A run from culture

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IT was dinner time at a public servants workshop in Darwendale.
I took my seat at a small table where a colleague I knew from the past was sitting.
Directing his attention to a middle-aged woman on the same table, he introduced me: “Ava ndiHungwe, ko imi mutupo chii zviya vatete?”
The woman explained she had no totem.
On further probing, she explained she was born with one, but discarded it upon being born again.
According to her, totems are demonic as they encourage ancestral worship.
From my high school Bible Studies, I recalled a verse on Jesus’ ancestry.
From the internet I got two references on Jesus’s ancestry. Matthew 1:1–17 begins the Gospel: “A record of the origin of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac,” and continues on until 40 generations.
A more detailed genealogy is provided in Luke 3:23–38.
It states: “Jesus himself began to be about 30 years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was (the son) of Heli and goes for over 70 generations.”
The difference is apparently due to the fact that Mathew concentrated on a paternal family tree while Luke provided a mainly maternal tree.
I tried to draw the woman of God to the contradiction between her stance against totems and the biblical position on Jesus’ genealogy.
She was not moved.
I mentioned Christianity’s capitulation in Rome concerning when to observe Sabbath.
Again she was not moved.
Not even the difficulty missionaries had in translating God, finally compromising on Mwari, could sway her.
That the concept of the Holy Spirit had been readily accepted as mudzimu unoera, did little to weaken her steadfastness.
By the time I took a dig at Christian names we grew up on like ‘Hatred’, ‘Last’ and ‘Doubt’, she could not take it anymore and unceremoniously took her leave.
I could only conclude the devil has racial bias, with black being the demon.
My colleague felt such fundamental religious positions were heretic and the Ministry of Culture should regulate that.
So, post the heresy, our discussion strayed into administration of culture.
Constitutionally, chiefs, and these happen to be at the apex of traditional governance, are custodians of our culture and heritage.
Custodian means keeper/protector of the community’s culture and heritage.
This includes its history, attitudes, behaviours, values and religion.
Chiefs offer protection and sanctuary to the knowledge domains of culture and heritage.
They are not the experts on the matters, but rather, they should facilitate the flourishing of expert ideas on the subject.
Chiefs are like librarians who facilitate the creation of new knowledge.
Chiefs ideally should facilitate the blossoming of new knowledge through the dare system.
Before colonialism, this was the situation.
Unfortunately, this has since been adulterated and the dare, council of elders, has been rendered redundant.
And perhaps to complicate matters further, chiefs are not under the Ministry of Culture.
They are under Local Government, where they exercise a more pronounced national development mandate.
We sought to further trouble the institution of chiefs, noting how increasingly these custodians of our culture have become bi-lingual, with English being the dominant language.
I recalled how at a traditional leaders’ forum I had been chided for attempting to address them in Shona: “Taura nechirumbi, madzimambo aripano akafunda mamwe acho kudarika imi.”
Traditional leaders are not alone.
The language incident is a reflection of a bigger societal problem.
How many times have we heard Shona speakers addressing gatherings in western Zimbabwe in English, with or without translation?
Yet it is generally agreed that language is a carrier of culture and that it is the rock upon which nations are built.
But in our lived reality, has it not become the heat that has melted the nationalistic glue?
It was a quantum digression from our friend’s totem rant.
I finally parted with my colleague but at least happy to have posed a question beyond our holy friend’s hypocrisy.
Indigenous languages and cultures, for long despised by mainstream Christianity and of late shunned by the very people tasked with custodianship of our culture, have elsewhere been at the forefront of national development.
This begs the question: Are culture, language and national development inextricably linked as often claimed?
In global commerce, language’s asset status is now widely acknowledged.
In Zimbabwe-Japan trade negotiations, for example, a Zimbabwean team of Shona and Ndebele speakers speaks officially in English and also have their private consultations in English.
The Japanese, meanwhile, while they will use English for the trade negotiations, for private consultations, they will fall back on Japanese.
This gives them an advantage over those of us not familiar with the Japanese language.
The same can be said of Chinese and Russian negotiations for trade and commerce.
Under these circumstances, not knowing many languages becomes a handicap while knowledge of many languages is a resource.
Security is another area where languages provide one with competitive advantage.
Many of us recall the arrest of Chidhumo in Mozambique some years back.
When he was cornered in Mozambique, it is said, speaking fluent Portuguese, he calmly denied being Chidhumo. Mozambican police almost gave him the benefit of doubt but for the insistence of Zimbabwean officers who eventually exposed him.
Ability to defend borders is another indicator of national development.
In matters of defence, knowledge of many languages is a necessity.
The Americans are generally an arrogant lot with great belief in their military mighty, history and English.
Yet at the American Defence Language School, over 400 languages are taught at any one time.
This is testimony of strategic value of multi-lingualism in a mono-lingual country. Cases abound of many nations failing to exploit the strategic value of multi-lingualism.
In the process, they lose an economic and political asset. Linguism in such cases morphs into ethnicity which in turn becomes the basis for destructive neo-nationalism.
We need to guard against this creeping vice.
Shona should be part of the pride and national identity of a villager in Lupane in the same way Chewa should flourish in Zhombe and Ndebele in Buhera.
We need a language policy that extends and integrates national identity.

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