Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Power Politics during and after Funerals Amidst the Shona of Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Power Politics during and after Funerals Amidst the Shona of Zimbabwe

Article excerpt


Funerals stand out as major community gatherings, and one could be stuck by the energy and enthusiasm of the participants as they dance, talk and sing. Furthermore, the significance of such events lie not in the fundamental relationships to the ancestors, but in funerals focused on relationships among the living as observed by Isaak (1998: 59). The main event of the funeral usually provide occasion for family reunions, therapeutic expression, and the healing of strained relationships, but in some instances, it is not the case. Blakely (1994: 407) confirms that funerals also provide historical commentary and the transmission and creation of knowledge as well as the performance of verbal and general art, such as drama, music and dance. The thrust of this study is to examine power politics during and after the funerals among the Shona people (an umbrella term for closely related ethnic groups in Zimbabwe) as submitted by Chitando (1996: 66), and to illustrate how different categories of power are influenced by death and politics. The study will in general focus on the Shona funeral setting (urban and rural) as there are variations from region to region, as such, all forms of power politics during and after funerals cannot be exhausted; only most commonly witnessed in today's funerals.

Definition of Power Politics

Many people may be aware that political issues can generate the strongest emotions, attachments, and actions. Several people have a general understanding of what politics is all about. Some say it means government or power. Jackson (1993:4) defines politics as art of compromise or manipulation. Shively (1947) in his book Power and Choice depicts politics as making common decisions for a group or groups of people. He further asserts that some individuals in the group exercise power (ranging from influence to coercion).

Another widely accepted definition of politics is put forward by Harold Lasswell (1936), he points out that politics is always concerned with "who gets, what, when and how". As for power, no one can hold it, touch or even see it, yet almost everyone wants it. It is present whenever there is politics. Jackson (1993) observes that power permeates politics. Mokken and Stockmann (1976) view power and influence as interwoven. For Mokken, power is influence (ability to persuade or convince others to accept certain objectives or behaviour in a certain way), and influence can be a form of power. For Maclver (1964), influence needs authority (power to make binding decisions and issue obligatory commands). According to Max Weber (1947), authority (and therefore legitimacy) may be said to stem from three main sources; traditional authority which is derived from custom and history gained through inheritance; charismatic authority which is based on popular administration of personal "heroic" qualities of an individual of whom it is invested in, and rational-legal or bureaucratic, authority which is invested in offices held by individuals.

Having looked at some definitions of power and politics, it is worth looking into a Shona funeral to appreciate where power and politics come into play.

Shona Funerals

A funeral is a complex and centrally important series of events in the ritual life of many African people. Funeral includes burial, mourning and all ritual procedures. When discussing funeral rituals among the Shona, it is worth noting that there is no uniformity in the practices. Bourdillon (1987: 99) adds that they vary from area to area. However, a general structure is discernible among most of the Shona, subscribes Bourdillon.

He contends that in all Shona areas, funerals and post-burial ceremonies have a common pattern and function. Isaak (1997: 38), also contents that though funerals differ in size and complexity depending on the circumstances of death, age, gender, social/ economic/ political status and religious affiliation or commitment of the deceased, they are all regarded as the last ritual in one's life, often involving the entire community, and sometimes even the whole country in cases of one declared liberation or national hero or heroine. …

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