A Philosophical Interpretation of the Significance of Oral Forms in I. Mabasa's Novel Mapenzi (1999)/'N Filosofiese Interpretasie Van Die Belangrikheid Van Mondelinge Vorms in I. Mabasa Se Roman Mapenzi (1999)

Article excerpt


The article critically analyses the use of Shona oral art forms in I. Mabasa's novel "Mapenzi" ("Mad people"/"Foolish people"). It departs from the realisation that the writer identifies with Shona people's oral experiences in the form of songs, "bembera" (satiric poetry) and folktales among others. These oral art forms provide the means by which the writer overcomes both self-censorship and real or imagined state censorship. The article advances the argument that Mabasa uses the Shona people's oral art forms in a manner that is ideologically and pedagogically empowering. This is consistent with the value thrust of Shona people's epistemological assumptions. The article comes to the conclusion that Mabasa's vision in the novel "Mapenzi" maintains the fine between tradition and continuity.


Die artikel analiseer die gebruik van Shona mondelinge kunsvorms in I. Mabasa se roman "Mapenzi" ("Mal mense"/"Dwase persone"), krities. Dit volg uit die besef dat die skrywer met die Shonas se mondelinge ervarings, in die vorm van onder andere liedjies, "bembera" (satiriese poesie) en volksliedjies identifiseer. Hierdie mondelinge kunsvorms verskaf die wyse waarop die skrywer selfsensorskap sowel as werklike of verbeelde staatsensorskap oorkom. Die artikel argumenteer dat Mabasa die Shonas se mondelinge kunsvorms gebruik op 'n wyse wat ideologies en pedagogies bemagtigend is. Dit stem ooreen met die kragtige waarde van die Shonas se epistemologiese aannames. Die gevolgtrekking waartoe gekom word, is dat Mabesa se visie in die roman, "Mapenzi", die lyn tussen tradisie en voortgang handhaaf.

1. Introduction

The artist in the traditional African milieu spoke for and to his community. His imagery, themes, symbolisms and forms were drawn from a communally accessible pool. He was heard. He made sense. (Chinweizu et al., 1985:241.)

The central concern in this article is the writer's use of Shona oral art forms in Mapenzi (1999). These art forms are part of the philosophy of life of the Shona people--their controlling consciousness which perfectly captures their "lived experiences". For many communities among African people, orature has functioned as a redoubtable bastion of people's struggles against the vagaries of life--internal and external. It has provided them with a potent technology that has made it possible for them to be subjects in the arena of active participation and contribution, giving and receiving. This is precisely the reason why our ancestors were astute enough to create art forms that largely revolve around the celebration and concretisation of hope and resilience. A number of Shona people's oral art forms serve to empower and embolden the human principle. The simple reason for such an outlook towards survival is that life is a challenge that demands courage. In other words, to live is to be courageous. The Acholi of Uganda have no kind words for cowards whom they tell, "O, coward, return into your mother's womb!" (P'bitek, 1986:26).

The Shona constitute the largest demographic group in Zimbabwe. Their experiences--past, present and future--have been and continue to find expression through oral art. The existence of other media of expression has not been able to wipe out continued dependence on oral art forms. Creative writers, too, have similarly been inspired by the oral experience in articulating the Shona idiom. In a situation where direct and indirect censorship interferes with writers' creative liberties, orature proffers an alternative voice that allows writers to comment on sensitive issues. It is highly adaptable and can be given an allusive quality and fabricated setting which enables the author to comment on contemporary issues without seeming to do so.

It is in this context that Mabasa establishes a link with oral traditions which function as the vital nourishing supplement to his creative act. Such a creative modality is not only in sync with the creative demands of Afrocentricity, a theory that emphasises the placement of "African ideals at the centre of any analysis that involves African culture and behavior" (Asante, 1998:2), but is also ideologically and pedagogically empowering as it elevates orature to a position where, "it is the incontestable reservoir of the values, sensibilities, esthetics, and achievements of traditional African thought and imagination . …


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