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Of Land, Bones, and Money

Toward a South African Ecopoetics
Emily McGiffin

BUY Cloth · 266 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942759 · $65.00 · Jul 2019
BUY Paper · 266 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942766 · $32.50 · Jul 2019
BUY Ebook · 266 pp. · ISBN 9780813942773 · $65.00 · Jul 2019

The South African literature of iimbongi, the oral poets of the amaXhosa people, has long shaped understandings of landscape and history and offered a forum for grappling with change. Of Land, Bones, and Money examines the shifting role of these poets in South African society and the ways in which they have helped inform responses to segregation, apartheid, the injustices of extractive capitalism, and contemporary politics in South Africa.

Emily McGiffin first discusses the history of the amaXhosa people and the environment of their homelands before moving on to the arrival of the British, who began a relentless campaign annexing land and resources in the region. Drawing on scholarship in the fields of human geography, political ecology, and postcolonial ecocriticism, she considers isiXhosa poetry in translation within its cultural, historical, and environmental contexts, investigating how these poems struggle with the arrival and expansion of the exploitation of natural resources in South Africa and the entrenchment of profoundly racist politics that the process entailed. In contemporary South Africa, iimbongi remain a respected source of knowledge and cultural identity. Their ongoing practice of producing complex, spiritually rich literature continues to have a profound social effect, contributing directly to the healing and well-being of their audiences, to political transformation, and to environmental justice.


"McGiffin sets out to fill a serious gap in South African literary criticism, particularly that of ecocriticism, which has largely ignored indigenous forms and productions. Local ecocriticism still generally is attracted to writing that is recognizably ‘nature’-oriented or ‘environmentalist’ along the lines of (mostly) North American ecocritical models – that is, mostly ‘white’ writing. McGiffin’s exploration of Xhosa praise poetry challenges the appropriateness of these approaches. She also answers a call among postcolonial ecocritics for a more politicised ecocriticism, one concerned less with preservation of natural resources than with social justice, as well as a sturdier valorization of indigenous modes of being and thought."

Daniel Wylie, Rhodes University, editor of Toxic Belonging? Identity and Ecology in Southern Africa

About the Author(s): 

Emily McGiffin is the author of two books of poetry, Between Dusk and Night and Subduction Zone, for which she received the 2015 Environmental Book Award (creative category) from the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.

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