PALAVER PALAVER PALAVER
There was a ripe yield down at the Second-hand Books & Bric-a-Brac yesterday. In amongst the tarnished silver and cracked figurines was this book.
It’s a collection of columns from the Zimbabwe Standard called Palaver Finish by Chenjerai Hove who died in exile in Stavanger only a few months ago.
It was hard to get a handle on the title essay which is written in what’s for me – unparsable pidgin. But I found this clue to its meaning in a book by Moradewun Adejunmobi, “palaver,” connotes “contentious discussion”.
And that may be what I’m about to step into without knowing it.
It appears some of his contemporaries like Dambudzo Marechera thought Hove’s work was too ‘nativist’ but I’ve asked around and although Marechera was tragic and beloved and brilliant – it also seems like he shouldn’t have been dragging anyone through the dirt. At least Hove made women the central heroes of his stories while Marechera was straight up called a misogynist by the person writing the introduction to the Penguin edition of Mindblast.
I really chimed with Hove’s thinking. It’s foundational and real and accessible and clear. And I admire that as much as glorious, violent explosions of literary fireworks Marechera was known for.
On a more general note: in the month I’ve been in South Africa – I feel very strongly that Arab artists and writers should pay more attention to what’s going on and has gone down in Africa.
Because it’s relevant. Period.
To prove this I am including some snaps out of a 2010 copy of Lines Magazine edited by Kudzanai Chuirai. His work is a perfect example of the ‘relevant’ mentioned above. Example: the below piece is called “The Presidential Office 16h30”. Now, the collective GCC mounted a very similar piece at MOMA PS1 a few years ago and I know for a fact (I was a part of GCC at the time) that we didn’t know Chuirai’s work. But we were treading in exactly the same territory – right down to the portraits as self-aggrandising cultural ministers.
Anyway, enjoy the friction of Chuirai’s hyper-irony and Hove’s ultra-earnestness rubbing up against each other. Maybe it will light something for you as it has me.
Culture as Censorship
Excerpted from Palaver Finish
By Chengerai Hove
I was born under this blue sky, in the year of the railway line, somewhere under the shadows of the Zvishavane hills, in a mud hut, with no nurse nearby. I only came to know about nurses in primary school: the nurse was the one with sharp needles for anti-primary school: the nurse was the one with sharp needles for anti-this and anti-that. We did not have to know what the inoculations were for. They were part of life, and it went on from sunrise to sunset and from sunset to sunrise.
Our world is measured in many ways: some measure it in sunsets, some in clock-time, some in moons. But we measure time by events. If when you were born nothing else happened, then your birth might be a difficult yardstick. A good birth lies in relation to there, me and my brothers and cousins, who were born around that time, to the railway line, to check the dates of our births.
To talk literacy and illiteracy is irrelevant. Our parents had their own multi-literacy in many things we did not understand. We were illiterate, young and fresh. Many things still to know and discover, including the kick of a donkey, his mark still visible on my face. (As it happens, I was nearly buried, having been unconscious for longer than the villagers could accept. I’m only alive, thanks to my mother who persuaded them to allow me another day.)
As we grew up, we were told to be wry of a certain two men who always wanted to play with us and offered us sweets. Only now do we realize that they were gay. My relatives would turn in their graves at the thought. To write about those characters is to let slip the ugly face of the village. Every village wants to be portrayed as beautiful, a place into which you were lucky o be born. Thus, cultural pride becomes cultural censorship.
What, after all, is censorship? Is it not the control of local ideas to stop tem spreading from the private parts of the village to the public parts of the country? And what is culture? Is it not the things we tell ourselves, the things we pretend to ourselves, about the ways we live and die. Culture is the way we eat, or do not eat, the way we die or do not want to die, the way we talk to the dead to allow for communication between the living and the dead. Even the way we play represents some form of our culture.
But the masks change with time, the ways we eat change with time, and the voices which we name ourselves change with time. Culture does not exist in a museum. Tradition can.
And the story goes on.
How many of us can write an erotic piece?
No, we would shy away from the public glare. Can we write of the body of a woman or of a man, in all its sexuality? We cannot do so because people, in this part of the world, will say, this does not happen in our culture. Isn’t culture sometimes a lie with which we all concur? Imagine a woman, in these lands, writing poetry abut the love she has for a man. She would be in such trouble that she would wish she had never gone to school or learned to write.
An Indian scholar described power as ‘a desolating pestilence’, meaning that power can be an instrument of censorship. Power is a cultural tool and the wy people relate to it is crucial for the development of the imagination, the mind, the heart, and the soul.
In Zimbabwe today, power is used as violence. Violence has become part of our culture. Violence opposes freedom but the human mind and heart need freedom if they are to bloom.
Ask George Mujajati about it. He is the most tortured writer in this country at the moment. He cannot sleep in peace in his own house. And the violence against him means he is supposed to fall silent, to disappear as it were. When local politicians announce death to those who do not support the ruling party, this is sad news for the imagination.
Religion can also be used as an instrument of censorship. The religious sometimes have the audacity to think that everyone must see the world as they see it themselves. Anybody who does not share their beliefs is considered a heathen, a devil, and thus the literary imagination is controlled. For, censorship has to do with controlling the imaginations and products of other people’s imagination in an attempt to make the world uniform, mono-cultural, and mono-everything else.
We can talk of language as censorship because it is an instrument of life. Language tends to be harnessed by those who think they own the social imagination. Language is culture and culture Is communication. Silence is not culture. Without communication, all the doors of human existence and human exchange are closed and locked, as Mujajati says in The Sun Will Rise Again. ‘Culture is an instrument of aspiration and dream. Within it, the dreams of the ordinary person may live or die.’
Violence inflected on people can mean the death of creativity.