Country Dawns and City Lights
By Musaemura Zimunya
Published by Addison-Wesley Longman
THE Zimbabwean story was told by foreign journalists in not so good light during the July 30 2018 harmonised elections.
There was nothing wrong with that but there is everything wrong when Zimbabweans do not tell their own story, from their own perspective.
Our story has not been fully told by us, its curators.
We have somehow surrendered that role to outsiders who come with preconceived ideas which are alien to our story, our past and our future.
Poets come in handy in such a situation and one such prominent name telling the real Zimbabwean story through a vivid description of how neo-colonialism can subdue the mind is Musayemura Zimunya.
His 1985 collection of poems titled Country Dawns and City Lights aptly sums up the outcome of the above mentioned elections.
According to Poetry International Web: “Country Dawns and City Lights, takes a caustic look at the idealisation of rural life, while also confronting the difficulties faced by the urban dweller.
Zimunya’s tribute can be read as a recovery and validation of the past in the face of the onslaught of colonialism and modernity, a celebration of ancestral memory, and expressions of a vigilant and relentless moral and cultural consciousness. This vigilance enables Zimunya to trace the cultural contours of the country and to subject these to an intense moral searchlight. Each volume marks a specific period and captures the prevailing spirit of a given moment in the history of the country.”
It is such writings that have been missing in our current space. The rural vote decided the outcome while the urban vote mainly chose to align with white hegemony.
That is the nature of life.
It is about choices.
Poets, too, make conscious decisions when unravelling their thoughts to the world. And the assertion that the principal concern of poets is to either explain themselves to the world or to explain the world to themselves quickly comes to mind when one takes into consideration the coverage that this country has been subjected to over the past two decades.
Land has been the bone of contention for both the local and international media.
An 1821 essay, A Defence of Poetry vividly describes the role of poets in our world.
It says: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”
And Zimunya’s poetry sticks deeply into the heart of this matter in so far as telling the Zimbabwean and the African narrative is concerned.
Zimunya makes a distinction between the country and the city with particular emphasis on how the city has trappings that prop up neo-colonialism.
In the poem titled ‘The City’s Beauty’, Zimunya brings to the fore the lure and attraction of the city which he describes as artificial and short-lived.
The city, Zimunya says, has all the attractiveness which draws one to it but that is where it all ends.
What follows is a journey into the wilderness, a journey where one becomes consumed by the lure of neo-colonialism.
Zimunya says the city is: “The lick of an ice-cream, the melting of chewing gum/or the coolness of beer/or the groan of a prostitute.”
In his book, Zimunya takes us through the breath-taking village scenery and the various steps one takes in growing up.
In typical African set-ups, the message that neighbours are jealous is constantly hammered to children in the process destroying their innocence.
“In the meantime the prophet of the cult held her womb between his hard hands as though he were a god-sent nut-cracker.
He spoke of jealous neighbours…,” writes Zimunya.
Here the naivety brought about by the cynical superstitious beliefs of witchcraft is brought about by what seems to be a controlling force in the form of the cult-leader.
Going by his description of the cultist, Zimunya doesn’t seem to agree with the ‘prophet’.
According to Poetry International Web: “(The) giving of motion and energy to landscapes reveals an important relationship that Zimunya establishes with the land, even in those poems where the land is also associated with less benign objects.
The rural landscape is the point of location and departure for Zimunya in his search for meaning for himself and his people. Apart from providing location of the poet’s spiritual, cultural and emotional universe, poems like ‘I Like Them’, ‘Mountain Mist’, and ‘My Home’ show Zimunya’s ability to construct visual and kinetic images from the landscape and to make these convey a variety of emotions and moral attitudes.
The poems are persuasively autobiographical, charting the evolution of the individual from the country to the city.
The autobiography is not merely about spatial distances traversed by the poet from the Eastern Highlands to the country’s capital city, but is also about cultural transformations that accompany the physical separation from the land.
Zimunya’s autobiography is that of a particular generation and class that had become alienated from authentic roots by colonial education and colonial capitalism.”