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Three nineteenth-century Southern African San myths: a study in meaning

  • J. David Lewis-Williams
Abstract

Indigenous significances of nineteenth-century |Xam San folktales are hard to determine from narrative structure alone. When verbatim, original-language records are available, meaning can be elicited by probing beneath the narrative and exploring the connotations of highly significant words and phrases that imply meanings and associations that narrators take for granted but that nonetheless contextualize the tales. Analyses of this kind show that three selected |Xam tales deal with a form of spiritual conflict that has social implications. Like numerous |Xam myths, these tales concern conflict between people and living or dead malevolent shamans. Using their supernatural potency, benign shamans transcend the levels of the San cosmos in order to deal with social conflict and to protect material resources. As a result, benign shamans enjoy a measure of respect that sets them apart from ordinary people.

Il est difficile de distinguer les significations indigènes des contes folkloriques |Xam San du 19ème siècle de la structure narrative seule. Lorsque des textes sont disponibles in extenso dans la langue d'origine, il est possible d'en obtenir le sens en fouillant sous le narratif et en explorant les connotations de mots et expressions hautement significatifs qui impliquent des sens et des associations auxquels les narrateurs n'accordent pas grande importance mais qui néanmoins contextualisent les contes. Ce type d'analyse montre que trois contes |Xam choisis traitent d'une forme de conflit spirituel qui a des implications sociales. Comme beaucoup de mythes |Xam, ces contes ont trait au conflit entre les habitants et les chamans malveillants vivants ou morts. Les chamans bienveillants usent de leur puissance surnaturelle pour transcender les niveaux du cosmos San afin de traiter les conflits sociaux et de protéger les ressources matérielles. C'est pourquoi les chamans bienveillants bénéficient d'un certain respect qui les distingue des personnes ordinaires.

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