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Custom and Myth

Page: 74

tsu and goa. Goa means ‘to go on,’ ‘to come on.’ In Khoi Khoi goa-b means ‘the coming on one,’ the dawn, and goa-b also means ‘the knee.’ Dr. Hahn next writes (making a logical leap of extraordinary width), ‘it is now obvious that, //goab in Tsui Goab cannot be translated with knee,’—why not?—‘but we have to adopt the other metaphorical meaning, the approaching day, i.e. the dawn.’ Where is the necessity? In ordinary philology, we should here demand a number of attested examples of goab, in the sense of dawn, but in Khoi Khoi we cannot expect such evidence, as there are probably no texts. Next, after arbitrarily deciding that all Khoi Khois misunderstand their own tongue (for that is what the rendering here of goab by ‘dawn’ comes to), Dr. Hahn examines tsu, in Tsui. Tsu means ‘sore,’ ‘wounded,’ ‘painful,’ as in ‘wounded knee’—Tsui Goab. This does not help Dr Hahn, for ‘wounded dawn’ means nothing. But he reflects that a wound is red, tsu means wounded: therefore tsu means red, therefore Tsui Goab is the Red Dawn. Q.E.D.

This kind of reasoning is obviously fallacious. Dr. Hahn’s point could only be made by bringing forward examples in which tsu is employed to mean red in Khoi Khoi. Of this use of the word tsu he does not give one single instance, though on this point his argument depends. His etymology is not strengthened by the fact that Tsui Goab has once been said to live in the red sky. A red house is not necessarily tenanted by a red man. Still less is the theory supported by the hymn which says Tsui Goab paints himself with red ochre. Most idols, from those of the Samoyeds to the Greek images of Dionysus, are and have been daubed with red. By such reasoning is Tsui Goab proved to be the Red Dawn, while his gifts of prophecy (which he shares with all soothsayers) are accounted for as attributes of dawn, of the Vedic Saranyu.

Turning from Tsui Goab to his old enemy Gaunab, we learn that his name is derived from //gau, to destroy,’ and, according to old Hottentot ideas, ‘no one was the destroyer but the night’ (p. 126). There is no apparent reason why the destroyer should be the night, and the night alone, any more than why ‘a lame broken knee’ should be ‘red’ (p. 126). Besides (p. 85), Gaunab is elsewhere explained, not as the night, but as the malevolent ghost which is thought to kill people who die what we call a ‘natural’ death. Unburied men change into this sort of vampire, just as Elpenor, in the Odyssey, threatens, if unburied, to become mischievous. There is another Gaunab, the mantis insect, which is worshipped by Hottentots and Bushmen (p. 92). It appears that the two Gaunabs are differently pronounced. However that may be, a race which worships an insect might well worship a dead medicine-man.


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