Publication details [#9595]

Samin, Richard. 2006. The myth of Adamastor: The ambivalent metaphor of otherness in South African literature. 12 pp. URL


The mythic figure of Adamastor as represented in Luis de Camoens's epic poem 'The Lusiads' (1572) has been frequently used as a metaphor for the unknown and the dangerous Other in South African literature. While analysing how this monstrous figure borrowed from Greek mythology was used for centuries by travellers and colonialists to represent Africa and Africans the paper will focus on the ambivalence of its representational status. By projecting upon the unknown a figment of its imagination in the form of a repulsive monster the white colonial subject has tried to come to terms with unknown lands and peoples. The construction of such a repulsive figure is by contrast a proof of his own humanity and reinforces an awareness of selfhood and agency. It also serves a hermeneutic function whereby he can legitimate his interpretation and subjugation of colonised others. The paradox of Adamastor is that while this uncanny figure can symbolise a form of alterity firmly located in an external world, totally alienated from the white subject, it is in fact a simulacrum proceeding from the self, which transcends the barrier between inside and outside and serves both as a kind of pharmakon upon which he can project all his contradictory feelings of fascination and fear, rejection and attraction and as the theme of a discourse which by giving a form and a voice to the unknown Other exorcises the fear and uncertainty it arouses. In South African literature the figure of Adamastor has appeared in different forms at different moments in the colonial history of the country from the British occupation of the Cape at the beginning of the 19th century with Thomas Pringle's poetry to contemporary South Africa with André Brink's fiction. (Richard Samin)