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The identity of difference : a critical study of representations of the Bushmen.

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More than any other people, the Bushmen - like the Aborigines on the Australian continent - have epitomized the sub-human other in South African historiography. My primary concern in this study will be to interrogate the representations that gave rise to such entrenched notions of Bushman alterity, and the consequences these have had for Bushman lives. Through an assessment of the writings of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century travellers, missionaries, settlers, colonial officials and scholars, I shall examine understandings of ‘otherness’ and ‘difference’, and the ways in which alterity discourse opened up a space for the ensuing colonial policies of genocide and subjugation against the Bushmen. By allowing the Bushman ‘voices’ to talk back - through an exploration of verbal and visual forms of Bushman creative expression - I hope to present a more balanced sense of Bushman ‘identity’, and expose the fundamental intolerance of difference that lies at the heart of alterity discourse. I shall conclude the thesis with a problematization of contemporary trends of representation, an examination of how these often inadvertently continue the process of othering, and a consideration of their repercussions for present-day Bushman lives. Aside from the obvious relevance of such a study to an understanding of both the destructive events and representations of history, and the current traumatic circumstances of Bushman lives, the questions that this thesis raises can be seen to have more far-reaching implications. In a country such as South Africa, with its long history of segregation and discrimination, issues of otherness and difference take on a particularly compelling resonance. It seems crucial - especially at this point in our national progress - to interrogate our historical attitudes towards otherness, and posit more constructive ways of approaching difference, that allow others their distinct identity, without either demonizing or collapsing such difference; or, to phrase it in Homi Bhabha’s question: “How can the human world live its difference? how [sic] can a human being live Other-wise?” (1994:122).


Thesis (M.A.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1998.


San (African people)--Public opinion., English prose literature--19th century--History and criticism., Travellers' writings, English--History and criticism., Literature and anthropology--South Africa., Literature and society--South Africa., San (African people)--Folklore., Art, San., Imperialism in literature., Theses--English.