Oswald Pirow’s Ashambeni (1955) : a “history” of dogs, humans, werewolves

Barendse, Joan-Mari (2018)

CITATION: Barendse, J. M. 2018. Oswald Pirow’s Ashambeni (1955) : a “history” of dogs, humans, werewolves. Tydskrif vir Letterkunde, 55(3):96-107, doi:10.17159/2309-9070/tvl.v.55i3.5502.

The original publication is available at https://journals.assaf.org.za/index.php/tvl


In this paper I explore the human-dog interaction in Oswald Pirow’s Ashambeni (1955). I focus on the position of the dog in Pirow’s depiction of a world where the lives of animals and humans, and the natural and supernatural world, are entangled. In the novel, there are references to real historical figures and particulars of Portuguese East Africa and the South African Lowveld around 1850. The historical context sketched in the novel is from Pirow’s far-right, racist perspective. While most critics place Pirow’s work in the folkloric tradition, Ashambeni is more than a folkloric tale since it promotes Pirow’s offensive views. In Ashambeni the role of the dog ranges from valuable possession to loving companion to hunting and fighting tool. It shows that a dog history cannot be separated from a human history, and that dogs are part of the social and cultural life of humans. The depiction of human-dog interaction in Ashambeni points to a historical anthropocentric entanglement rather than the boundary-crossing entanglement between human and animal proposed by contemporary human-animal studies. The human characters control the dog characters’ status in the human society. Even more problematic, the description of the dogs is tied up with Pirow’s racist ideology and subjective account of history.

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