An analysis of oral literary music texts in isiXhosa

by Mpola, M.N.

Abstract (Summary)
This study examines the relationship between composed songs in isiXhosa and the field of oral literature. In traditional Xhosa cultural settings, poetry and music are forms of communal activity enjoyed by that society. Music and poetry perform a special social role in African society in general, providing a critique of socio-economic and political issues. The research analyses the relationship that exists between traditional poetry, izibongo, and composed songs. It demonstrates that in the same way that izibongo can be analysed in order to appreciate the aesthetic value of an oral literary form, the same can be said of composed isiXhosa music.

The art of transmitting oral literature is performance. The traditional izibongo are recited before audiences in the same way. Songs (iingoma) stories (amabali) and traditional poetry (izibongo) all comprise oral literature that is transmitted by word of mouth.

Opland (1992: 17) says about this type of literature: “Living as it does in the performance is usually appreciated by crowds of people as sounds uttered by the performer who is present before his/her audience.”

Opland (ibid 125) again gives an account of who is both reciter of poems and singer of songs. He gives Mthamo’s testimony thus: “He is a singer… with a reputation of being a poet as well.” The musical texts that will be analysed in this thesis will range from those produced as early as 1917, when Benjamin Tyamzashe wrote his first song, Isithandwa sam (My beloved), up to those produced in 1990 when Makhaya Mjana was commissioned by Lovedale on its 150th anniversary to write Qingqa Lovedale (Stand up Lovedale).

The song texts total fifty, by twenty-one composers. The texts will be analysed according to different themes, ranging from themes that are metaphoric, themes about events, themes that depict the culture of the amaXhosa, themes with a message of protest, themes demonstrating the relationship between religion and nature, themes that call for unity among the amaXhosa, and themes that depict the personal circumstances of composers and lullabies.

The number of texts from each category will vary depending on the composers’ socio-cultural background when they composed the songs. Comparison will be made with some izibongo to show that composers and writers of izibongo are similar artists and, in the words of Mtuze in Izibongo Zomthonyama (1993) “bathwase ngethongo elinye” (They are spiritually gifted in the same way).

Bibliographical Information:


School:Rhodes University

School Location:South Africa

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:african languages


Date of Publication:01/01/2007

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