Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

The 'Small House' in the Era of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic: The Case of the Shona in Zimbabwe

Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

The 'Small House' in the Era of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic: The Case of the Shona in Zimbabwe

Article excerpt


The term 'small house' has been coined by the Shona to refer to an extramarital relationship, the 'married man-girlfriend' relationship, one not sanctioned by society. Normally this relationship is loose since it is solely by the mutual consent of the individuals concerned. Its primary function is sexual gratification for the two. Other social functions play second fiddle to this. This phrase has been specifically chosen to delineate these loose relationships in a bid to legitimise them among the people. This article views it as a modernised version of polygamy. The term is also used by the unmarried youths to refer to their multiple love relationships which the youths view in terms of marriage relationships as well.

In the pre-colonial period and even nowadays, these acts of sexual misdemeanor are regarded as prostitution. However because of the stigma that goes along with prostitution and HIV/AIDS, the promiscuous Shona have decided to do away with this term, preferring the use of the term 'small house.' The term is evidence of the ingrained and inherent sexual urge within the human race that continues to further the institution of polygamy now disguised as the 'small house.' The term appears to be a euphemism for polygamy and prostitution which modern society pretends to loathe, yet is in it, this time dangerously. People now feel more comfortable to be associated with this term, which to them is more detached from the stigma attached to polygamy, prostitution and HIV/ AIDS.

Objectives of the study

To unravel the significance of polygamy in pre-colonial Shona societies. To expose how colonialism and its culture contributed to the emergence of 'small houses' among the Shona people. To show how 'small houses' exacerbate the spread of HIV/AIDS. To show how polygamy can be a possible way to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Justification of the study

The 'small house' practice among the Shona people of Zimbabwe has contributed largely to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country. It is believed that among every four adults in Zimbabwe, one is HIV positive (Grand, Nyoni and Nyoni 2010). It is therefore imperative that the topic is judiciously dealt with by the academia so that society can harness every plausible suggestion towards curbing the spread of the pandemic. The concept of polygamy among the Shona had a number of advantages among which were: the distribution of wealth, security and the perpetuation of the group. However, this concept had been denigrated and discouraged by the missionaries when they came to the landscape between the Zambezi and the Limpopo. The public practice of having many wives was therefore portrayed negatively. This then led to clandestine affairs that never saw the light of the day but had become common as the 'small houses.' The study therefore posits that polygamy if properly done can help curb the spread of the pandemic. Therefore 'small houses' should be discouraged in the strongest terms for them not to put to an end the human race. Also Africans should be seen to be upholding certain practices that helped them transcend certain calamities in the history of their existence.

Theoretical framework

The study adopts an Afro-centric approach, which encourages Africans to journey back to their culture and history so as to regain re-affirming energy and have their worldview re-oriented. Since the study seeks to revisit the Shona past marriage practices, it is therefore imperative that it adopts this approach. This is a theory that champions the African identity, traditions and practices. As the article tries to show that polygamy was not inherently bad as portrayed by colonialists and their attendant merchandisers, it is not encumbered in the romanticisation of the African past, but in borrowing those indigenous practices that helped to sustain the Shona in the past. The return to the source that the theory encourages does not mean fixation. …

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