The Footprints of Raka: On Rewriting and Canonisation

By Anthea Van Jaarsveld and Hendrik Petrus Van Coller.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Raka, published in 1941, is one of N.P. van Wyk Louw’s most read and still relevant works. It is firmly entrenched in the Afrikaans literary canon. According to Kannemeyer, in his Geskiedenis van die Afrikaanse literatuur, “it is one of the greatest achievements in the Afrikaans literature”. In a radio interview in 1943 Louw refers to two related interpretations of Raka. The first is the spiritual demoralization of a cultural entity that is easily affected by foreign influences. Another possible interpretation is the biological fact that the spiritualized human being finds himself on a higher cultural plain and generally multiplies more slowly than the less privileged, less intelligent but mostly sensuous child of nature. In the long run this process could turn into a huge threat for the spiritual well being of Western civilization. D.J. Opperman regards the second possibility as closer to the contents of the poem: these thoughts are expressed in detail by Louw in his essay “Die aristokratiese ideaal”, which according to him, is the origin of Raka. In Rondom eie werk, Raka was called symbolic verse by Louw; many commentaries on Raka, contain elements of truth, but it is not correct to elevate one as the ultimate. “The symbol embraces many truths – those we expect and those which, at a later stage, present themselves in a different form”. Because according to Louw, “the symbol recognizes the richness and completeness of the universe, of history (and) of man.” One of the debates concerning Raka is the fact that Raka is seen as the ultimate ruler. In Die Huisgenoot (26 Mei 1944), J.F. Marais writes that Raka was driven to foolishness by Koki’s lucidity: “he confirmed his reign with bloodshed and violence. Blood cries vengeance, stronger and louder than any human voice. Is it possible that this bloodshed will cry even louder for vengeance until the tribe will rise and tear Raka apart? “ Some literary critics like Grové in his Blokboek on Raka, and Van Rensburg in Sublieme ambag, claim that the tribe succumbed because they were unfaithful to the highest ideals and values. Anybody who sees the possibility of resurrection, does not understand the essence of the tragic. Marais (1993) contradicts the afore mentioned by stating that a succumbed tribe rises under an inspired and competent leader in a process to free itself. “A surrendered struggle is a struggle lost – to abandon a cause, is a cause lost.” Ampie Coetzee (1990) reiterates Marais’ views in his inaugural lecture – At the end of the poem he says, Raka is still a peripheral figure. Marais pointed out that Raka is in essence not evil. The leader of the tribe, Koki, realizes that the periphery is a dark, strong, dense entity which confines him. This confinement can be seen as the periphery and Koki experiences this as a threat to the core. All the above mentioned re-readings are important in the reception of Raka. There are however “creative receptions” too, for example by Etienne van Heerden in Kikoejoe, Hennie Aucamp in a series of poems and Koos Kombuis in Raka, die roman. Of the latter the writer says: “The novel exploits the fears and apprehensions of the modern Afrikaner in this interim phase…” This paper endeavors to interpret the re-reading of Raka against the background of a political and ideological system.

Keywords: Afrikaans Literary Canon, Literary Rerealisations, Critical Rewritings, Creative Rewritings

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.89-96. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 529.655KB).

Dr. Anthea Van Jaarsveld

Senior Lecturer, Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, German and French, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

Prof. Hendrik Petrus Van Coller

Professor, Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, German and French, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

Prof. Hennie van Coller (born 1949) matriculated at the Florida High School, and obtained a B.A. (Law) and Honours degree (with distinction) at the University of the Witwatersrand. He obtained a Drs. Litt. In Science of Literature and Dutch Literature at the Rijksuniversiteit of Utrecht in 1975, and a doctorate (D. Litt et Phil) on Etienne Leroux at the Rand Afrikaans University (1981). He lectured at the Durban and Pietermaritzburg branches of the University of Natal, and was appointed as senior lecturer in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, UFS, in 1979, became professor in 1984, head of the department in 1988, and professor with special merit in 1997. He was guest professor at the Catholic University of Louvain on three occasions, and was also guest professor at various universities abroad, among others for a month at the Rijksuniversiteit of Groningen. Prof. Van Coller has wide managerial experience to his credit. Outside university context he served on the Raad van die Afrikaanse Taalmuseum en -monument for eight years, was chairperson of the Afrikaanse Letterkundevereniging (ALV) for two terms, member of the HSRC’s specialist committee, national executive member of the Afrikaanse Skrywerskring and Suid-Afrikaanse Vereniging vir Neerlandistiek and is currently a panel member of the National Arts Council. He is currently a member of the literature commission of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, chairperson of the Faculty Board and vice-chairperson of that organisation, national executive member of the Afrikaanse Letterkundevereniging (ALV) and executive member of the Noordelike Kennisnetwerk vir Neerlandistiek. He is also member of international associations such as the International Comparative Literature Association, the African Literature Association and the Maatskappij der Nederlandse Letteren. In 2005 he was elected as chairperson of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns. In university context, Prof. Van Coller was member of the Faculty Committee and Research Committee of the Faculty of Arts for many years, chaired a number of ad-hoc committees (such as the Language Committee), and is currently a member of the University’s Research Committee, Honorary Degree Committee, Committee for Quality Control, and the Executive Management. In the Faculty he is also a member of the Malherbe Memorial Lecture Committee, chairperson of the Personnel Evaluation Committee, a member of the Faculty Committee, and secunde dean. Prof. Van Coller is also a member of the editorial staff of several accredited journals: he is the editor of Stilet, member of the editorial staff of the Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe and editor of the 2005 edition of Perspektief en Profiel. Prof. Van Coller is the author of 80 articles in accredited journals, 35 chapters in books, numerous popular publications, and various reviews, and is the author, co-author or editor of 18 books, among others the three-part history of literature Perspektief en Profiel. Since 2003 he writes a column in Volksblad. He presented 40 papers at national and 20 at international congresses. Apart from bursaries such as the Seba Cuyler Bursary, the State Bursary and NZAV Scholarship, the HSRC/NRF bursary for established researchers was awarded to him on three occasions. In 2000 he received the Gustav Preller Prize for Science of Literature and Literary Criticism from the S.A. Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns. This was consequently followed by him being awarded the Elisabeth Eybers Bursary by the S.A. Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns in 2002. He received both a Centenary Medal and a Research Medal from the University of the Free State in 2004. Prof. Van Coller acted as supervisor and examiner of several honours and master’s degree mini-dissertations, 10 dissertations and 6 theses. He was also external examiner of several dissertations and 11 theses, and is currently moderator for UPE, PU for CHE, and Qwaqwa. As direct result of his initiatives, an exchange agreement was entered into with the Catholic University of Louvain and a partial agreement with the Rijksuniversiteit of Groningen. The Committee for Title Registrations was established on his proposal in this regard in the early nineties. Some of his creative writing were selected for Die bruid en ander verhale, Kort-kort and Lyfspel and his poetry was published in, among others, Literator, Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe and Tydskrif vir Letterkunde. Prof. Van Coller’s hobbies and interests include wine tasting and maturation, cooking and reading. He is married to Elsa van der Straaten, and is the father of three daughters.


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