CCA PhD candidate Magdaleen du Toit in the Bleek and Lloyd archives

12 Apr 2023
12 Apr 2023

!kun dictionary card, ink on card, UCT manuscripts and archives BC151


Now halfway through the second year of her PhD, Maggie has had two exciting fieldwork trips along with two engaging local conferences. Most days are spent behind the computer researching, writing, and organising, but the long days are balanced out by fieldwork and conferences focusing on the convening, dispersal, and curation of the Bleek and Lloyd Collection, with her particular enquiry into the understudied !kun section. With an upcoming conference in London she shares more on her research:


"In May last year, I was very lucky to go on a fieldwork expedition to northern Namibia with my supervisor Prof Pippa Skotnes; linguist Dr Matthias Brenzinger; ethnobotanist Dr Nigel Gericke; and three more academics in the fields of philosophy, migration studies, and literature. The aim of the trip was to see if it would be possible to link the understudied !kun section of the Bleek and Lloyd collection to the landscape and region which the four !Xuun interlocutors were from. My research is focused on highlighting the previously disregarded knowledge conveyed by !nanni, Tamme, |uma, and Da, including their intimate understandings of the plants and trees found in their countries. Reading the annotated drawings and watercolours that portray their knowledge in the very area from which it stems was almost like watching a puzzle beginning to solve itself. The fieldtrip and collaboration with Drs Gericke and Brenzinger, as well as consulting !Xuun speakers Mr Martin Aromo and Mr Thaddeus Chedau, have made it possible to identify and translate more botanical and animal species represented in the !Xuun boys’ works than I ever expected.

"The second fieldtrip took place in August last year when Prof Skotnes, Fabian Saptouw, and I visited the Northern Cape and home of the |xam with the eminent archaeologist Dr Janette Deacon. We camped at the foot of a hill scattered with dolerite boulders and stones which have perfectly held their intricate engravings, most likely made by |xam people. We warmed up during the day by searching for gong rocks (dolerite boulders that ring like a bell when struck) and large engravings of hippos, which felt counterintuitive, at first, given the arid landscape. In the freezing evenings we huddled by the campfire, and Pippa and Janette shared stories of the wonderful rock paintings and engravings they have seen.

Many long days of research and writing still lie ahead for me, but these have been, and continue to be, informed by the adventures my work has led me to, and I have !nanni, Tamme, |uma, and Da to thank for never leaving me uninspired."

We look forward to seeing more of Maggie in the rebuilding of the Digital Bleek and Lloyd and the reimagining of this archive between the Centre for Curating the Archive and Archive and Public Culture through her work.