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Of names and texts: The lighter side of Zimbabwean Literature

29 Oct 2017 at 22:49hrs | Views
Having grown up in that part of Zimbabwe where goats do not need names, my encounter with Memory Chirere's "Tadamuhwa" in the short story anthology, "No More Plastic Balls and other Stories", (2000) edited by Robert Muponde and Clement Chihota, left me in stitches. That was my first time to encounter a goat name. The name gave the goat a certain cantankerous quality associated with individuals, who do not want to give others a moment's rest. The goat seemed to be on a mission to fulfil every minute aspect of its name, which included leaving behind a trail of destruction — destruction of marriages, destruction of social relationships, destruction of the ego! All of this because "Tadamuhwa" means "we have been completely gobbled!"

Names are social statements. They speak a history, a place, a wish. Think of Ndaizivei, Ndakaruda, Vengesayi, Maidei, or even my own name, Tanaka. Something is being said there! But these names become very hilarious when writers use them in their literary creations. Come to think of Mungoshi's Lucifer andGarabha in "Waiting for the Rain" (1975). Reminds me of Chirere's exploration of Garabha in "Mungoshi: A Critical Reader" (2006). When Chirere pursues Garabha, he makes you think that he is pursuing a beer guzzler, who traverses the land in long strides while searching for the popular village brew and a drum to beat until dawn.

The name Lucifer makes you ask, 'Who in their right mind gives someone such a name?' The answer to that question is simple: Zimbabweans. In NoViolet Bulawayo's "We Need New Names" (2013), we have Bastard. Yes Bastard! And he surely is a bastard. His knowledge of urban undergrounds is unmatched. His friends are Godknows, Darling, Forgiveness, Chipo and Stina. If you encounter these names before reading "We Need New Names" you might be forgiven the erroneous conclusion that these characters do not love their names; they need new names.

The truth is, they love their names. They only need new names when playing Country Game or ER. In fact, Bastard does not need a new name. He loves being called Bastard. Godknows reminds me of two brothers who were in the same class. One was called Nobodyknows and the other one was called Godknows. So every morning our English teacher would indulge in a monologic act of using these two names to communicate some special spiritual truths. The act would go like this:

Teacher: Do you know that nobody knows?
Teacher: No, you are wrong. God knows.

Trying to make social statements using English names is a very comical side of our high literacy rate. The most interesting part is that some of our authors seem to have learnt their lessons very well. The lesson is this: "A good Zimbabwean character must be Zimbabwean in every possible way."

That includes a name that speaks in the Queen's language: Forgiveness, Darling, Bastard, Method. Yes, Method! Just read Bulawayo's "Shamisos" in the Irene Staunton-edited short story anthology, Writing Free. A South African underground registrar-general asks Method (this is not verbatim), "Method? As in what? Strategy?" So the registrar-general gives him another name: Xolela. Xolela is a name that, hopefully, would make Method belong. This nomenclatural migration, however, fails because Xolela is Method in every possible way. So when xenophobia violently sets his shack aflame, his last wish, before the fire licks him into oblivion, is that the people outside should stop crying for Xolela, because his name is Method. According to Ndana Ndana, an indigenous languages and literature scholar, "Names in African societies are not mere labels by, which individuals are identified, but telling containers of social experience."

So think of those names that communicate a social experience in English. Think of Memory (a good friend of mine bears this name), Privilege (my young brother), Psychology (I wonder what the social experience behind this name was), Ocean, Hardlife, Lovemore, Doubt (schoolmate), Vote (schoolmate), Immaculate (schoolmate, and also Marechera's character in "House of Hunger (1978), Blessmore (friend), Learnmore (brother), Talkmore (schoolmate), Anymore (schoolmate),Kissmore, Passmore, Pressmore, Bigboy, Lookout, Commence, Welshman (Citizens of Wales need to check this one out), Joyful (my muzukuru), Anywhere (student), Rejoice, Patience, Doesmatter, Nomatter (this one messed my spelling acumen),Last, First. Speaking of First and Last, I remember these two notorious twin brothers I grew up with in the village. Sam and Sign, if you are reading this column, greetings to you. It's been long guys. Do you remember how it was difficult to tell between Sam and Sign so that we ended up calling you SamnaSign? I hope this Christmas you two will visit our local township. We need a get-together mhani. Then, there are those names given to members of the same family in order to create some rhyme or alliteration: Symptom, Siren, Secluded, System and Silence. A family of five with five names that create some musical alliteration.

Our Zambian neighbours seem to be keen on making names speak in the Queen's language too. Remember Fewdays Musonda? The Queen's language is surely in trouble. A friend of mine, whose name I shall not mention since it appears in the impromptu inventory I gave above, said, "As the Queen's language leaves the centre towards the periphery, inorohwa nenyundo kusvikira yati eke!" In short, he was saying the Queen's language is undergoing serious disfigurement, so serious that it will be difficult to think of it as the language of power. The language of power has been enslaved!

This disfigurement of the Queen's language comes out more interestingly in Chikwava's "Harare North" (2009). "Harare North" is a messy mixture of British English, Shonglish (proudly Zimbabwean), pidgin English (the pride of my west African friend!) and patois. The novel messes with English so much that if English were a place, it would have been that space between Mbare Musika and Matererini. Indeed, there is something in our names, something that our writers have recognised, something that they will have to recognise when they create new fiction. I wonder if the generations that will come after us will remember this practice! May the Zimbabwean writer respond to this clarion call and preserve our heritage!

Source - the herald
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