Dual-language book on the Berg

2013-04-24 00:00

THE Zulu people called them uKhahlamba — the “barrier of spears” — while the Voortrekkers dubbed them the Drakens­berg — “dragon mountains” — which is how they became referred to in English. Now a new book will keep both English speakers and Zulu speakers happy.

The dual-language book uKhahlamba: Umlando weZintaba zoKhahlamba/Exploring the history of the uKhahlamba Mountains, by John Wright and Aron Mazel, was launched at a function at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum on Friday evening.

The book, published by Wits University Press, is edited and adapted from Tracks in a Mountain Range, published in 2007.

Speaking at the launch, historian John Wright said the original book had two broad aims. “From my side, it was to move beyond the stereotype in which the history of the Drakensberg had been written, featuring white men in khaki as the main actors with the smell of cordite in their nostrils. It’s a story full of soldiers and pioneer farmers, with the emphasis on pioneer, as if there had been no farmers in the area 1 500 years before they came along.”

Wright noted that he had grown up in the Drakensberg as the son of a game ranger — “and I love the smell of cordite in the morning” —  but there was a need to move beyond these colonial stereotypes and show there was much more to the history of the Drakensberg.

According to Wright, the aim of his co-author Mazel, a former archaeologist at the museum and now director of the International Centre for Cultural and Historical Studies at Newcastle University in Britain, was to move back the recorded history of the Drakensberg to earlier times and also to move it forward into the 20th century. “This brought his research into the public arena and made it available to a wider audience,” said Wright.

These two aims are embodied in the new dual-language version, said Wright. “We now have what I think is a unique book, with parallel texts in English and isiZulu on the same page.”

Sylvia Zulu, senior lecturer in the Language Practice Department of the Durban University of Technology, who translated the English text into Zulu, said her brief “was to make the book accessible to tourists and to Grade 8 pupils and above”.

Zulu encountered various problems when translating from English, especially with terms from the colonial and pre-colonial periods. “There was also the issue of what sort of Zulu to use. For example, that which is used in KwaZulu-Natal or Gauteng? And then there is the language used by the Grade 8s of today. I set out to make it simple so that it can be understood.”

Zulu also dealt with obsolete words and orthographic issues.

There was a wrestling match with Wright, who is a Zulu speaker, over the word unyawothi, the Zulu word for millet, but only familiar to a very small group of Zulu speakers today. Eventually, Zulu decided to retain the word.

“And where there was no equivalent word, you have to explain,” Zulu said.

“I was guided by my goal of remaining loyal to the source text but also loyal to the target readership.”

Zulu said there is a need to foreground the translation of history texts today.

“We tend to translate mainly political texts, health texts and memorandums, but there is little or no translating of history texts.”

• feature1@witness.co.za

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