Intellectualisation of isiXhosa literature: the case of Jeff Opland

Keywords: history of isiXhosa literature, intellectualisation, isiXhosa literary archive, isiXhosa literature, Jeff Opland, oral literature


The origins of the intellectualisation of written isiXhosa literature are often attributed to the missionaries John Ross and John Bennie. They set up a printing press in the Tyhume Valley which later became known as Lovedale Press. They introduced written isiXhosa in 1823 and for this they are acknowledged as the first to write and publish in isiXhosa. This article attempts to trace this intellectualisation process of isiXhosa literature, concentrating on a critique and assessment of the life-long work of Professor Jeff Opland, who has contributed enormously to the present understanding of both oral and written isiXhosa literature. It is argued in this article that his corpus of books and academic articles require some contextualisation within the broader debate of the continued intellectualisation of isiXhosa language and literature. Reference is also made to the Opland isiXhosa literature archive and its contribution to the further intellectualisation of isiXhosa literature. It is suggested in this article that Opland is one of the greatest contributors to academic debates concerning isiXhosa literature and history. Izibongo or oral poems written by, and about Jeff Opland are analysed to further enhance the context of his contribution.

Author Biography

Russell Harold Kaschula, Rhodes University
Professor of African language studies and NRF Chair holder in the School of Languages.


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