Elsa Joubert, Poppie Nongena

Elsa Joubert, Poppie Nongena
(translation of Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena [1978]; some English editions as The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena)

Pay attention when you read: the text moves from third person description to first person (mostly in the words of Poppie or her brother Mosie) without conventional punctuation (no quotation marks where you’d expect them).

In Afrikaans, the suffix –tjie is a diminutive, pronounced “key”
(thus Poppie’s grandmother called her Poppetjie, or Pop-eh-key)

: boys going through coming of age/circumcision ritual (“going to the bush”)

Basters: Afrikaans-speaking people descended from mixed-race communities in South Africa and Namibia

Black Sash: women’s group (mostly liberal, white members) that supported anti-Apartheid activities and offered assistance to black South Africans

C.I.D. Criminal Investigations Department; branch of the national police

Damara: Khoisan speaking people in Namibia

Doek (kapdoek, hoeddoek): headscarf

Isangoma: diviner, herbalist (witchdoctor in Poppie’s account)

Kierrie: wooden stick, Xhosa and Zulu weapon and symbol of manhood

Loblola: bride wealth, custom of material and symbolic exchanges between two families to formalize a marriage

Mealies: corn cobs

Mealie meal: porridge (think grits, or creamy polenta)

Nama: Khoisan speaking people in Nambia

Sambok (also sjambok): African whip, often of hippo or rhino hide, widely adopted by colonists; used by police in South Africa

Ugqirha: doctor

Veld: field, grasslands

Zionist: member of Christian church in South Africa affiliated with the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church founded in Zion, Illinois. First established in South Africa in 1895; African clergy and leadership

Family relationships and kinship terms

Ouma: grandmother
Oupa: grandfather
Oom: Uncle (oompie is diminutive/affectionate)
Tannie: aunt

Nguni (both Zulu and Xhosa)
Buti (also bhuti): brother
Sisi: sister
Tata: father (Xhosa)
Baba: father (Zulu)
Gogo: grandmother (Zulu)

Discussion Questions
Poppie Nongenga offers rich descriptions of family life, social relationships, and material circumstances of Xhosa-speaking people. After reading these selections, what can you say about Xhosa family structure?

Poppie’s family is highly mobile (as are many of their friends). Describe the geographic range of their movements. What explains their mobility? What explains their ability to maintain connections/contact throughout this movement?

Describe the criteria for social differentiation in the various communities where Poppie lives.

What employment opportunities are available for Poppie and members of her extended family? What are some of the limitations on employment that Poppie, Hoedjie, Mosie, and Stone encounter?

How does Poppie’s family support itself? How do sources of support change—both over time (from Poppie’s girlhood to her adulthood) and in different places (Uppington, Lambert’s Bay, Cape Town)?

Describe the consequences of the Group Areas Act, Pass Laws, and forced removals on Poppie and her family.

How does the implementation of Apartheid differently affect men and women? Children and adults? Young adults and the elderly?

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