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Ceramics and Archaeology in Southern Africa  

Per Ditlef Fredriksen

Pottery has been part of daily life in southern Africa for the last two millennia. The frequent occurrence at settlement sites and its resistance to decay makes pottery the most common proxy for past food-producing communities (farmers and livestock herders), who made containers for cooking, serving, and storing foods and liquids. Provided that pots and sherds have enough diagnostic features to indicate décor patterns and vessel shape, trained eyes can get an instant and literally cost-free peek into past movement and interaction. Various material sciences offer high-precision dating and insights into less visible characteristics, and ethnographic insights are helpful for understanding more intangible aspects, such as the organization of production, pots’ roles in social practices and belief systems, and the transmission of knowledge and skills through apprenticeship. Potting has been a highly gendered activity, and attention to social identity is instrumental in widening the range of lenses through which archaeologists view past material culture. In this manner, by focusing on skilled craft networks dominated by women, ceramic research can provide a critical corrective alternative to more traditional top-down narratives that trace the evolution and interaction of (male) elites. However, the European and North American legacy of archaeological classification in southern Africa cannot be overlooked. Ceramic classification may still unwillingly project a Western-centered understanding of the human condition, mobility, and social change. While unacceptable labels that refer to outmoded notions of tribalism have long been replaced by more neutral terms, this does not mean that ceramics provide archaeology with a neutral “tracking device.” A continual key challenge for practitioners in southern Africa is to situate ceramic analysis within a wider thematic and disciplinary nexus in order to construct convincing deep time narratives while also exploring new pathways to insights that can give voices to otherwise silent or subaltern members of past societies.

Article

Ndau Identity in Zimbabwe  

Emmanuel Sithole

Ndau people (popularly identified as VaNdau) possess a rich but largely under-recorded history. Notwithstanding that the etymology of “Ndau” as a collective ethnic term is the subject for much debate, some documental archives suggest that the ancestors of Ndau people arrived in a series of migrations and settled in the areas between the Pungwe and Save rivers during the early centuries. The existing archaeological and historical evidence attests that there were interethnic and interracial contact between “Mandowa” (local Indigenous people) and Swahili and Muslim merchants at Sofala Bay during the 8th century. They had trade networks that were developed several centuries before Portuguese traders’ arrival, settlement, and control of the trading of gold, ivory, and, much later, slaves in that part of the East African region. Early Portuguese explorers and writers, some of whom had intermarried with Mandowa women, realized that VaNdau had developed political, linguistic, social, and cultural identities in the 16th century. As reported in early Portuguese literature, VaNdau shared kinship ties, similar social and cultural beliefs, and spoke the same language (albeit with several regional varieties) that helped in the negotiation and assertion of a collective sense of Ndauness across centuries. Ndau identity became even more asserted and concretized during the 19th century when VaNdau were exposed to extreme persecution at the hands of their Gaza Nguni conquerors. Forced conscription of VaNdau into Gaza Nguni social and military ranks, however, resulted in a renegotiation of the nature and meaning of an Ndau identity. Interethnic marriage with Gaza Nguni warriors culminated in the emergence of a dual Ndau and Gaza identity represented by a permanent accommodation of Gaza Nguni clan names, among other cultural and linguistic elements among VaNdau in the late 19th century. Meanwhile, White colonial and missionary (mainly American Board Mission) activity exerted significant influence on the cultural, social, religious, and political aspects of Ndau society in the 20th century. Colonial and postindependent policies in education, media, and the greater society encouraged the assimilation of Ndau people into a newly created linguistic Shona identity in Zimbabwe. From 1931, young Ndau speakers began to gradually accept Shona as their primary identity. However, Ndau’s constitutional recognition as a separate official language in 2013 contributed toward the reclamation of the ChiNdau identity in Zimbabwe, especially across virtual platforms such as Facebook and other social networking sites. Thousands of Ndau-speaking people converge on virtual platforms such as Rekete Chindau—Leave a Legacy to reassert and reshape their identity through speaking and writing about it in Zimbabwe.

Article

Pepetela  

Alexandra Santos

Pepetela (b. 1941) is one of the most awarded Angolan writers and a successful creator of the myths and epics sustaining Angolan identity in the symbolic domain. He has played many roles throughout his life, from revolutionary socialism ideologist to guerrilla fighter, government member, university professor, and civic activist. Most notably, he is a prolific writer; his dozens of novels, chronicles, plays, and fables constitute an incomparable testimony to 20th-century Angola. His writing articulates a strong sociological awareness with a world vision that feeds on the ideological currents of nationalism and socialism. This surprising junction makes the basis for literary works in which the struggle for independence, the construction of the Angolan nation, the socialist revolution, and social analysis assume great relevance, as does the quest for the symbolic roots of national identity. Pepetela has been the most thorough explorer of Angolan historical sources and autochthonous myths, from which he assembled narratives that are considered foundational to the nation. His work is the object of numerous academic essays in several languages. Just as importantly, he is a favorite among readers worldwide.