Congrats to Sandisile Tshuma for her new accolade, an inspiration to other writers in Zimbabwe.Our new columnist is Tinashe Muchuri, a well known poet who has done so much for the development of poetry in Zimbabwe. Muchuri's experience in performance poetry is so much so that we hope many aspiring poets will benefit from his instalments here on our blog. His first instalment "The History of Performance Poetry in Shona Culture" is exciting and a mind opener that will help us chart new ways of poetry expression. Keep writing!
SANDISILE TSHUMA: NEW LITERARY VOICE ON THE HORIZON
The past decade has seen the emergence of the young Zimbabwean female voice in the writing arena, with some of them winning awards in various categories. Ethel Kabwato, Blessing Musariri, Bryony Rheams, Sympathy Sibanda, are some of the names making waves in the poetry and fiction genres. Recently, Linda Msebele, from Bulawayo, has just had her story 'The Chicken Bus' translated into German and published in the German quarterly journal, 'Literaturnachrichten'. Another Bulawayo-born writer, Sandisile Tshuma (pictured), won an Honourable at the 2010 Awards for her first published short story . The prestigious awards aim to reward best short story published in a journal, magazine or newspaper in over the past two years. The winner of the award was Stephen Watson for his short story Buiten Street, which appeared in the magazine New Contrast. The Thomas Pringle Award judges described Arrested Development as a ‘beautifully observed story of a journey – both literal and figurative’. Arrested Development first appeared in the anthology Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe (Amabooks) and the story was further published in various journals such as Wordsetc. Jane Morris of Amabooks described Tshuma’s achievement as an encouragement for other women to break new literary ground. She said, “I think her example will give young writers encouragement to write and to try to get their work published.” Beaven Tapureta (BT), a literary journalist, had the privilege to speak to Sandisile Tshuma (ST) who now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, to find out who she is and what she feels about winning the Honorable Mention as a new writer.
BT: What does the recent accolade mean in your writing career?
ST: Being shortlisted for the Thomas Pringle Award is an honour I was immensely delighted about. Receiving an Honourable Mention for Arrested Development was a singularly gratifying experience. The recognition is an affirmation of the gift that God has given me and serves to encourage me to nurture and develop my passion for the written word. With this in mind I recently started writing a blog in an attempt to get into the habit of writing and hopefully find my own style and voice as a writer. I have also started studying with the London School of Journalism and am looking forward to increased output as my technique improves and I truly come into my own.
BT: Which awards/prizes have you won before?
ST: I remember performing very well in local literary competitions when I was still in school. The performance of “Arrested Development” in the award administered by the English Academy of Southern Africa is all the more special for me because this is my first published work.
BT: When did you start writing, and where exactly?
ST: Hillside Junior School in Bulawayo had a strong ethos of nurturing various talents and skills amongst pupils so we were always encouraged to participate in local writing eisteddfods and the like. So I have essentially been writing creatively since childhood.
BT: Lots of writers have their model writers whom they try to emulate, who are your influences?
ST: Given that I am still trying to define my own style as a writer I don't feel as though I have arrived at a position where I can single out specific influences. I read very widely and am moved by different writers. I always appreciate writing that is crisp, uncluttered and effortless to read. I admire writers who are able to convey complex or polemic themes using satire, humour and simple language, as well as writers who are able to draw me into completely unfamiliar territory and defy the traditional models of prose writing. Writers whose work I have particular fondness for include Ahmadou Kouruma who unfortunately passed away in 2003 Salman Rushdie, Vikas Swarup, and Alex Garland. Being somewhat of a TV baby I have a strong appreciation for the work of the writers of the ABC series . Anyone who can make me laugh one moment and shed actual tears the next sure can tell a story! The narration is accessible, reflective and easy to relate to. I also have a great love for the poetry of , Pablo Neruda and .
BT: What is your vision as a writer?
ST: In the short to medium term my vision is to be able to do some feature writing on subjects that are important to me such as health, human rights, music and personal development. In the long term I would like to write literature for children as well as young adults. My vision is to be able to use my talent, experience and imagination to inspire young people, entertain them and subtly provide them with some of the psychological tools they need to navigate their way through a rapidly changing and highly demanding world. I want my work to stretch their horizons beyond the confines of whatever circumstances they happen to be born to so that the whole world opens up before them and they can know and understand their rightful place "in the family of things" as the poet Mary Oliver says in “Wild Geese”.
BT: You work as Programme Associate for the UNESCO East and Southern Africa EDUCAIDS programme, how does job link with your writing ambitions?
ST: The work I do is aimed at supporting the education sector in providing comprehensive age appropriate HIV and AIDS, sexuality and sexual and reproductive health education for young people from primary school right through to tertiary level. I have always been passionate about improving the health outcomes of people in underdeveloped communities. This is the sort of work whose rewards may not be immediately tangible but if we get it right could quite literally save lives and empower people to make healthy choices for themselves. My work requires the ability to look at situations with fresh eyes, to think analytically and creatively, and ultimately to communicate effectively. I find that attention to detail and the ability to analyze ideas through creative lens are invaluable as a writer.
BT: How do you describe the status of the writing industry in Zimbabwe?
ST: Zimbabwe has some exciting writers both at home and outside her borders. I am encouraged by the resilience of publishers such as AmaBooks who have bravely supported local writing in what can at best be described as "a difficult environment." While I am not exactly plugged in to the "writing community" at home, I like the fact that such a community exists and that there is support for the craft even if only amongst peers.
BT: Thank you very much Sandisile, we wish you the best in all your writing endeavors.
THE REGULAR WRITER
withAbout Tinashe Muchuri
He has published poetry in Zimbabwe, United Kingdom and the United States and has appeared in online journals and print magazines. His poems also appear in the following poetry anthologies, Jakwara reNhetembo (Mambo Press 2008), State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry (Conversation Press 2009), Daybreak (Unibooks 2010) War against War (Mensa Press 2010), Visions of the Motherland (Mensa Press 2010) and Defiled Sacredness (Mensa Press 2010). He has performed his poetry at prime Zimbabwe’s Arts Festivals, in South Africa and Botswana. His love for the big screen has seen him in films such as Tanyaradzwa, Nyaminyami, the Husband, and I Want a Wedding dress to name a few. He has also featured in TV dramas like Tiri parwendo, Suburb D among others.
The History of Performance Poetry in Shona Culture
Performance poetry in Shona is not a modern phenomenon. It dates back to the days of the bantu tribes. Occasions and events where performance poetry was done are in the following instances.
Before the rainy season began, a rain making ritual was conducted. An emissary would be sent to remind or inform the king. The emissary would salute and talk to the king in a poetic way, using poetic language. The king would feel good and grant permission for the undertaking of the rain making ritual. The process of brewing the beer for the ritual would then be done.........
During traditional invocations, the Shona recites their prayers to Musikavanhu in a poetic way/form, either accompanied by mbira music, ngoma sounds, or hosho.
Before hunters go for hunting, they usually recite a poem to their ancestors and to Musikavanhu asking for guidance in the forest. When they get to the forest, they would not just get into the forest without a prayer, which was also done in a poetic way. This prayer was done to the spirits of the forest to deliver the game, and protect them from dangerous animals. When the hunter’s dogs were chasing game, the hunter performed poetry to inspire the dogs to put an extra-effort in chasing the game. After catching the prey, a hunter would recite a 'thank you' poem to the spirits of the forest for delivering. Even if the hunter failed to catch prey, he would recite a thank you poem for the spirits of the forest for taking care of him while in the forest hunting.
Royal greetings/salutations were done in a poetic way too. Not everyone was supposed to just greet the king. Only a person who travels with the king was supposed to greet the king. This is known as kukwidza maoko. This person knows his king’s totemic praise poem. He too knows the king more than anyone else. The person will be the closest person to the king, he could be a nephew or a sahwira in other parts of the Shona clans. This person would lead the recital of the king’s salutation as the other people gathered and clapped their hands, whistled or ululated.
During wars, warriors recited poems in a bid to urge each other to fight the enemy without fear. Poetry was used to urge the warriors to face the battle with brevity. Even while the warriors were in battle, in the middle of the fight, warriors urged each other by reciting poems to instill fear into their enemy. This would weaken their enemy; some cowards would run away just from the fear of the poems which the warriors recited.
During burials/internment, some relatives recite poems to the spirit of the dead, asking the dead to take care of the living or ordering the spirit to fight back if they feel the dead was wronged or their death was suspicious.
When the home is faced with misfortune or good fortune, the Shona recite poems of happiness or of sorrow.
When the home is faced with misfortune or good fortune, the Shona recite poems of happiness or of sorrow.
Totemic praise poems are common in the Shona culture of performance poetry. Women play a pivotal role in this area. Women praise their men when they come with something home. Every woman was supposed to know her husband’s totem. The same also happen to the husband. He was supposed to know the totemic praise poem for his wife. This was done so that he will be able to thank his wife with her totemic poem. He would also be able to greet his in-laws with their totemic poem. Women also recited the totemic poem during sex and after sex. This was done to urge the men to continue working hard in fulfilling their wives’ desires. During these poetry performances, the husband will be told how to make the woman happy and satisfied.
Children’s games were also played in a poetic way. Many games that were played during Jenaguru were all poems. Plays like, pote pote Zakariana, Ndinotsvaka wangu Zakariana, Musuki wendiro, Zakariana, Anodzichenesa, Zakariana, Somwedzi wagara, Zakariana, Sumuka hande, Zakariana, Aiwaiwa ndanga ndichireva uyu. If you follow this play well you would see that the play or song is a poem.
Lullabies were also poems performed by women in a bid to quieten crying children. The song had harmony and rhythm. It was observed that children listen well to music. This might be a reason why most women are good singers and that most women are easy to fine tune their voices than men. The women would recite a poem to a child that you may think the mother is doing it to a grown up person. These poems are not recited when the child start showing signs of listening to the mother but when the child only communicates through crying.
During courtship a man always recites poetry to his lover and sometimes the woman also reciprocates. You would find words like, chido chomwoyo, chibaya moyo, ruva rangu, being exchanged between a man and a woman. These words are used to show love for the other person. Sometimes the poems would be used to flatter the other person into believing in the other person’s proposed love.
In the Shona society, poetry performance can be done to one person, a group of people, to the spirits or to Musikavanhu. Poetry also can be done by anyone, boys, girls, men and women. A nephew can recite a poem to his uncles or their wives. A sahwira can too recite a poem to his friend. A sister-in-law can recite a poem to his brother-in-law. A grand mother can recite a poem to her grandson. Cattle herders recite poems inciting their bulls to fight each other. It is not restricted to anyone. It is open to everyone.
Poetry performance can be done by many people being led by one person, especially in children’s games, royal greetings, invocation ceremonies among others.
The Sun, The Moon
the sun, the moon
have forgotten their foresight
therefore there will be no tomorrow
shudder away worry
look up and smile
the sun, the moon
may remember where they put
fight and win
the sun, the moon
are millenniums old
if they had given up
under which sky would lovers meet?
By Beaven Tapureta
(adapted from the Chinese anthology of African poetry, No Serenity Here, 2010)