Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Shona Taboos: The Language of Manufacturing Fears for Sustainable Development

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Shona Taboos: The Language of Manufacturing Fears for Sustainable Development

Article excerpt


Every society and every culture has its own ways of socializing its own children so that they may grow up to be responsible and socially compliant citizens. These are the ways in which the norms and values of society are inculcated into the new members. And thus part of a life long process of inculcation to ensure that an individual is socialized, since it is through this process of inculcation that one learns the principal values and symbols of the social system in which he/she participates. As Odetola and Ademola (1985:57) put it 'it is through socialization that our behaviour becomes regulated since we now possess values, goals and ambitions and live in an ordered environment.' For this reason, as Haralambos and Holborn (2000:4) note, 'every culture contains a large number of guidelines that direct conduct in particular situations'.

Correspondingly, Shona culture chose to put in place taboos in the form of what Gelfand (1979) calls 'avoidance rules' in order to control, guide and regulate the behaviour of its members (in this article the terms taboos and avoidance rules will be used interchangeably). Thus, Gelfand (1979) studied a large number of avoidance rules he collected from various schools in Zimbabwe and observed that they were meant to inculcate correct behaviour into citizens; and notes (Gelfand 1979:138) that 'The principle that emerges from these rules is that a child must conform and behave like others in order to avoid an unusual occurrence'. Gelfand therefore grouped these avoidance rules into six categories according to themes, namely, those that talk about living in the correct way, successful pregnancy, avoidance of danger, good bahaviour, healthy living, and those conveying religious teachings.

Bozongwana (1983) approaches the study of Ndebele taboos from a religious perspective. He sees taboos as part of Ndebele religion. His categorization of these taboos is slightly different from that adopted earlier by Gelfand (1979) and later by Tatira (2000). Bozongwana groups them according to the people who are affected by them. Accordingly, he groups the taboos according to those that affect children, those that affect women, those that affect men, and those classified simply as general taboos. Tatira (2000) looks at Shona taboos and argues that they were a useful way of keeping check on children. He notes that children spent a lot of time on their own looking after animals, and so on and it was easy for them to do the wrong things away from the watchful eye of the elders, so taboos came in handy and ensured that children did not behave in a wayward manner. Tatira (2000:v) makes the pertinent observation that:

   ... zviera zvaizobatsira pakutyisidzira tsvuuramuromo kuti
   dzikaitag zvairambidzwa dzaizowirwa nematambudziko akaita sourwere,
   urema kana ndufu.

   ... taboos helped in that they instilled fear in would-be deviants
   that if they misbehaved misfortunes such as illnesses, deformities
   or death would befall them.

These misfortunes could befall family wealth, relatives or even the entire community.

Tatira (2000) puts Shona taboos into roughly five categories according to themes. He groups them according to those that conscientise children on issues pertaining to health, those that warn against danger, those that are meant to guard against bad behaviour, those that are meant to prevent cruelty, and others grouped under miscellaneous. Unlike Gelfand (1979), Bozongwana (1983) and Tatira (2000) who collected and grouped taboos according to themes, Pfukwa (2001) looks at taboos in their practical usage. Pfukwa looks at the role played by taboos in Zimbabwe's liberation war. He too puts the taboos he discusses into categories, but he also groups them according to those that related to land, those that related to wild animals and birds, and those that related to people.

In their analyses Tatira (2000) shows that each taboo had a 'surface meaning' (a lie) and 'chokwadi chaicho' (the truth); Gelfand (1979:156) says that 'many avoidances were enforced; some of the consequences were believed by everyone, but others were empty threats employed to discipline the children'. …

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