Original Research

Beyond African nationalism: Isaiah Shembe’s hymns and African literature

Nkosinathi Sithole
Literator | Vol 35, No 1 | a1069 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v35i1.1069 | © 2014 Nkosinathi Sithole | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 July 2013 | Published: 28 November 2014

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Nkosinathi Sithole, Department of English, University of Zululand, South Africa


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Abstract

This article deals with Isaiah Shembe’s hymns and proposes that they should be read asliterature because, in them, Shembe employs a number of literary features. He also usesfeatures of oral literature and uses the hymns to reflect on a number of issues that concernedhim and his fellow black people. The hymns that are examined here are more akin to poetrythan hymns in that Shembe uses them to engage with the issues of his time rather than to praiseGod. However, this does not mean that all the hymns should be misconstrued as politicaltexts: They are generally songs of worship for the members to sing when praising God, yetShembe also found in the genre of hymns a powerful medium for voicing his concerns asan African. Whilst other scholars have noted Shembe’s concern with Zulu ethnicity and hiscontribution to Zulu literature, I suggest here a reading of the hymns that goes beyond Zuluethnicity, looking at them as part of African literature since Shembe himself was not justconcerned with the Zulus and their problems, but he was also concerned with the mattersthat concerned Africa as a whole.

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