Song of the Broken String: After the /Xam Bushmen--Poems from a Lost Oral Tradition / Edition 1

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The /Xam Bushmen, hunters, gatherers, some poets among them, were a stone age people who survived nearly 5,000 years in the region now known as the Cape Province of South Africa. By the turn of this century they had completely disappeared, destroyed finally by the murderous European settlement of the interior. Song of the Broken String has its provenance in the oral tradition of this ancient culture. In the 1860s, a German linguist named W. H. Bleek become aware of the genocide in progress. Taking into his service three /Xam Bushmen he found working as convict laborers in a chain gang, he set about preserving a small part of their heritage. After devising a phonetic notation of the /Xam's language, he transcribed the personal narratives, songs, and folktales of these three men and translated them into English. Housed in an archive at the University of Cape Town, the 12,000 pages of the Bleek and Lloyd Collection are all that remains of this people and their language. Stephen Watson, a contemporary South African poet, has explored this archive, "re-translating" Bleek's word-for-word English prose into poems in which something of the power of those original voices lives on, however filtered through the 19th century ethnographer and the 20th century writer. The results not only offer a path into a powerful oral tradition, but also raise questions about the ways in which we listen to and "translate" cultures that are distant or lost. Song of the Broken String does not bring back the /Xam, it is not a collection of artifacts. Something survives here that is almost monumental, certainly beautiful.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781878818430
  • Publisher: Sheep Meadow Press, The
  • Publication date: 12/1/1991
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 101
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Table of Contents

In a Far-Off Place 3
The Rain-Sorcerer 4
Rain in a Dead Man's Footsteps 5
Sun, Moon, and Stars 6
Prayer to the New Moon 7
The Sound of the Stars 8
Throwing Fire at the Stars 9
The Girl Who Created the Milky Way 10
The Sun, the Moon, and the Knife 12
What Happens When You Die 13
The Nature of /Kaggen 14
The Dawn's Heart Star: Two Fragments 15
Song of the Dawn's Heart Star 16
Blue Mist Like Smoke 17
The Origin of the Moon 18
A Feather Thrown into the Sky 19
Song of Four Winds 20
What Is the Moon? 21
The Maiden and the Rain 22
Rainmaking with a Bow-String 24
The Abandoned Old Woman 25
The Anger of the Moon 26
Catching a Porcupine 28
The Rain that Is Male 30
Presentiments 31
Sneezing Out a Lion 32
Sorcerers Are Like Lions 33
The Powers of the Dead 34
The Wild is One with the Man 36
Jackal Clouds 37
The Lost Tobacco Pouch: A Song 38
Our Blood Makes Smoke 39
The Story of Ruyter 40
Song of the Broken String 41
Xaa-ttin's Lament 43
Kabbo's Road into Captivity 44
The Name of My Place 47
What Is Your Name? 48
The Meaning of a Sneeze 49
Cows and Twigs 50
Kabbo Tells Me His Dream 51
Kabbo's Request for Thread 53
Return of the Moon 54
Index of Poems by Narrator 59
Notes to the Poems 61
Appendix of original transcripts 69
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