All posts authored by Santino Zhakata
Wonders never cease!
A few years ago, I never imagined I would be making a blog promoting the teaching of the Shona language. I have, for many years taken Shona for granted, even though it is my native tongue. It was not until I left Zimbabwe to live, first in Mozambique and later in Sweden, that the Shona language became alive in a unique way to me. It is then that I realized how Shona is an important part of myself and a cultural badge. I fell in love with it and have since then, welcomed any opportunity to teach it and spread it.
The Shona language and its people in Zimbabwe.
Shona, a Bantu language, is spöken in more than one third of Zimbabwe as well as some regions of Botswana and a great part of western Mozambique. The Shona people have, according to written history, settled in what is now Zimbabwe for about 2 000 years . The language itself has different dialects spread out across the different tribes of Zimbabwe. The Manyika, Zezuru, Karanga, Ndau and Korekore are some the major Shona tribes in Zimbabwe. Within each tribe there exists also slight dialectical variations. To make it easier to learn Shona, the Zimbabwean education curriculum identified a Standard Shona language that is studied across the country. With this, one can communicate well across the country. It is this standard Shona that I will refer to in this blog. While English is the official language in Zimbabwe and anyone can basically get by using just English in any part of the country and with most people across all age groups, knowing Shona can give a very rich experience of Zimbabwe to visitors of the country. N.B: A post about great places to visit and things to do in Zimbabwe will follow.
The past and present of Shona language in Zimbabwe
In 1890, the land that is now Zimbabwe became a British colony and was named Southern Rhodesia. For 90 years it was under colonial government. During that time, the culture and way of life of the locals was greatly altered. Some changes were temporary, others permanent. If culture can be described as the things that a people does, shares and believes in collectively, then colonialism grabbed the Shona culture by its centre and made things fall apart. Shona ways and traditions had always been passed down to generations through practice and word of mouth, spoken around evening fires and under the shades of trees in the day. From young to old, traditions, an important part of culture, were communicated through daily interractions. Under colonialism, however, the traditional roles of Shona men, women and children as well as their sense of community and shared practice were shredded. Forced labour in the mines, the Railroad, car roads, plantations and building of various kinds of infrustructure for the colonial government had it´s toll on the routines, prioritets and general way of life of the Shona. Taxes, fines and regulations carefully drafted by the colonial government left the Shona dispossessed of their land, livestock, sense of identity and most importantly freedom of movement and action. Christian missionaries introduced western-type education and the Shona children were enrolled. The obligation to attend western type schools significantly reduced the opportunity for Shona parents to share and practice their local knowledge, ways and traditions with their children. During the colonial era, the English language rose in ranks and became the official language. Shona language we reduced to an informal language spoken in homes and other social settings. There are a lot of publications that detail the history of the Shona under colonialism. So how did colonialism affect the Shona language? To answer this, let us look at Shona language , as it is used in the present.
Shona is, originally, a language rich with proverbs, metaphores and idiomatic expressions. This element has, unfortunately, been significantly reduced in present-day usage of Shona. Since English is the official language, Shona remains a mere social language in its own home, Zimbabwe. All formal proceedings are carried out in English. The public schools curriculum reduces Shona language to subject status, done only a few times a week. Mathematics, Geography, the Sciences and all practical subjects like carpentry, metal work, building etc; are taught and communicated in English. At University level, even Shona language itself is studied in English. One more obvious consequence of this is that Shona language, in practice, can be likened to a fine garment upon which patches ( the English language) have been sewn over, even though the garment was not torn. Over the decades, Shona words become replaced by English ones in everyday speech. When speaking days of the week, months of the year, numbers higher than three and all mathematical terms and symbols, the English words are given preference.
A complex social, economic and political situation in modern Zimbabwe has not benefited the development of Shona language and culture. The language remains predominantly geographically bound to Zimbabwe. Very few digital resources are available to help children and beginners living outside Zimbabwe learn Shona easier. Thirty -nine years after Independence, the national broadcasting coorporation does not have cartoons in Shona, not even the dubbed variety. These among others are some of the challenges I have had to face and circumvent as a parent of Shona origin raising multi-lingual and duo-cultural children outside Zimbabwe.
The practical functions of Shona - Why learn it?
In Manica province in Mozambique, while working as a communication officer in a humanitarian project, Shona allowed me to reach to semi and non-literate project beneficiaries. Most of these were rural populations who used different variations of the Shona dialects much more efficiently than they did Portuguese, Mozambique´s official language. My first experience teaching Shona came through a Brazilian friend working on projects in Mozambique. She became my first student. The next was a Dutch gentleman who later refered a fellow countryman to me also working in projects in Mozambique. All these students had one major need in common, to be able to communicate better with the native population in the locations they worked.
My next most important awakening with Shona, and probably the longest lasting, is my here and now. Being a father of three small children (five, three and one year old,) born and being raised in Sweden, has made Shona, not only a very important part of my identity, but also that of my children. My wife and children are learning Shona and I am playing the role of guide/teacher and facilitator. This is the sole explanation to how and why I have found myself blogging about learning and teaching Shona. It is so that I can share and document my /our experience as well as help and establish contact with those in similar situations.
An act of solidarity
If you are seeking to work in Zimbabwe or are raising your children to speak Shona or you are just interested in learning Shona, stick around on this blog and you will be sure to gain a lot of insights. I entourage my readers to also feel free to post queries , comments and questions.
© Santino Zhakata 2011
I am Santino Zhakata, born in Zimbabwe, living in Sweden. I do a lot of writing, photography , blogging and website creation for fun and for profit. My fields of expertise include teaching and tutoring English via distance or face to face. I also specialise in communication for development. Welcome to my blog, feel free to share your thoughts.