A Genre Considered
Chapter Two sketches the musical substructure of the book, discussing the organology and performance practice of the mouth harp, and its trade in southern Africa, known as isitolotolo or isitweletwele. Performed to accompany women’s walking songs (amaculo manihamba), the chapter traces the modification of the instrument from transmitter of rumors and everyday concerns by pre-marital women to the voice of women’s political and economic resistance in the early 1960s. This shift is precipitated by the forced removal of families from the Ndumo Game Reserve, compelling male relatives to seek employment elsewhere and obliging women to assume new, often illegal livelihood practices. The chapter describes how these economic changes, which rendered women vulnerable to constant surveillance, imprisonment and extended periods of forced labor, were fundamental to the alteration of the structure and temper of the songs, and to their use by women as a strategy toward more bearable citizenship. The chapter concludes with speculation on the reasons for the demise of this practice in the 1970s, attributed in large part to regional political instability and the erection by the South African government of an electrified fence along the state border, leading to their gradual dislocation from their social and spatial moorings.
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