25th Oliver Davies Memorial Lecture: Boy-of-the-Marshes: Zulu plant names and the recording of indigenous botanical knowledge by Prof Adrian Koopman on Tuesday 24 April 2012 at 18:45 (following the Archaeological Society AGM at 18:15) at the Durban Natural Science Museum Research Centre, Wyatt Rd, Durban. Free, all welcome. Christine 031 563 8659.
Boy-of-the-Marshes: Zulu plant names and the recording of indigenous botanical knowledge
by Prof. Adrian Koopman
The Zulu Botanical Knowledge project (ZBK) is an on-going research project which is attempting to capture as much as possible the indigenous knowledge of plants held by Zulu-speaking elders before this knowledge is lost to forthcoming generations.
Transferring knowledge held in the “group memory” of a community to paper has certain problems, mainly because of two conflicting systems of knowledge storage, and two conflicting systems of plant identification. The EuroWestern world of botany pursues a quaint fiction that “Among botanists, each and every plant species has one and one only name, used for that species and no other”. This concept of “one plant one name” applies, of course, only to botanical nomenclature, and not to plant names in various vernaculars. However, plants recognized by the Zulu-speaking community frequently have more than one name, often as many as five or six; at the same time what botanists may recognize as four or five plants which appear to be similar but in fact are of different species, are frequently seen by indigenous botanists as the same ‘species’ and so share a name. A third problem is the EuroWestern notion that written names (whether of plants, places or people) must have only one spelling. In the EuroWestern knowledge system, there is a notion that entities (names, poems, the lyrics of songs, etc.) have a ‘correct’ form. This does not, and cannot apply to knowledge held in memory and disseminated orally, simply because oral communication does not have spelling.
The difficulties mentioned above are explored in this talk, with particular emphasis paid to the plant Stylochiton natalensis (the Bushveld Arum), which has the Zulu name umfana kaNozihlanjana (‘little boy-of-the-marshes’)