller's materials are simple," Zenani told Scheub, "the world, and the word." She presents to us the entire world of the Xhosa people, how they first came to be, the origins of their customs, how they order their world and deal with transgressors, how they manage all of life's transitions from birth to death. She depicts both the world as it exists and as it is shaped in the words of the storyteller. Inheriting tales from the Xhosa tradition, Zenani has transformed them into imaginative new stories marked by her own artistry.
Scheub's introduction to The World and the Word discusses Xhosa oral tradition and Zenani's particular characteristics as an artist within that tradition; Zenani's personal history and her work as both a storyteller and a healer; and Scheub's friendship with her and his role in recording her legacy.

Nongenile Masithathu Zenani lived in the Ciskei homeland of southeastern South Africa. She met Harold Scheub in 1967 and worked with him at various times during the next fifteen years. Harold Scheub is professor of African languages and literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His books include The African Storyteller, African Images, and The Xhosa Ntsomi. In his efforts to collect African stories, poems, and oral histories, he has walked more than 6,000 miles through South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho, recording some 10,000 narratives on audio tape and film.

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Xhosa woman telling a story

October 1992

LC: 92-050261 GR
448 pp. 6 x 9 
25 halftones

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