Jordan, Archibald Campbell
Archibald Campbell Jordan (October 30, 1906-October 20, 1968) was a brilliant poet, novelist and translator who wrote in Xhosa and English. His literary works deftly integrated African traditional beliefs with experience of cultural dispossession to create an explosive and penetrating literary style. His tragic novel Ingqumbo Yeminyanya (“Wrath of the Ancestors”), published in 1940, was the finest example of such creativity.
Jordan was born in Mbokothwane in the Tsolo district of the Transkei, Cape Province. He attended school in the Transkei and studied briefly at Fort Hare College. He received his B.A. and M.S. degrees from the University of South Africa through Fort Hare. For his master’s thesis he studied the phonetic and grammatical structure of the Baca language, one of the subdivisions of the Nguni family of languages. After teaching high school in the Orange Free State for eight years, he joined the faculty of Fort Hare for a year. He was then appointed to a lectureship at the University of Cape Town, which he held from 1945-61. He completed his Ph.D. in 1956, writing his dissertation on the literary forms of Xhosa.
He had produced most of his noteworthy writings after 1940. In 1962 he left South Africa to become visiting lecturer at the University of California at Los Angeles. The following year, he joined the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin, at Madison. He was appointed full professor in the newly formed Department of African Languages and Literature in 1964, holding this position until his death in 1968.
His most notable work, Ingqumbo Yeminyanya, portrays a young “modernized” Mpondomise ruler and his wife who disregard tradition with tragic results. Many of his friends who read his manuscript tried to persuade Jordan to change the ending so that modernity and Christianity would win in the end over traditional religion and beliefs. Jordan refused to change the end and its implication.
Jordan published an informative series of articles in English in Africa South between 1957 and 1960. The series was titled “Towards an African Literature” and was published posthumously in book form by the University of California Press in 1973, as were his translated, Tales from South Africa.
Dr. Jordan also wrote poems and short stories in Xhosa which, except for his Kwezo Mpindo Zetsitsa, have been published in English translations. Among his noteworthy works in Xhosa are Ulubhelu-Ndongana, Imhobe, and Ooketshe babha zalele, which contain poignant poems depicting the conditions of the oppressed African people of South Africa. In a poem entitled “Uthi Mandiyeke” (“You Tell Me to Be Quiet”), Jordan opens with the striking lines:
You say, sit there, just stay quiet (When you know I’ve been unmanned) I’ve nowhere to go, you’ve taken all I had …
Dr. Jordan epitomized the anguish of a generation of African academics who tried in vain to reconcile Christian preachment and the brutal treatment of blacks in South Africa and who saw at first hand what cultural emasculation did to an oppressed people. Dr. Jordan, unlike others, fought back in his writings and described the bitter resentment of the African peasants to the conditions under which they lived.
C. Tsehloane Keto
Archibald Campbell Jordan, Ingqumbo Yeminyana, Lovedale: Lovedale Press, 1940; Practical Xhosa Course for Beginners, Cape Town: Longman Green, 1965; Towards an African Literature: The Emergence of Literary Form in Xhosa, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of Southern California Press, 1973; Tales From Southern Africa, Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973; Albert S. Gerard, Four African Literatures: Xhosa, Sotho, Zulu, Amharic, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California, 1971; Donald E. Herdeck, African Authors: A Companion to Black African Writing: 1300-1973, Washington, D.C., Black Orpheus Press, 1973; Michael Popkin, ed., Modem Black Writers, New York: Ungar, 1978.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Three: South Africa- Botswana-Lesotho-Swaziland. Ed. Keith Irvine. Algonac, Michigan: Reference Publications Inc., 1995. All rights reserved.