Language teaching, the cultural dissident

By IAfrica
In Zimbabwe
Jul 28th, 2014
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Folktales should be made exciting and relevant so that our children today do not lose interest in that heritage just because that heritage is not responding to social change

Folktales should be made exciting and relevant so that our children today do not lose interest in that heritage just because that heritage is not responding to social change

Ignatius Mabasa The Column

Storytelling as an art and an institution relies on memory. Also, like any other performing art, storytelling requires the teller to psyche up and prepare for the delivery.

Last week, at the launch of the Capacity Development Programme for teachers, the President complimented the two implementing ministries for identifying languages as a critical component of the teacher capacity development programme.

Specifically, he said “Languages are powerful vehicles for the transmission of insights, knowledge forms, cultural values, norms, mores and beliefs. As learners retell folktales, as they partake in drama, song and dance, they relive the values and beliefs that make us the quintessential Zimbabweans that we are. They celebrate their sense of national identity and pride by participating in activities that typify Zimbabwean culture. This is our common patrimony. It is our heritage: to cherish and to keep and to develop.”

For me, the President’s call that our heritage must be cherished, kept and developed is a challenge we must seriously take up.
I have been developing our folktales — making them exciting and relevant so that our children today do not lose interest in that heritage just because that heritage is not responding to social change. Last year, after presenting a paper titled “Behind my children’s stories” at a writers’ workshop held during the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, there was a heated debate on why in my children’s stories like “Redhiyo yaTsuro”, I am changing the Tsuro of “our” folktales into a modern Tsuro that boards a kombi, buys a radio, eats ice-cream, buys a wrist watch and loves sungura music and other modern things.

The phrase that I kept hearing from those that felt so strongly that I was a cultural sinner who needs deliverance was, “ngano dzedu” or “our folktales.” They were implying that ngano belong to them more than to me and my making Tsuro challenge Shumba to move with the times and accept new ideas was defiling our folktales.

Indeed, they were trying to wrestle their “ngano” from the hands of this irresponsible cultural dissident who was masquerading as a writer and storyteller. Yet, my suggestion was that we should not keep folktales in silos and let them rot because we are failing to be creative by giving them a new life? If we put Tsuro naGudo in silos, we risk presenting them as they were in the time of Mbuya Nehanda and our children will not find them appealing. If we really cared about Tsuro naGudo, we would be rebranding them so that they are relevant to the young people today.

As a writer and storyteller, I have developed our folktales in such a way that I have given Tsuro the freedom to wear some Nike tackies and run so fast that fire actually comes from his shoes. Why not? Tsuro is known for speed!

My argument is that Tsuro’s wit and tricks should not be confined to the old world of majakwara, kuruka nhava nekurovera muswe waGudo muvhu nehoko.
Our Tsuro, just like our changing lifestyle, should also adapt or else he will die because he will lose relevance.

It is not only Tsuro’s setting that needs an overhaul, but his language also, yet retaining those hunhu/ubuntu values we hold dear and that hold us together as people. Hard-working, honesty, peace, justice, et cetera.

During the writers’ workshop, some challenged me and said, my approach seems to be favouring the urban child because the rural child still listens to stories of Tsuro achipinza Mhembwe mupfumvu.

It is unfortunate that we love to make a lot of assumptions. As a storyteller myself, I have been trying to collect stories from people in the rural areas, thinking that they are the true “custodians” of our stories and other cultural practices, but vana Sarungano and a lot of other cultural practices are almost gone for good. If you ask the old people in the rural areas to share ngano, they will simply shrug, look away and tell you kuti handichadziziva ngano dzacho.

Storytelling as an art and an institution relies on memory. Also, like any other performing art, storytelling requires the teller to psyche up and prepare for the delivery. I have experienced it myself that if I tell a story today, and attempt to tell that same story after three years or so, I must think hard about all the details in order for the story to be alive and effective.

So, even that rural child who we want to protect from hearing a story about Tsuro buying a radio will tell you that there is nobody to tell him or her folktales.
That child has already been affected by the death of the art of storytelling because the supposed custodians have not been innovative, among other factors.

That rural child prefers to listen to Jah Prayzah because Tsuro naGudo have remained trapped in an old world that makes the stories inaccessible and unappealing.
The traditional Tsuro naGudo have remained the same and surely have got to a point where they do not inspire, excite or challenge the mind. In any case, for Tsuro naGudo to be there, someone was creative enough to make them our folk heroes and as others retold their stories they had the freedom to add new things and that is just what we must do. Below is an extract from my children book, titled “Redhiyo yaTsuro” which was a source of controversy.

Tsuro naKamba vakaenda kwaive nevamwe. Kamba akabva ati, “Chiregai zvenyu kutya, Tsuro ndiye nhubu. Tsuro ndiye ane chinhu chiri kutaura nekuimba sezvinoita vanhu. Ati chinonzi redhiyo.”

Shumba akati, “Tsuro, wanyanya kungouya nezvinhu zvinokanganisa runyararo nemufaro wedu muno. Uri kumboedza kuita sei chaizvo?”
Nzou akati, “Nhai Tsuro, icho chinonzi redhiyo chinombori chiiko?”

Tsuro akati, “Redhiyo ndicho chinhu chandakabata ichi. Inotaura nyaya dzakawanda, dzemuno nedziri kuitika kune dzimwe nzvimbo dziri kure kure. Zvakare, redhiyo iyi sezvamanzwa inoimba nziyo, inotaura mamiriro ekunze nenguva, nekuita zvimwe zvakawanda.” Shumba akati, “Iwe Tsuro enda unodzosera chinhu ichocho.”

“Hainzi chinhu ichocho, iwe Shumba. Ndati inonzi redhiyo. Farirawo kufambirana nenguva mudhara. Haudi kunzwa zviri kuitika kuJubheki guta regoridhe kuJoni here?” Tsuro akataura akatarisana naShumba.

Shumba akabva ati nezwi riri pamusoro, “Iwe Tsuro, unoti redhiyo inotaura nyaya dziri kuitika kune dzimwe nzvimbo dziri kure, asi nyaya idzodzo dzinei nesu? Nyaya dzainotaura hadzisi nyaya dzedu, inyaya dzevamwe vanhu. Tsuro, isu tine nyaya dzedu nenziyo dzedu. Wave kuda kutishaisa mufaro pamwe chete nekutipusisa uchitiunzira pfungwa dzevatorwa. Iko zvino warasika.”

Gudo akati, “Ichokwadi chiri kutaurwa naShumba iwe Tsuro. Enda unodzosera redhiyo iyi. Ini iri kuti kana yave kurira nzeve dzangu dzobva dzarwadza, uye vana vangu vari kubva vatanga kuchema.”

Tsuro akati, “Ndiregerereiwo shamwari dzangu, ndanga ndichidawo kuziva zvinhu zviri kuitika kune dzimwe nzvimbo pamwe chete nekunakidzwa nemagitare.”
Nzou akabva ati, “Iwe Tsuro uri mhuka, hausi munhu. Usapote uchienda kunotora zvinhu zvevanhu uchiuya nazvo muno musango nekuti rimwe zuva uchatiurayisa.”?Tsuro akaudza shamwari dzake kuti akange ave kuenda kunodzosera redhiyo kuchitoro. Mhuka dzese dzikafara.

Asi asati aenda kunodzosera redhiyo, Tsuro akati aida kumboisa chimbo chinonakidza chinonzi Kwedu chakaimbwa naSulumani Chimbetu naOliver Mutukudzi kuti atambe kekupedzisira.?Tsuro akawana chimbo chiye akatanga kutamba.?Dzimwe mhuka dzakatangawo kutamba dzichidairira chimbo chaSulu naTuku dzichiti:
Kana neni ndorangarira

Kwangu kwandinobva ini
Kwedu kuDande
Kwataidya matohwe, maroro netsambatsi, masawu…

Pasina nguva, guruva rakati pwititi mudenga. Mhururu nemiridzo zvikarira. Asi kutamba kwese kwakazopera Nzou atsika redhiyo ikabva yapwanyika-pwanyika.
It was after I had read the extract below to the audience, that there was a slight shift by the conservatives and they started saying, “We agree that what you have done is good and innovative, but be careful you don’t overdo it.” I remembered the words of Ted Turner who once said, “Do something. Either lead, follow or get out of the way.”

I was being censored by overzealous conservatives and I wish they knew that if we all created using the same style, all art would be dead.
The President noted that we must not just cherish and keep our heritage, we must develop it as well. Innovation and the license to create is what is enabling creative industries in the UK to be the fastest growing sector that is contributing about 10 percent to their GDP.

As a Shona language activist and storyteller, I am optimistic that the two ministries implementing the Teacher Capacity Development Programme will address the language teaching as soon as possible and as the President emphasised, “with the rigour that is appropriate.”

The reason being that the state of indigenous languages in Zimbabwe is dire and we are haemorrhaging as a nation. We urgently need language policies and strategies to be implemented and mainstreamed as soon as yesterday.

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