The Uncoiling Python
South African Storytellers and Resistance

By Harold Scheub

“An innovative and original blend of broad-based humanistic scholarship with a sharply focused treatment of how a people’s oral narrative tradition addresses the traumas of their history.”

Isidore Okpewho, State University of New York Distinguished Professor of Africana Studies, English, and Comparative Literature at Binghamton University

“With this book, Scheub continues his important contribution to the study and preservation of African tales by proposing that the tradition of tale-telling contributed to the subversion of colonial domination and apartheid in South Africa.…In addition to providing fascinating information about individual storytellers and their understanding of their craft, Scheub, in his final chapter, writes eloquently about storytellers as repositories of collective memory.”


There are many collections of African oral traditions, but few as carefully organized as The Uncoiling Python. Harold Scheub, one of the world’s leading scholars of African oral traditions and folklore, explores the ways in which oral traditions have served to combat and subvert colonial domination in South Africa. From the time colonial forces first came to southern Africa in 1487, oral and written traditions have been a bulwark against what became 350 years of colonial rule, characterized by the racist policies of apartheid. The Uncoiling Python: South African Storytellers and Resistance is the first in-depth study of oral tradition as a means of survival.

In open insurrections and other subversive activities Africans resisted the daily humiliations of colonial rule, but perhaps the most effective and least apparent expression of subversion was through indigenous storytelling and poetic traditions. Harold Scheub has collected the stories and poetry of the Xhosa, Zulu, Swati, and Ndebele peoples to present a fascinating analysis of how the apparently harmless tellers of tales and creators of poetry acted as front-line soldiers.

Harold Scheub is Evjue-Bascom Professor of Humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of many books, including Story, The Poem in the Story, Shadows, and A Dictionary of African Mythology: The Mythmaker as Storyteller.

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Related Subjects

Monograph · African Studies · South Africa · Southern Africa · Africa · African Authors



Retail price: $28.95, S.
Release date: Jun. 2010
256 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World


Retail price: $49.95, S.
Release date: Jun. 2010
256 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World


Release date: Jun. 2010
Rights: World