“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us.”
Among Xhosas (Ko-saws) in South Africa, storytelling is a magnificent art. Their stories are more than mere entertainment. Xhosa scholar Harold Scheub says storytelling for the Xhosa people is “not only a primary means of entertainment and artistic expression in the society, it is also the major educational device.”1 Yet beyond education, the most important role of the stories is to allow expression. Especially now, with the recent demise of apartheid and some of its effects lingering on, the need for expression about past sorrows through stories is greater than ever before. Upon investigation, these stories yield profound insights into the Xhosa’s racial identity and perception of self. For both the individual and the culture, these stories and their heroes demonstrate their own significant roles in providing reconciliation and healing for the youth of South Africa.
Stories provide a common cultural heritage that has long been one important element of the unifying force for Xhosas that resisted the divisive powers of apartheid; but, more importantly, they provide a wealth of role models and friends that see troubled individuals through difficult and otherwise lonely lives, showing them the way to ultimate healing. The challenges for poor black children in South Africa today are many. Those I taught at Daily Bread Children’s Home were AIDS orphans, abuse victims, street kids, or kids from financially destitute homes.
Some were traumatized from witnessing violent beatings and murders, others were trying to come to terms at the beginning of their lives with the disease that would soon end them, while a few felt humiliated for their young pregnancies. All of the children suffered from being marginalized in society and restricted to the small, impoverished farm. Still they consistently demonstrated amazing resilience. They all cared for each other in the enormous family of seventy or so that they had become. They knew each other intimately and accepted each other completely.