NOTHING defines culture more than people and the way they speak. When you listen to people speak, what you hear is their identity, their background, their tribal signature.
Zimbabwe has 16 official languages and each of those languages has a range of dialects. The languages are Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, and Xhosa.
Muli bwanje? (Chewa)
One of the greatest joys of travelling is getting to meet different people and integrating with different cultures. Everyone has some kind of culture, whether they are aware of it or not. Culture is made up of arts – crafts, dance, music, language and food. This is what makes up the people in a destination. This is what creates the identity of a people. The one thing about culture is that it is dynamic. Constantly changing, constantly adapting and transforming and sometimes becoming a fusion of other cultures.
Muri nawa? (Nambya)
Rooted in the Zimbabwean culture is music. Song and dance have been part of the Zimbabwean culture for the longest time. Song is used to celebrate, to pray and to mourn. Within the song comes instruments such as mbira and hosho. These, like the drum, are signature instruments that form part of traditional dances. It takes great art and skill to play any of these instruments harmoniously.
The mbende traditional dance, commonly known as Jerusarema, is a dance unique to Zimbabwe. The origin of the mbende is Murewa. In fact, the mbende traditional dance is preserved and safeguarded under Unesco.
The drum beat on the local ZBC radio and television news has been modified from this traditional dance. In olden times, the drum was used as a clarion call to make an announcement so it is fitting that the drum beat is used to announce news on national television and radio.
The mbende dance is a fertility dance and is just an example of the many other dances that were done traditionally such as jikinya. Mbende has sexual innuendo and was considered quite obscene when the missionaries first saw it, which resulted in the missionaries banning the dance. The people then renamed the dance to Jerusarema to fit in with Christianity perspectives and norms so they could continue their dance.
One thing that is evident in Zimbabwe is that there seems to be an element of an identity crisis. Perhaps name changing and distortion of names contributed to the distortion of Zimbabwean culture and perhaps this contributes to the identity crisis in the Zimbabwean people.
In a recent interview, Nick Mangwana, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, revealed how his name was changed because it could not be pronounced or was misunderstood. And such was the case with many people. Names changed and identities changed. Places were mispronounced and meanings and cultural heritage lost. Fortunately, strong oral history has kept some of our cultural heritage alive.
A few years ago, there was a massive drive in Zimbabwe to harness religious tourism and recently it has been sport tourism. However, not much emphasis has been placed on cultural tourism in Zimbabwe. And yet, some people travel solely for cultural experiences. Even those who travel for other reasons, start to show interest of the culture when they reach a destination.
The Masaai are a great example of a people that have become a popular tourist attraction because they are a people that live relatively un-influenced by modern-day traditions and still retain many of their traditions. There are many other groups or tribes across the region and the globe that we can refer to such as The OvaHimba in Namibia and the “stretched necks” Kayan, Thai people.
In Zimbabwe we also need to draw out our cultural footprints and showcase them. A group of people that has retained much of their traditions in Zimbabwe is the Doma people. They have remained largely un-influenced because they are very shy and will often hide away from tourists. They were known to run to the mountains to hide whenever strangers came.
What made the Doma people popular is their physical appearance. Some of them were known to have two toes, a genetic disorder that was passed down the generations. This resulted in them getting names such as the “the ostrich tribe” or the “two-toed tribe”. Their lifestyle, too, has attracted people.
Because they live in areas with dangerous animals like lions, they built their houses and shelter in tree tops for protection. A few years ago there were reports and documentaries made showing how neglected the Doma are. It is important for travellers to think of the value they bring to destinations and to the people particularly when referring to culture.
Stereotyping and judgmental views can easily kill culture. A positive all-embracing perspective is needed because not everything you may see or experience will be conventional.
To be continued . . .
Mazwi Shamu is a teacher and travel and tourism consultant and blogger. She can be reached on 0712893354 or [email protected]