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.