Waterslangverhale in en rondom Afrikaans : 'n ondersoek na mitisiteit as basis vir vergelykende literatuurstudie
The study focuses on the reworking of the mythological motif of the watersnake in mainly Afrikaans literature. The watersnake is chosen as prominent archetypal symbol, because several stories about watersnakes and related mythological creatures have been published in Afrikaans novels and short story anthologies over the past two to three decades. It is not only a recent phenomenon, because watersnake stories form part of the very first examples of Afrikaans literature in written form, namely a collection of Bushmen stories published by G.R. von Wielligh at the beginning of the twentieth century. The main question to be answered is what reasons can be given for the renewed interest in a rather "primitive" phenomenon like the watersnake, keeping in mind the modem and postmodem contexts from which the recent stories originate. The theoretical basis for the study centres around the concept of "mythicity", which can be defined as the deliberate intention to probe the numinous dimensions of human existence by means of literature, i.e. mainly narrative forms. Because myth is not "merely story", the numinous dimensions of the mythic story are equally as important as the narrative dimensions. The dialectical balance between numinous and narrative dimensions is used as basis and criterion for the comparison of literary texts. This balance is closely affected by the historical contexts of the narrative: the time in which it was written, but also the time it narrates. The watersnake of Afrikaans folklore and folk belief is very much the same as that of the Khoesan, with its origins in rainmaking and initiation rites, later assimilated with influences from other African, European and Asian cultures. Because of the archetypal links between the watersnake and related creatures from different cultures, the watersnake becomes a strong communal symbol, with various comparative possibilities. With the intention of mythicity as theoretical basis and the watersnake as specific mythological and historical motif, it is possible to compare literary reworkings of watersnake stories from different literatures, for example recent Afrikaans texts with stories from the Dutch and English languages; the latter from Britain, Southern Africa and also a text with Nigerian origins. It was established that the older watersnake stories in Afrikaans, written from the beginning of the century up till the 1950s, were not able to exploit the rich mythological and intercultural possibilities with regard to watersnake symbolism in Southern Africa. This is mainly due to ideological and moralistic considerations, regarding the establishment of Afrikaans as an autonomous language, which is again linked to the establishment of Afrikaner nationalism, with its specific interpretations of Western Christianity. Although the recent novels and short stories also reflect definite ideological viewpoints which negatively influence the numinous dimensions of mythicity, it can be said that all eight Afrikaans texts which have been analysed, in some way or another reflect a certain degree of mythicity. Especially noteworthy in this regard is the novel Rooigrond (1995) by Thomas Deacon, and two short story anthologies respectively by George Weideman (Die donker melk van daeraad; 1994) and Elias P. Nel (Iets goeds uit Verneukpan?; 1998). These texts represent a true probing, by means of watersnake stories, into the problems of the numinous, as well as an intercultural investigation into the relationships amongst diverse mythological and religious traditions within Southern Africa. Mythicity links two universal traits of human existence, namely narrativity (the urge to tell stories) and religiosity (the questioning of the numinous). The current interest in watersnake stories in Afrikaans literature reflects a common postmodern trend within Western culture to combine mythological traditions from different cultures - for instance, African and Western - in order to regain something of the lost unity of the mainly oral origins of myth, in a modern world divided into a variety of different realms. Recent Afrikaans watersnake stories contribute to this endeavour by first presenting common symbols within Southern African context, but also by taking the intercultural discussion further towards international relationships.
- Humanities