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Out to Lunch with Marlene Winberg

On Wednesday, 27 August 2014, Centre for the Book and NLSA Book Club (Cape Town campus) hosted an Out to Lunch session at the Centre for the Book. The guest speaker was Marlene Winberg, researcher, author, folklorist and bookmaker. Winberg is the co-founder of the Manyeka Arts Trust and is an oral literature advisor to the South African San Institute and the !Xun Council of Elders. Her publications and exhibitions include Back to the Land (Weinberg & Winberg 1996), My Elands Heart (2002), San Stories (2006a), Healing Hands (2006b), The Storyteller (2009) and San Memory House (2010). Her 2011 dissertation, Annotations of Loss and Abundance – an examination of the !Kun children’s material in the Bleek and Lloyd collection 1879-1881, (2012) may be found at http://www.cca.uct.ac.za/reading_room/?lid=356.

Winberg's topic of discussion was The !Kun children’s material in the Bleek and Lloyd Collection (1879-1881. Her talk focused on !Nanni’s Sketchbook, a collection of drawings and paintings by the !Kun child, !Nanni, and his three friends. !Nanni’s Sketchbook brings the oldest boy, !Nanni’s personal story to life and reveals the circumstances in which children were abducted from their homes in Namibia and taken to Cape Town to become labourers in colonial homes. This book sets the drawings and paintings in the context of their lives, and with the annotations and stories from Lucy Lloyd’s notebooks, illuminates its value as rare historical documents.

The four !Kun boys, !Nanni, Tamme, |uma and Da, were the children of hunter-gatherers who lived south of the Okavango River, in southern Angola and the north-east Namibia during the 1870s. Their childhoods were dramatically interrupted when the local Makoba tribe, with whom their families had previously traded elephant meat and tusks, abducted them from their homes. Despite tragic efforts by their families to secure their safety, the children were sold to other traders in the region. For many months, they followed a succession of masters by foot and ox wagon across the Namib Desert to Walvis Bay, were they were told to board and find food on the Louis Alfred. With its cargo of ostrich feathers, ivory and families of ‘Berg Damara’, the schooner set sail for the Cape.

Between 1879 and 1880 the children were placed in the Mowbray home of linguist and ethnographer, Lucy Lloyd. Lloyd learnt the children’s language, recorded their stories in !Kun and translated their words into English in seventeen notebooks. The boys depicted their memories of the Namibian landscape into more than 520 watercolours and drawings in sketchbooks, on loose scraps of paper and in clay sculptures. Their legacy includes drawings, paintings, notebooks and a collection of photographs of !Nanni and his friends. The !Kun children’s collection is part of the celebrated Bleek and Lloyd Collection, entered in the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

Interestingly, Lloyd worked at the South African Library (now NLSA Cape Town campus). She was appointed curator of the Grey Collection as successor to her brother-in-law, Bleek, after his death in 1875, at half his salary. She worked with the Grey Collection and edited various manuscripts collected by Bleek, as well as continuing with her |Xam research in her own time. Her services at the South African Library were terminated in 1880 when Dr Theophilus Hahn was appointed in her place. In 1913, in recognition of her contribution to research, she received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of the Cape of Good Hope (which was then housed in the current Centre for the Book building). She was the first woman to receive this degree in South Africa. In the words of the time, the citation read: '…an original production worthy of the highest praise. It is not only a masterly exposition of the folklore of a vanishing race that has remained primitive, but the philological value of the work is greater still, and the work will remain an authority on the language of the “Bushman and kindred races".'

The session was directed by Community Publishing Project Coordinator, Nelisa Lunika. A lively question and answer session followed the presentation. To conclude the session, Lunika asked Winberg to tell a story. She told 'The Mud Baby' an old fertility !Xun story of loss, healing and renewal. Zanele Nikani of the NLSA Book Club closed the session with a vote of thanks.

Anita Shaw
Deputy Programme Manager, Centre for the Book


 

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