n Literator : Journal of Literary Criticism, Comparative Linguistics and Literary Studies - Beyond African nationalism : Isaiah Shembe's hymns and African literature : original research

Volume 35, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0258-2279
  • E-ISSN: 2219-8237



This article deals with Isaiah Shembe's hymns and proposes that they should be read as literature because, in them, Shembe employs a number of literary features. He also uses features of oral literature and uses the hymns to reflect on a number of issues that concerned him and his fellow black people. The hymns that are examined here are more akin to poetry than hymns in that Shembe uses them to engage with the issues of his time rather than to praise God. However, this does not mean that all the hymns should be misconstrued as political texts: They are generally songs of worship for the members to sing when praising God, yet Shembe also found in the genre of hymns a powerful medium for voicing his concerns as an African. Whilst other scholars have noted Shembe's concern with Zulu ethnicity and his contribution to Zulu literature, I suggest here a reading of the hymns that goes beyond Zulu ethnicity, looking at them as part of African literature since Shembe himself was not just concerned with the Zulus and their problems, but he was also concerned with the matters that concerned Africa as a whole.

Hierdie artikel handel oor Isaiah Shembe se liedere en stel voor dat hulle as letterkunde gelees moet word want Shembe gebruik 'n aantal kenmerke van die letterkunde en orale letterkunde daarin. Hy gebruik hulle om oor kwessies wat hy en ander swart mense bekommer, te besin. Die liedere is nader aan gedigte as aan godsdienstige gesange in die sin dat Shembe hulle gebruik om aktuele sake te bespreek eerder as net om God te loof. Dit beteken nietemin nie dat al die liedere as politieke tekste gesien moet word nie: Hulle is wel aanbiddingsgesange, maar Shembe het ook in die gesang 'n kragtige manier gevind om aan die kwessies wat hom as 'n Afrikaan na aan die hart gelê het, uitdrukking te gee. Terwyl ander geleerdes Shembe se betrokkenheid by Zoeloe-etnisiteit en sy bydrae tot die Zoeloe-letterkunde opgemerk het, stel ek 'n lees van die liedere voor wat verder as Zoeloe-etnisiteit gaan en beskou ek die liedere as deel van die letterkunde van Afrika. Dit is omdat Shembe nie net oor die sake van Zoeloe-mense begaan was nie, maar ook sake wat die hele Afrika raak.

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