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Gunner, Elizabeth Anne Wynne (1984) Ukubonga Nezibongo : Zulu praising and praises. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The thesis is based largely on Zulu praise poetry collected in South Africa in 1975-6. It emphasises the widespread nature of the art of praising in Zulu society: it is both a specialist and a non-specialist activity and poetry is composed and performed by both men and women. The thesis also attempts to analyse the function of the poetry in a contemporary social and political context; it stresses its political, religious and aesthetic aspects and its importance as an expression of individual identity in an often hostile and negative environment. The work attempts to consider praise poetry as a "performance art" rather than a one-dimensional verbal art but also explores the form and content of the poetry. It attempts to see how composers, both specialists and non-specialists, apply the techniques which govern the genre. The memorial aspect of Zulu praising has been stressed by commentators but there has been a paucity of recently recorded material. This study, based largely on contemporary recordings which include observed performances and interview, shows that while the long royal izibongo performed today are remarkably similar to those recorded sixty or more years earlier, individual bards have their own style of performance and their versions are far from identical. Contemporary compositions by bards and non-specialists further emphasise the creative aspect of the tradition which is one that combines memory and creativity. Whereas Albert Lord's influential "singer" theory stressed that true oral poetry could only be poetry that was composed during performance, this material shows that there are other blends of memorising and composing which are possible. At the same time the thesis acknowledges the vital role played by Lord in stressing the contribution of individual artists in an oral tradition. Finally, the thesis touches on the relationship between praise poetry and contemporary printed (but in some cases performed) poetry in South Africa.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 14:58

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