Dariro and the eternity of African memory

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(Eingeschränkte Rechte für bestimmte redaktionelle Kunden in Deutschland. Limited rights for specific editorial clients in Germany.) Soldaten der deutschen Schutztruppe mit gefangenen Nama - Hottentotten. ohne weieter Angaben 1905/06 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

EVENTS culminating in the Africa Day commemorations on May 25 2021 could have been the basis for construction of several docu-dramas illustrating the eternity of African memory which the ubiquitous dariro represents.

Let me illustrate these possibilities by enumerating some of the events:

First, Deutsche Welle reported that “Germany officially recognizes colonial-era Namibia genocide: Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Germany had caused ‘immeasurable suffering’ to the Herero and Nama people, in what is now Namibia, in the early part of the 20th century.”

There were a number of elements forming part of this historic ‘recognition’, including the proposal to set up an aid fund for Namibia amounting to the equivalent of US $1.34 billion.  

Germany could also return to Namibia “tens of thousands of stolen African body parts and looted art belonging to Namibian ancestors which are being kept in German museums.”The purpose of the negotiations between Germany and Namibia was, according to the German Foreign Minister, “to find a common path to genuine reconciliation in memory of the victims.”  

This included changing the official language or vocabulary describing the 1894-1908 atrocities in order to acknowledge ‘genocide’.  Prior to this admission, euphemisms and denials dominated the language.

The current Government of Namibia said: “The acceptance on the part of Germany that a genocide was committed is the first step in the right direction” for future relations between the two peoples.

On the ground or in the villages, some representatives of the Ova Herero and Nama people dismissed the German gestures as a PR stunt.  

Some of these representatives would prefer a blunt apology to be followed by proper reparations. 

In the minds of historically conscious people, the whole exercise raised questions about how after 1945 Germany, under pressure from Western allies, had paid reparations to the Jews and the nation of Israel for the crimes of genocide.  

For Africans, were slavery, apartheid and colonialism not the equivalents of Nazi genocide?

Second, the 27 May Reuters report echoed many others by reporting: “France’s President Emmanuel Macron Admits Some French guilt for Rwanda’s Genocide.”

The French President visited Rwanda and the gist of the French admission of guilt for a role in the genocide that killed nearly a million people in 1994 was that: “France ‘was not an accomplice’ in the genocide but ended up siding with Rwanda’s ‘genocidal regime’ and therefore bore an ‘overwhelming responsibility’ in the slide toward the massacres…”   

This happened in a situation where both the former colonial power Belgium and the United Nations had already apologized for their failures in the series of events that precipitated the Rwandan 1994 genocide.

Third, in Zimbabwe, similar commemorations of African Day centered around the First Chimurenga of March 1896- October 1897 and the unveiling of the statue of Charwe, the medium of Mbuya Nehanda, a statue of the spirit medium who inspired and led the uprising. Charwe, was hanged as a ‘witch’ by the British settlers in 1896 together with male leaders of the attempted revolution against the settler regime.  

How The May 2021 events are related and how they represent the eternity of african memory_____________________________ 

In the first place the African concept of kuonesana meant not only the struggle to incorporate multiple voices (represented by mitupo, totems) within the same dariro.  

It also included the envisioning and construction of every child’s education as dependent on two concentric circles (madariro), one based on the mother and the other on the father.  

Both circles provided siblings, peers, mentors, elders and ancestors who contributed to the child’s upbringing as education. 

The idea was that one generation or more might go astray and betray/mislead the child (individual) but the breach would be corrected by another generation in the same dariro (circle) as memory.  

The mother’s side might suffer a lapse and let down the child, but the father’s circle would rectify the damage. 

The father’s side might also betray the child or go astray, but the mother’s side would counterbalance the damage.

In practical terms, using the case of Zimbabwe, Bernard Mzeki and other converted Africans were followed by generations of African teachers and leaders who believed that salvation and progress for Africans would be achieved mainly through missionary-sponsored education as an escape route away from abuntu (Africanness).  

But by the late 1950s African nationalism countered that trend throughout the whole region we now call SADC and led to the creation of liberation movements who went back or forward to the armed struggles of Nehanda, Bambata and Witboy.  

One of those movements, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), through its armed wing the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) used pungwe and the arts to rescue Nehanda from the colonial image of witch and succeeded in making her a household word.  

Now, Nehanda has moved from the enclosures of National Heroes Acre to the corner of Julius Nyerere Way (former Kingsway) and Samora Machel Avenue (former Jameson Avenue).

The idea therefore was that with the dariro as a pedagogical structure of kuonesana, African memory would last forever, would never be lost.

In the second place, the colonial and imperialist side worked hard both in the West and in Africa to entrench their model of African education as denial and amnesia.  

One group of education scholars calls this imperial education for the promotion of knowledgeable ignorance which promotes and entrenches knowing other people, ideas, civilisations, religions, histories as something they are not and could never possibly be, and maintaining these ideas even when the means exist to know differently.

In the third place, the May 2021 types of confession, acknowledgement or apology were issued at the imperial governmental level.  

In the past, churches appeared to lead the way.  

To me, this escalation to the level of the imperial state suggests increased influence and power of the collective African memory reminding white people of their real history.

Before 2021: Pervious Apologies 

According to the Herald and ZTV news on the and of September 3-4 2006 respectively, white Christians from Britain, Germany, France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain and the United States visited Africa and came to Zimbabwe with a message of apology which included the following statements:

“We repent for taking rather than giving.  Taking riches and lands of Africa.  We repent for dehumanising Africans, treating them as goods, calling them black ivory.  We repent for robbing Africans of their history and identity.  Today we ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ name before you and God.”

This was one phase in a series of published apologies made by white people ever since the crisis of the Euro-American white empire began to manifest itself in the middle of the 1960s.

In 1985, Pope John Paul apologised to Africa on behalf of the Catholic Church, for its key role in the African slave holocaust.  

Former US President Bill Clinton apologised to Africans in the US for the Tuskegee Experiment in which white scientists tested the human effects of untreated syphilis on African males for decades.

Now the quest to confess and apologise has reached the level of the former imperial state.

Our modest aim therefore is to offer just one form of analysis which could be used to understand this latest series. The latest series of confessions are like previous ones. 

It took careful planning, careful financing and careful rehearsals.  The nationalities involved are quite telling in themselves.  This is no spontaneous movement of the spirit.

Second, it takes place when the conventional white mission to convert the native to accept Jesus would be a joke, since the native is now more converted in that sense than his original converter.  

Likewise, most African states are copy-cats of the imperial state and quite happy to imitate the former.

So the apology mission is a conversion mission turned up-side down and inside-out.  The white missionary seeks to reconvert the native African by making himself or herself the one who needs and goes through a conversion, on TV, a conversion to the horrors of the imperial and colonial holocaust after nearly 500 years.

As Thomas Szasz says in Ideology and Insanity, conversion becomes necessary as a strategy in situations where there is real or potential conflict and confrontation between parties, or in situations where there is real or potential rejection of one important societal or institutional member by another.

The contradiction which both the imperial state and the imperial church face today is that the majority of the natives understand that neither the gospel of neoliberal economic growth and development nor the gospel of Christian unity and brotherhood has been realised.  

The African native is still treated as an outsider in the North Atlantic states. And up to now the media and missionary have managed to sustain the fiction that the African native wants to be in Europe or North America more than the white man wants to be in Africa.

But in Zimbabwe, something dangerous to the missionaries of development and the missionaries of salvation from the North took place during former President Mugabe’s leadership.  

President Mugabe at various forums, since the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, made it clear that the native wants to reclaim and keep his stolen land but has no wish to claim Europe or become a European.  This meant that the pendulum of rejection had shifted in the other direction.  The African is again in a position to be the one rejecting the white man’s burden and its entire package.  

Taking the ordinary povo into account, the African no longer believes he or she would be the loser in such a development.  

After all, there are many other world powers available for allies outside the West.  They include China, Russia, India, Brazil, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia and many more.  

It is a lot easier now than it was at ‘independence’ for the ordinary African to reject the West and get away with the rejection. 

Some Elements for the possible Docu-Dramas

In his book called The Making Memory: From Molecule to Mind, Steven Peter Russell Rose wrote that it was media technology which allowed or enabled collective memory to break free of our skulls and bodies in order to be shared without the involvement of our bodies… “memory has burst the confines of the individual, the personal, and has become collective… Where once memories were bound by an animal’s or a person’s own history and began afresh with the conception and development of each new life, technology now means that we share as a society memories none of us ever had personally.”

But contrary to this view, the African dariro always symbolized and even provided collective memory which in the pungwe became the basis for mass mobilisation.  

The institution of spirit media also provided another structure for collective memory outside the individual person or community.  This is the basis of David Lan’s study Guns and Rain:  Guerillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe.

In other words, the technology which Steven Rose credits with the further collectivisation of memory is merely extending a system which the Africans anticipated and invented via the dariro and mitupo.

The African ngano told in the circle was a mechanism for the ant to share the memory of the worm and the elephant.  

In the same dariro, these provided a fertile ecology for drama, contrast and irony.

For the longest time generations of Africans had not just elevated the likes of Bernard Mzeki and buried/denied the image/voice of Nehanda and Chaminuka they had also accepted the mythology that the West represented advanced Christian morality, uprightness, human rights, human dignity, civilisation, scientific thought and truthfulness. 

So, one has to imagine a child hardly in his or her teens hearing all the things said on 25 May 2021 and asking:

But grandpa or grandma, you said you spent 15 years being educated by the British or the French or the North Americans who represented the apex of humanity, civilisation and refinement according to their Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper and others what then were all these civilized defenders of human rights doing with Bambata’s head, Chingaira’s head or Nehanda’s skull  all of which they now say they are willing to return?  What else did they take from here which they are not telling us?  Why has it taken so long for them to realise their wrongs? 

In this whole docu-drama, one cannot forget that during campaigns for a new Constitution for Zimbabwe in 2000 and in 2009-2013, we were told that Parliament was almost convinced by the churches to characterise Zimbabwe as a ‘Christian nation’ and to draft the Constitution accordingly. 

Yet now in 2021, we are shown through the dramatisation of our histories that the view of the white man (as barbaric killers) voiced more than a hundred years ago by the generations of Nehanda, Bambata and the ancestors of the Nama and Herero was so accurate that the Germans, the French and the Belgians have now come around to accept them and to apologise for the conduct which caused that assessment!

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