This study aims to investigate two Sepedi ballads, Moganedi’s ‘Maletsoge’ (1985) and Matome Fela’s ‘Sebilwane’ (1961) to consider their style and genre.
The investigation starts with a review of prior studies of the Sepedi ballad, notably by Groenewald, Serudu, Mojalefa, Kruger and Lentsoane. Three research methods are used, namely explanation, description and comparison of the structure of a ballad. In exploring the Sepedi ballad form and whether there are ballads in Sepedi, the study is informed by narratology, which explains three aspects of the structure of a text (whether it is a narrative poem or a novel, short story or drama). This is relevant because ballads contain all the elements relevant to a narratological study, namely contents, a deliberate arrangement of the material, and style, as expressed in language.
Scrutiny of prior studies on the Sepedi ballad reveals some disagreement about the genre. This study attempts to address the resultant difficulties around the categorisation of the ballad vs the epic in Sepedi literature. Serudu groups the Sepedi ballad, epic and praise poem together. This implies that these genres share some characteristics, even though there are important differences between the three types of poems. Groenewald admits that the central characteristic of the ballad is its narrative character, but he claims that there are no ballads in Sepedi. He categorises the ballad as a type of poem that narrates events of a poem, but states that its aim is not to praise the bravery of the main character, unlike in an epic or praise poem.
These scholars, especially Serudu, do not engage with Kayser’s explanation of a ballad – he said that a ballad focuses on events as the biggest section of the narration. Kayser’s argument suggests that the main difference between the epic and the ballad is the focus of the poem: an epic is about a character, while the ballad emphasises actions. Thus character and action as the two pillars of the arrangement are very important in differentiating a ballad from other types of poems, such as narrative poems or praise poems. In a ballad, action builds until the conflict reaches a climax, which usually involves the meeting of the main opposing characters in a moment of panic and danger.
To illustrate this contention, a ballad by Moganedi, ‘Maletsoge’, is analysed, relying on arrangement theory, focusing on the core of the matter and exposition only (this was all the scope of this investigation permitted).
The concept of a ballad is explained by looking at six aspects: the origin, actions, characters, atmosphere and types of ballad. Ballads emphasise a feeling of sound and rhythm. Actions that take place in them are not as important as the spirit of song and rhythm. Hence, the actions in the ballad are not explained in full and the action often starts abruptly, in the middle of things, without any lengthy introduction. This often makes the listener curious and impatient to know what led to the action that opens the poem.
Matome Fela’s ballad ‘Sebilwane’ (1961) is analysed with the focus on the arrangement of the writing style, as the third layer of a ballad. The text is shown to centre around the author’s point of view. That means that through the author’s language readers can understand the text and intention of the author. Readers are able to recognise the style as they read the text. That means the author’s language is very important when it comes to style, because it is what builds a relationship between the author and the readers, connecting them through dialogue and language. The language as an element of style has three functions: to call (to hear what is spoken), to focus on something (to see what is spoken) and to reveal feelings or emotions (those of the speaker about what he/she speaks of). This study emphasises the difference among content, plot structure and style of narratology. The concept of emotions was analysed by explaining the techniques that stand out in the stylistic arrangement in the ballad.