‘Have we forgotten who we are?’


By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

ZIMBABWE is a nation looking for a cultural identity, going by the various rites performed by each black family from a child’s birth to the time of that person’s death in old age.
The rites include baptism, confirmation, marriage and burial.
We seem to have fallen for foreign culture to the exclusion of our own traditions, customs and mores.
By culture, we are referring to manifestations of human intellectual achievements and practices from birth throughout the growth of children, the attire they use, the folklore they are taught, the dances to which they are exposed, the religious lessons they are taught, the food and beverages they consume, the games they play, the marital rituals they go through and finally the religious procedure they follow at funerals.
As a nation, we are multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and as a result, multi-cultural.
Most nations have similar characteristics and phenomena that create socio-cultural diversity.
Some nations can be identified by either a part or the whole of their attire.
That is the case with Arabic nations as well as Indians.
In the case of India, however, there are several such attires because of religious and ethnic differences and origins.
The Sikhs have their very well-known head gear and the Hindus their distinctive garb.
During the course of the Zimbabwean liberation struggle, some ZAPU supporters wore fur hats, an innovation by James Robert Dambaza Chikerema while he was in detention at the Mapfungabusi forest in the Gokwe region.
That type of hat was abandoned when ZAPU and that type of hat were banned by the Smith regime in September 1962.
ZAPU went underground and wearing that hat could have exposed its membership.
In any case, that type of hat was a political identification article of attire and not a spontaneous national dress — something Zimbabwe very much needs to create and popularise.
In some of the nations, cultural diversity has led to violent inter- ethnic clashes that have paralysed national development plans.
In Nigeria in the 1960s, the inter-ethnic socio-cultural hostility precipitated a civil war declared by the short-lived Biafra against Nigeria.
Much later than that, South Sudan seceded after a bitter, bloody war; a similar disastrous situation was calmed down in Mali with the military assistance of France, the former colonial power.
Spain has had a similar unsuccessful experience and so has Sri Lanka and Russia where ethnic micro-state groups attempted to establish their own independent homelands.
Most of those ethnic micro-state tendencies have been roundly criticised by the majority of the world’s nations at the UN and elsewhere.
Some ethnic groups may wish to revive some aspect of their historical cultural attire.
It would be important for the ministry concerned to point out that some material can no longer be used for clothing purposes because it has been overtaken by wildlife conservation laws and international agreements legalised by the signature of each participating state.
Animal conservationists would vigorously protest against the killing of some wild animals to turn their hides or skins into hats.
Culture is, by and large, dynamic and is very easily influenced by a variety of factors: economic, social, cultural and political.
Couples who have emigrated from their traditional rural homes to peri-urban and urban centres use modern maternity services for the delivery of their babies.
In such cases, the disposal of the babies’ umbilical cord is done by the clinic or hospital in accordance with the local authorities’ health regulations.
Many children who are born in peri-urban and urban areas attend kindergarten or pre-schools where they learn Western European nursery rhymes such as: “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, Jack fell down and broke his arm and Jill came tumbling after!”
From pre-schools, the Zimbabwe child goes to normal primary schools where lessons are based on syllabuses modelled on those of Western Europe which are, in turn, actually derived originally from those of ancient Greece.
Religious lessons are taken, of course, from the Bible — a history, prayer and socio-cultural collection of 66 books by Jewish and Hellenic writers.
On weekends, most Zimbabwean children attend Christian church services whose sermons are from one-or-more of those 66 books.
At home, the children are exposed to the same or similar religious culture.
The same applies to secondary school and university students.
Zimbabwean children’s entertainment world is either wholly Western European or partially African with a very negligible dose of traditional African dance.
Not much African traditionally entertainment is done at home, a trend that reflects how little importance we, as black Zimbabweans, attach to our culture.
The same applies to our own attitude towards our children’s attire.
It was most unacceptable that, recently, a chief of one of the Binga District areas was assaulted by a 17-year-old girl after he had advised her to dress respectably.
That girl’s cultural values are obviously very, very different from those of that chief, a traditional leader whose major responsibility is to protect and promote Zimbabwean culture.
If the appropriate Government ministry could give indications on what is unacceptable as public attire, it would be helpful to the nation.
Getting married in Zimbabwe has been greatly affected by the country’s law that says 18 years is the age of majority.
Many couples either now cohabit or marry without their respective parents’ or guardians’ knowledge, let alone approval or blessings as was the practice in most parts of the country before that law was passed.
The Act cuts across Zimbabwe’s cultural grains as it removes parental authority over children before they (children) are mentally mature to face the demands of the world.
Many Zimbabwean marital unions today are based on parliamentary and church laws with the customary law and practice having their more or less fair share.
However, under which ever law it is registered, the initial marital process involves traditional rites and ceremonies with Christian customs and practices being utilised towards the end.
The modern Zimbabwean marital process shows how Western European social values have encroached onto the country’s family foundations, which are, in fact, marriages.
In view of the traditional fact that divorce was very, very rare in Bantu communities, the ministry responsible for national culture could help by working out a national cultural formula for the entire life of Zimbabweans, that is from birth to death.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email: sgwakuba@gmail.com


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