Rethinking Africa: Indigenous Women Re-interpret Southern Africa’s Pasts

03 Mar 2021
03 Mar 2021

Rethinking Africa: Indigenous Women Re-interpret Southern Africa’s Pasts is a new book co-edited by Dr June Bam-Hutchison and Bernadette Muthien of the Centre for African Studies (CAS). The volume, which was announced on 26 January 2021, comprises contributions from prominent feminist scholars, including Sylvia Vollenhiven and Sarah Henkeman, while former director of the Centre for African Studies, Emeritus Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza supplied the foreword.

The book announcement was hosted by the Khoi-San Studies Unit in CAS. Watch the launch event here.

“Vast scholarship exists on the Khoi and San but from a largely ‘exteriority’ perspective,” explains Bam-Hutchison. “These perspectives are by their very nature limited and deficient, often exclusively focused on the 'official' and colonial archive. If African philosophies and epistemologies are included, they are often mediated from the perspective of those who routinely and repeatedly study indigenous 'subjects'.”

In the process important authentic voices and interpretations of pasts and their relation to the present and future of the people themselves and their descendants are left out, Bam-Hutchison adds.

“In other words, a lot got lost in the making of 'mainstream' knowledge and continues to go missing. The recently established Khoi and San Centre in partnership with the /Xarra Restorative Justice Forum aims to recover these lost and marginalised archives of rituals and knowledges that are alive (though often hidden or invisibilised) within communities - and often communities not traditionally associated with 'precolonial' knowledge in Eurocentric approaches to research and knowledge.

“This is theoretical knowledge worthy of interpretation as part of the inclusive ecology of knowledge. The question therefore begs in our time: How do we rethink Africa from an indigenous feminist perspective that critically engages with the process of producing knowledge of our deep pasts that is fuller, more complex, diverse, of immense value and not therefore dismiss-able?”

Muthien explained that the book critically opened new pathways for decolonial scholarship and the reclamation of indigenous self-definition by women scholars.

“Indigenous peoples around the world are often socially and gender egalitarian, matricentric, matrifocal, matrilineal, less violent, beyond-heteronormative, ecologically sensitive, with feminine or two-gender deities or spirits, and more,” explains Muthien.

Only this century have mainstream publishers begun publishing indigenous men on the southern African past with their particular phallogocentrism (male centredness), often ignoring the conditions and contributions of indigenous women through history, Muthien adds.

“Thus it is long overdue that as indigenous women we write our own herstory, define our own contemporary cultural and socio-economic conditions, and ideate future visions based on our lived realities, which are socially and gender egalitarian, matricentric, beyond-heteronormative, based on nonviolence or peace, ecologically responsible, and goddess-loving (for those fond of indigenous deities or spirits),” says Muthien. “All chapters herstoricise the accepted ‘histories’ and theories of how we came to understand the African past in the way that we do, how to problematise and rethink that discourse, and provide new and different ‘herstorical’ lenses, philosophies, epistemologies, methodologies and interpretations.”