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'Translating' the Great Trek to the twentieth century : re-interpretations of the Afrikaner myth in three South African novels


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The events that later became known as the Great Trek stand for a decisive phase in the colonial history of southern Africa, a phase that led to a substantial increase of the white presence in areas that were formerly controlled by blacks. Furthermore, the Trek has been presented as one of the cornerstones on which the Afrikaner 'nation' was erected, and it features prominently in the literature of South Africa, both in Afrikaans and English. In the following, I examine three English novels by South African authors which are - at least in part - concerned with 'translating' the Great Trek in two senses : they "interpret the significance of" the events, and they "move or carry [them] from one place or position to another" by recontextualizing them in the political situation that prevailed when they were written ("Translate"). As Edward Said has pointed out, literary texts are always "worldly" because they are influenced by the "circumstantial reality" of the time of their production (34). The three novels I discuss, Solomon Plaatje's Mhudi (1930), Peter Abrahams's Wild Conquest (1951) and André Brink's Imaginings of Sand (1996), translate the events of the 1830s into the temporal contexts of their production, that is, the early, middle and late twentieth century respectively. This act of translation results in statements about the relationships of 'white' and 'black' people of South Africa that gain in importance when related to the political debates current when the novels were written.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2007

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