An Analysis of the Influences of Discourse in the Anthology: Zimbabwean Poetry in English

Article excerpt

Introduction

Zimbabwean Poetry in English, compiled and introduced by Kizito Muchemwa (1978: xii) as poetry that '... shows no definite direction of growth in its early stages ... ,' is a multi-voice anthology of pioneering work reflecting various levels of expertise and, 'literary eclecticism' (Adu- Gyumfi, 2003: 105), within the context of the Horton- Asquith Model. The model is a hybrid of recommendations made by two committees which were set up to plan for the establishment of University Education in Africa. Firstly, there was the Asquith committee of 1925 which favoured a modern University Education in Africa that incorporated African history, value systems and languages. The other committee chaired by James Africanus Beale Horton in 1968 recommended that there be established in Africa, a University Education system based on undiluted Western Education. In this model, there was no place of African languages, history and culture in University Education. As a product of these two models, the Horton--Asquith model is responsible for the relegation of

African languages to the periphery in the Education system obtaining in African Universities. The model also sought to spread European languages in Africa and consequently European cultures and value systems. Ngugi (2000), rightly notes that the model still haunts African scholarship and politics to date. Therefore, in Africa, the Horton- Asquith Model created products of 'the English Department whose initial aspirations were triggered by the admiration or disagreement with the models they read' (wa Thiongo, 2000: 5).

The multi-voice anthology comprises voices mainly reflecting images of suffering, dejection, pessimism and surrender. As a product of the model, the anthology depicts a typical poetic character blended by a plethora of historical, oral and literary events whose influence is located within the history of Zimbabwe including her experiences as a colony. Sadly, though, the background influencing this pioneering corpus was either over -looked, glossed over, ignored or simply not given proper attention despite its centrality to the development of a Zimbabwean brand of literary poetry in general and a Zimbabwean version of poetry in English in particular. However, apart from Muchemwa's (ibid) introductory remarks, the only other attempt to unmask the background influences of this poetry was done by Flora Wild (1988), who interviewed various poets, of course, not withstanding the typical shortcomings of foreign scholars of African literature. Wild (Ibid), does not clearly explain how information gathered through interviews was used to unveil the nature of the discourse, form, structure, spirit and status of the poetry corpus as a whole. The writer thus argues that this rare poetic discourse, a gigantic feat in its own right, is a clear product of both the negative and positive historical, cultural and econopolitical realities of its time, of course, within the framework of the Horton-Asquith model. Thus, the historical condition of colonization, oppression and suppression of Shona-Ndebele religious values coupled with the then obtaining socio-economic system, it can be further argued, gave the poetry its propensity and impetus which naturally is realised in its form and meaning. Furthermore, this poetry is better understood by appreciating the peasant background of its authors who mainly hail from communal lands. On the same token, knowing the influence of this poetry implies an awareness of its form, structure and thematic concerns.

In this article, one notes that the first anthology of Zimbabwean poetry in English was influenced by a three-fold tradition that can be reduced to two, namely, 'African oral traditions' and 'the damaging experience of European presence in Africa' (AduGyamfi, 2003:104). Firstly, the poetry partly stems from the oppressive, repressive, segregatory and consequently dehumanising administrative style of the colonial regimes in Africa in general and Rhodesia in particular. …