Nothing defines culture more than the 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 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.
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 the 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 Jerusalema – 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 News comes 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 the news program on national television and radio. The Mbende -Jerusarema dance is a fertility dance and is just an example of the many other dances that were done traditionally such as jikinya. The 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 the Christianity aspect 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 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 the 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 uninfluenced 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 VaDoma people. They have remained largely uninfluenced 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 VaDoma people popular is their physical appearance. Some of them were known to have 2 toes, a genetic disorder that was passed down the generations. This resulted in them getting names such as the “The Ostrich people” 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 Vadoma People 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.
Learning different customs of a people is also part of cultural tourism. The Tonga, have a very rich history. Many live by the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia whilst a number live in the Binga area. It is the Tonga people that prayed to Nyami Nyami the river god. Understanding why people do certain things is not the same as believing in what people are doing. This is one major lesson we all need to learn if we are to embrace cultural differences and preserve them for future generations. There is no harm in broadening your knowledge on peoples’ ways and practices.
As I said at the beginning, the world is dynamic and culture too will be dynamic. The Ndebele have got to be the most creative of all the Zimbabwean people. They are very colourful in their art and craft from their bead work to the decor on their houses. Even song and traditional dance never disappoints. Zimbabwe has so much rich heritage and culture. This must be preserved, preservation comes with practice and with understanding.
Muri tani? (Chibarwe)
As we go forth into the new normal, it is important that we go knowing who we are as a people. After all, who knows what new cultures will be birthed with the new normal. Our culture forms our identities which form pride which will become a strong attraction to others. However, you cannot be proud of who you are when you do not know who you are. All the things I mentioned are just a tip of the iceberg of the Zimbabwean culture.
O phela hantle? (Sotho)
I have heard people complain about Zimbabwe not having a national dress, true as this may be this is not the only thing that makes up your culture nor identity. There is in fact so much more rich culture and some sadly is not known by all and a lot is undocumented. I believe if sustainable tourism of any sort is to be established, there needs to be a firm foundation of who we are as Zimbabwean people.
Let’s not compare ourselves to others and talk about what we don’t have. Let’s hold on to what we do have. Our totems, mutupo. I have seen people show off their totems with such pride. The Mhofu’s, Shumba’s Moyo’s, Ndlovhu, Beta, Soko, Dziva to name just a few. Totems were used to identify tribes. They were associated with animals, body parts and nature and this was a way of conserving and preserving the peoples’ surroundings. It was also a way to prevent incestuous relations within the clan.
Le tsogile jang? (Tswana)
Looking at the structure and design of Great Zimbabwe, the soapstone Zimbabwe birds, the iron works and bead work – that is art in itself. All of these were from as early as 10AD; hari – our different forms of pottery, our music, jewellery, poetry, song and dance, wood carvings stone sculptors, tie and dyes and batik fabric. Our rock paintings formed our way of story- telling. These are all forms of art and culture expressed differently but owned by us, the Zimbabwean people. Making up who we are. Let us embrace them and show them off proudly to anybody and everybody. Google doodle did a phenomenal job in showcasing the mbira. It’s time that we showcase our own and embrace our own.
Umuntu, ngubuntu ngabantu. In the literal sense, this refers to how you relate to other people, people will always judge your character by the way you treat other people. This saying also applies here as we draw out an identity that we can be proud of. More importantly, let us learn to embrace each other, to understand each other’s differences, to love and nurture those differences so that even if our true identities get lost along the way, the brotherhood we would have formed can be known as our culture. Zimbabweans are already known as a friendly, peaceful people. This is who we are.
How are you? (English)
I am Zimbabwean. I am proud of my culture, my identity, my background and my roots. I know how to get on my knees and greet; and I know how to ululate when I celebrate. I know how to sing when I mourn and dance when I rejoice. Sadza ndinomona, zvinyenze ndinobika, muriwo ndofusha. Kutswa ndinogona, mugomo ndotsiga. I don’t need to do these things daily to know who I am. I do need to know them so I understand why I am, as a family, as a tribe, and as a nation.
The people are the most important aspect of Zimbabwe. So as we travel from border to border, exploring our country. Remember, the people in the local communities you visit. Go and visit them, find out more about the way they live and find out more about your culture. Don’t always look for the modern hotels, look for a cultural village or centre and get to know more about your people. After all, the people are one of Zimbabwe’s – ‘World of Wonders’.