Maxwell Mutami, Is a Zimbabwean writer currently based in Bangui, Central African Republic.
He has two published books, firstly a poetry collection, WHEN THE DUST HAS SETTLED, Timeless Avatar Press 2006 New York, and a children’s book, BINGO THE GREEDY DOG, Lleemon Publishers 2007 Harare, in addition to several works in various anthologies and collections.
The children’s book was nominated for a prestigious local National Arts Merit Awards in 2008 and also won an award in 2009 at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair best books of 2009 children’s category.
Letter to Sister B
Crisis. It really is an identity crisis, Sister B. You were right when you told late grandma Maduve that our people had changed. Totems no longer mean a thing. Language of old days has painfully suffered a gradual, but permanent death. It is no point mentioning dress code that Grandma Maduve used to bemoan. I have seen it with my own eyes in the city. Traditional religion of gogo Maduve’s time has sunk into oblivion. We are no longer the original people.
When I got into the city, Sister B, none knew our totems. I told people that my totem was Shumba the lion, but they laughed at me. They said use of totems was a bygone practice. “The gods will punish you,” I warned them, but they took no heed. I was an unfortunate subject of contempt.
Didn’t Gogo Maduve say a language made a complete people? In the city it’s different, Sister B. Our native language makes you an incomplete being. You would be a half baked brick. Nobody wanted to talk to me in the native language. Everybody seemingly feigned not to comprehend our mother tongue. I strongly felt an outcast in my own land. Sister B, did old Maduve not tell us that, you should milk a borrowed cow looking on the way? Or better still, that, that which is not yours power is limited?* I feel our people never understood these idioms. They are milking the borrowed cow so relaxed. The day the owner of the cow comes they will be shocked. When owners of the language they are using come and take it away, they will be a speechless people.
Old Maduve always said dress was language. She always said dress was identity. Remember those stories about women from Nyasaland ? People knew them from the way they dressed. Come to the city Sister B, alas!
You would think a million tribes and races have come for a conference.
You will never come across a single man or woman embodying the pride of our people and culture. We seem a lost people. Did I tell you that almost everybody avoided me in the city? Imagine avoiding a person dressed in the style and colour of our ancestors. An original lady with no cooked hair. No glowing lips and fingernails from exotic paints.
Sister B, surely the gods will never condone city people for what they have done. Imagine they have done away with almost all indigenous trees in exchange for exotic Jacaranda and Pine trees. It looked like I would spend eternity looking for a Muhacha tree known for giving cool shade to our spirits. No wonder the city people are lost. The spirits wouldn’t stay where they find no shade to rest in. When I knelt under a nameless tree and started exalting the gods, a couple with their kid passed by. The kid asked ‘Mama, why is that lady praying without a bible?’ and the mother, with fried hair and glowing lips, answered in a loud whisper, “She is not praying. She must be out of her senses.” Imagine Sister B, me out of my head. I implored the gods to feel pity for her. I begged that the spirits bring mercy unto our lost people. I wished grandma Maduve would come back and give a lecture to everybody on who we were. Somebody has to help us out of this identity jungle.
Pray for me Sister B. Pray for our people as well. I will keep you posted of developments in the city. Goodbye.
* Shona idioms directly translated into English.
Grandma shortened version of grandmother Gogo means grandmother in the local language