n Historia - A clever book
The "Malaboch" books : Kgalusi in the "civilization of the written word", Lize Kriel : book reviews




This is a clever book. Its central objective is to decipher two primary texts on the war between the Boers and the Hananwa in mid-1894. These are the "Malaboch books" in the title whose form of communication, the printed word, is carried by the sub-title. Lize Kriel sets out to write about the way these texts portray chief Mmalebôhô (Malaboch), but her book is really about writing history. The two books are My Friend Malaboch by Berlin missionary Christoph Sonntag, and Malaboch by Colin Rae, an Anglican minister who served as chaplain to the English-speaking troops on commando. Dr Kriel is less interested in the history of the war than in the way it is represented in these two texts and, more distantly, how these representations have changed over time and how they have come to influence orthodox views of the war. As such, her book is about the construction or assemblage of history rather than about the way we record or recall the past. It is about ways in which we write about the past rather than the past itself. It is also a very reflexive history in which the author places herself at the centre of the text and focuses the skills of a literary critic on the narrative structure (and public reception in time and space) of the two texts at the heart of her work. The actors in this drama are the sources of history, not the Boers or the Hananwa, nor, despite Kriel's claim (p 345), chief Mmalebôhô. This is a bold, experimental work about slippery realities and unfixed meanings. It will not find readers among those looking for a rip-roaring yarn (or even those wishing to uncover the hidden structures that drive behaviour and make history). But it should find an avid readership among those interested in the theory and methodology of history.


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