Are chiefs custodians of our culture and heritage?


I AM half-listening to a presentation by Dr Augustine Tirivangana on national identities when my interest is suddenly ignited by his mention of Chinese karate films.
The point the presenter is making is that there is a running theme in all classic Chinese karate films: “Who killed my master?”
I have watched a fair share of Chinese karate films during my transition to adolescence.
Enter the Dragon, Way of the Dragon and The Return of Bruce Lee are some of the titles I recall.
Bruce Lee had a cult following in our generation.
I particularly remember his epic battles with Chuck Norris.
I try to link the films to the ‘Who killed my master?’ theme, but my memory betrays me.
The films had English voice-overs, most of which we never understood.
It mattered little whether we were watching karate or American-Western films; we were able to follow the dialogue through the action.
It was a skill we perfected and reduced all films to a struggle between good and evil, machampion nemaguruvha.
In the few occasions when evil triumphed, we always knew there would be a follow-up centering on revenge in which good eventually triumphed.
So understandably, Dr Tirivangana’s claim made me dig deep into my failing memory.
An image came back alive of Bruce Lee in full flying kick flight against an opponent and screaming: “Who killed my teacher?” or “You killed my teacher!”
It sounded the same.
On this recollection I decided to give Dr Tirivangana the benefit of the doubt.
The karate films had always been about revenge, good triumphing over evil and most importantly, knowledge transmission; the good old master teaching young Bruce Lee or the Karate Kid, virtues of Chinese culture, medicine, food, karate skill and patience.
The Western films had been about opulence; food, drink, cars and sex in abundance.
In both, there was a fair amount of violence; karate in the former and guns in the latter.
Dr Tirivangana’s presentation invited heated response from the floor: Who are we as Zimbabweans?
What is our shared identity?
How do we see ourselves?
How do others see us?
The brutal and cynic would see us as a people at war with their identity.
They would point to our women’s obsession with European and Asian hair; our obsession with English and its British/American accents; our love for foreign history and cultures.
To us, to be foreign is to be civilised and modern.
To love indigenous history, languages and culture is to be backward.
As one once claimed: “We are a mad people, suffering from a psychiatric disorder arising from over a century of mental enslavement.”
The gathering Dr Tirivangana was addressing is of traditional leaders and their stakeholders.
Except for Dr Tirivangana, we are all in our English suits.
Proceedings are predominantly in English.
Invariably the British monarchy features as a gold standard (of authority and opulence) for the traditional leadership we desire.
In his concluding remarks, Dr Tirivangana threw a jibe at our chiefs that begged the question: “How can a chief be a custodian of a culture and religion that he personally does not believe in?”
Some chiefs have become pastors and elders of religions and cultures that have been at the forefront of undermining indigenous cultures and spirituality.
The Constitution clearly articulates the role of chiefs as primarily custodial of indigenous cultures and beliefs.
In the deliberations, this is relegated to the periphery.
There is a very loud revisionist view of culture as any way of life.
When debate gets to what issues can disqualify an aspiring chief, there is a struggle to identify the issues.
Criminal record is the only uncontested issue.
What of religion?
Can a Pentecostal convert be custodian of indigenous culture and spirituality?
Even the preferred British standard would stutter on this.
Imagine a Catholic becoming a Prime Minister in the UK!
Even Tony Blair, the rebel, had to wait until after leaving office before formally converting to Catholicism.
The British monarchy is custodian of British culture and religion.
The Queen is the ultimate head of the Church of England, Anglican.
Unless we take a bold stand on our culture and heritage, as envisaged by our Constitution, the greatest threat to our Zimbabweaness could come from the chiefs themselves.
As I left the gathering, one remarked that, to save our identity we must de-Anglicise our traditional leadership institutions starting with the nomenclature; traditional being top of the list.
Traditional implies backward and uncivilised.
The word ‘Chief’ also came up for criticism as slang for boss.
Suggested terminology included saimba (family man), samusha (village head), sadunhu/induna (headman), ishe/mambo/inkosi (chief).
But the question that would not go away was: Are our traditional leaders ready to be custodians of our culture and heritage?


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