Religious Mapping, Epistemic Risk and Archival Adventure in Athambile Masola's Ilifa

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Pumla Gqola


religious imagination, literary archive, isiXhosa literature, African feminism, South African women's poetry


In this essay, I offer a feminist reading of Athambile Masola’s award-winning debut collection of poetry, Ilifa, focusing on her use of religious imagination. I demonstrate how Masola’s repeated use of religious metaphor, language, and Christian location illuminates more than aspects of religious community, piety, and belonging, important though these are. In Ilifa, specific appearances of religious language, as well as the rhetorical uses to which religious imagery and the disruption of Christian iconography are put, reveal the poet’s understanding of the making of transgenerational southern African feminist publicness. Her deployment of Christian vocabularies amplifies multigenerational African (women’s) contribution to (South) Africa’s intellectual and creative archives. While her religious references are not confined to Christianity, I limit myself to Biblical references to better tend to the intersections of feminist mapping, epistemic risk, and the poet’s engagement with two centuries of South African isiXhosa literary archive in print. Masola references these intellectual entries into publicness to negotiate her own admission into literary public life. I surface the context and conceptual landscapes of Masola’s own poetic project.

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