African religion, politics: Redefining our past


WHAT the African novelist has attempted to do is to restore the African character to his history. He has given back to the African character the will to act and change the scheme of things (Ngugi 1972:43). When African literature is under discussion, the concept of history of both the audience and the writer is significant to be considered. The assertion that the African novelist has attempted to restore the African character to his history, and the will to act and change the scheme of things emanates from the view that Africans have been said to have no history or culture. This colonial myth has been constructed by white historians like Trevor Roper who famously remarked that Sub-Sahara Africa had no history prior to European exploration and colonisation. They claimed: ‘there is only the history of Europeans in Africa, the rest is darkness’. This comment has raised the anger of many Africans because it is a myth. One would ask what factors must be present in order for a society to qualify as having a history and how a society’s “movement” towards change and development is accomplished. In the quotation, Ngugi is advocating for change from African writers. He is calling on writers to help us appreciate our past as an entry point for action. He is saying that the writer as a human being is himself a product of history, of time and place. If he is to write a piece of work, he has to take into account the history of his people hence turning his back on the Christian God and starting the broken dialogue with the gods of his people. Africans have a religion and a history and this religion has long been under threat by ideologies from the West. That is why the role of the writer is to make himself heir to a continuous tradition. Nigerian novelist and writer, Chinua Achebe supports the same position. He insists that; art is and was always in the service of man. Our ancestors created their myths and legends and told their stories for a human purpose (including no doubt, the excitation of wonder and pure delight). This validates the assertion that the African writer should always try to capture, record and restore the identity of the African character. Nhume YaMambo, by H Mutasa is a novel which captures the life of the Rozvi people which is being narrated by a spirit medium Chuwe Tavada. In the novel, Mutasa is giving the history of the Rozvi, their religion of chieftainship and ho w Chirisamhuru defeats Dyembeu’s army in their battle for chieftainship. The novel is an epic, it deals with heroes and legends found in a people’ history. In the story, Chuwe Tavada is the hero, he is successful in making Chirisamhuru the winner of the war. Achebe’s Arrow of God deals with the tragic consequences of the African encounter with Europe. The social psychological conflicts in Achebe’s novels are created by the incursion of the white man and his culture into the self contained world of African society. Ezeulu is the chief priest of several villages who wrestles with colonial powers as he butts heads with Christian missionaries dispatched to the area. In the text, Achebe brings religion and family relations into a discussion of politics and nationhood. In the novel Nhume YaMambo, Mutasa gives the story of the birth of chieftainship. The author is bringing out the relationship between religion and politics. Mutasa wants to show that the appointment of chiefs and their ruling powers in the past had influence from both the spiritual world and the living world. He is bringing home the point that the spirit mediums play a crucial role in the leadership roles of the people. Thus even our own independence in Zimbabwe was attained through the assistance of similar forces. The author is proving that the position of leadership is a time post and if one dies someone else takes over as illustrated below. At the top of the hierarchy is Mwari or Zame who is the sacred being in Mabweadziva. He is the one with the overly say on who is to rule next and that is where the aspect of sacredness of the system comes in. In our traditional society, kings and chiefs are chosen by God. Living beings only confirm the choice. To bring out the idea that the spirits are powerful in the chiefdom of a people, in Nhume YaMambo, Chirisamhuru fights with Dyembeu and because Zame is believed to be on the side of Chirisamhuru, he wins the war. These ancestral spirits also influence the people who support the chieftainship hence the saying ‘ushe vanhu’ (to rule is because of people). In this case, it means a chief can not do whatever he wants without people’s consent since these people are the ones who make him rule. If a chief goes against the will of the people, then he will be punished by the spirits. For example in Nhume YaMambo, when chief Chirisamhuru starts to ill-treat his people, he is punished by Zame. We should not behave as if Western life is above everything yet, as Africans, as Zimbabweans, we had our own way of doing things and an illustrious history. Ngugi waThiong’o is right. The African writer’s primary duty is to reconstruct the past of his people, their religion, history and culture, in order to help the people to make informed decisions about their future.


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