Shona Religion Holistically Portrayed: Selected Solomon Mutswairo Novels

By Makaudze, Godwin; Gudhlanga, Enna Sukutai | Journal of Pan African Studies, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Shona Religion Holistically Portrayed: Selected Solomon Mutswairo Novels


Makaudze, Godwin, Gudhlanga, Enna Sukutai, Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

Despite receiving Western education which described anything that did not conform to European beliefs and values as abhorrent and primitive, Zimbabwean novelist and poet Solomon Mangwiro Mutswairo (1924-2005) emerges out of the school system learned, and endeavours to give a positive portrayal of Shona religion. The time he spent in Canada and the United States of America never changed his understanding and attitude towards indigenous religion and cultural practices. He does not fall into the trap of stereotyping Shona traditional religion as barbaric, like some of the other writers who are professed Christians do. These writers who criticise and distort African religion only imbibed the views and tastes of their teachers; they just received colonial education without getting learned. Mutswairo emerges from the schools system, learned; having realised the limitations and prejudices in the Western school's system. He thus endeavours to project Shona religion in a positive image. In the novels examined in this paper, Feso (1956) and Mweya waNehanda (1988), he demonstrates that Shona religion totally integrates with every aspect of life and that religion is the fulcrum around which Shona life radiates. Even though there are Christian images in his writings, they do not denigrate but help the author to illustrate that Shona religion serves its believers with all their spiritual needs in even more ways than Christianity has done for its followers.

Mutswairo's efforts are quite in line with those by Boaduo and Gumbi (2010) who lament the negative influence that colonialism has had on its African victims. The two scholars criticise the classification of indigenous people done by the coloniser, into groups such as black, tribe, coloureds and native. These classes were based on speculations that Europeans had about these people, based on socially constructed and perpetuated beliefs. Such classification was meant to justify the subordination of African people. It also strove to present some races as superior than others; hence anything that fell short of European was considered as primitive and uncivilised, including the indigenous people's religion. It is against this background that Boaduo and Gumbi call for African intellectuals to group together and provide a worldview grounded in the heritage of religion, philosophy, science and art. They stress that African people need to reach back into their wealthy past and take along with them all their works of arts, philosophy and rich customs, traditions and culture and portray them positively to the rest of the world (2010: 47). They furthermore stress that Africans must focus on what is positive so that African people can have a duty to push to the forefront the positive aspects of their indigenous knowledge systems and ways that have been ignored, misinterpreted and misrepresented to bring forth a lot of positives about African humanity. Mutswairo's novel seems to border on the recommendation by these scholars as he digs dip into the Shona past, unearthing rich layers of heritage for the benefit of the contemporary African person.

It is stressed in this essay that Mutswairo's marked pre-occupation with Shona religious matters during the colonial and post-colonial settings indicates his deep-rooted desire to contribute towards the development of Zimbabwean nationalism, with its culmination in nationhood and the building of a new nation. With religion being the focal point, and indeed the worldview of the Zimbabwean people, the writer strives to give cultural, historical and national identity to a newly born nation.

Shona traditional religion is depicted as highly inspirational to the Shona people. It plays a number of critical functions in Shona society as: a unifying force, a source of vital knowledge for its believers' survival, a promoter of peace, a source of inspiration, a form of entertainment and above all, as powerful and real. …

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