In this essay, the author deplores the current generation’s unwillingness to learn the “ways of life” from elders in African villages including the culture of reading and seeking for knowledge that characterised that generation of the 1950s and 1960s.
This is the first ever time I have written about the village. To most young people the village is a boring place. In the village there are no bright lights. No sophisticated infrastructure or the rendezvous of the fast life we find in towns.
In the village everything is laborious. Fetching water from yonder, relying on firewood for energy, going to the far-flung school on a daily basis, herding cows in vast expanses of land and the list is just endless.
The varying social and economic developments across Africa have however had a residual effect on this very village, which is being urbanised. New houses are being built some with urban design plans and not the traditional thatched houses.
Some houses are even walled and gated like those in urban settings. The attachment to privacy is now evident in some few [village dwellers]. But those accustomed to the olden communitarian way of life loathe this individualism.
Now villagers have mobile phones. When they lose their cows, they ask their colleagues on the mobile phones, which not long ago was a preserve of the rich. In some settings they now have the Internet like their urban counterparts, albeit with low reception often. Some now even own cars, ostensibly out of sweat from farming tobacco especially.
It suffices to say the old image of the village is dissipating whether for good or bad. Yet we, as the younger generation continue to attach the village to hardships and nothing more.
Some months ago, I wrote the initial original piece of this submission, following a visit to the village, ironically for bereavement in our clan.
The article was meant for the local newspaper, but however it did not appear for one reason or the other and, had to modify it for this platform, now some four months later.
The funeral coincided with a public holiday some few months ago. After receiving the news of our uncle’s departure, we woke up early in the morning and trekked to the Provincial capital of Mashonaland East Province, Marondera to be precise, nearly some 80 kilometres from Harare.
Upon getting into the provincial capital we further trekked down to our rural environs, under the legendary Chief Svosve.
Having gone to the village for the funeral, we relished at this momentous opportunity to stay another day to sort out our errands of making ends to our small kitchen and of course connecting with family.
After all we do not go to the village frequently like some.
In Zimbabwe, the name Chief Svosve, which has been borne by subsequent heirs, has been immortalised in history as the spark plug to the country’s land reform exercise.
Despite the proximity of our rural area, it became contradictory that we had become visitors or even “tourists” to the very land of our ancestors, where every person knew the next by bloodline, friendship or even inter-marriages.
Perhaps these are issues for another day.
The thought of reflecting on the village emerged as one great friend (sahwira) of our uncle gave a requiem speech. Of course another highlight was the eccentric Methodist pastor who saw opportunity to convert new souls to Christ. And not forgetting the local leadership who were not to be forgotten at such an event where they received respect from their subjects.
In the village even a funeral becomes an important event, which brings everyone from the length and breadth of the land. Villagers, village businessmen, traditional leaders, pastors, local politicians and the list is just endless.
But I digress.
Though many speakers had spoken glowingly about the departed, it was the speech of the great friend, which stood out among the rest.
Donning a black suit and a hat, as is typically done by elders, the great friend walked with old swagger to the podium to give his speech, while carrying a sack in his right hand.
The type of sack, which is used to store mealie meal. Obviously it was not mealie meal or even maize inside it.
As if he was reading our inquisitive minds, the senior citizen removed three voluminous texts from an olden life.
The first was a sociology text in A4 size, evidently more than a thousand pages long. Even professors or lawyers who have an affinity for big books would have been green with envy. Even those who do not read the books keep them to at least decorate their offices.
Shortly after, the tears on the cheeks of mourners dissipated, as a cacophony of laughter emerged thunderously rebutting the solemn moments for short-lived delight.
Mourners were awed by the size of the books, which were so big that they had to be kept in a sack. Perhaps most had not read something that long. Or even not bothering to read the big texts, thanks to the Internet where one can now access information at handheld devices.
The great friend recited the long friendship more than five decades old. He relieved the friendship borne out of a culture of reading, which understandably became the crux of his speech.
Though our uncle who had departed had lived in the village since the 1950s, he remained “alert” even to his urban contemporaries. He is one character who refused to be limited to his environs.
“Charles (our uncle) gave me these books so that I could learn about sociology and discover the world,” he said. “But I am here to bring them back,” he echoed in his preliminary remarks.
Across Africa, it is a gesture of respect, honesty and accountability to return back that which the dead had given you. Perhaps this is also done to avert any bad omen associated with keeping the personal effects of the departed.
In the sack where two other equally big texts evidently from other disciplines.
We admired the strong bond of friendship in sharing ideas and knowledge. Symbolically, the book became an embodiment of enquiring about the world, through the book, which was the traditional source of information.
Though simple, we admired our elders’ enthusiasm in the enquiry process about the world around them.
Though ensconced in the village as “simpletons” to most, we learnt that this lot is quite advanced on any subject matter.
Sociology, politics, law, economics and so on. By no doubt, this diversity was even captured by the inter-disciplinary content of the three texts.
While seating in the scorching sun, I immediately saw the intellectualism of our elders. More intellectual even than our current generation, most having a plethora of academic degrees but without eating the actual book. Without the tangible foundations to answer the epistemological questions of the past, present and the future.
As the great friend narrated the good old times with our uncle and a friendship built from a reading culture, I shuddered to think about our generation’s little concentration span to even read a simple book.
We have now been wired up to the world of social media, your You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Your likes, re-tweets, shares, tweets and so on. With these digital information sources, one would have thought that the reading culture would have been enhanced. Alas it is all gone.
Even the church now has Christians who do not read the bible at all.
This writer’s late father used to emphasise on the need of reading just anything, even old newspapers. Like his contemporaries they were readers who went through the rigmarole of reading the physical book, however beneficial the exercise was.
As the great friend continued with his requiem, we were reminded about the urban incrementalism to read the book in pursuit of lofty degrees, which are caped on vacuous minds.
In his search for knowledge, which was embodied by the book, we were reminded of the numerous Doctors and Professors amidst us, some who are not convincing at all. You end up having questions about their academic experience if any.
As I forlornly set on the rock in the unlikely sweltering heat of August in Svosve village, I remembered one of our veteran political science lecturers at the University of Zimbabwe. Though not flaunting his academic credentials, the lecturer would often get standing ovations from students amazed by his delivery. He was unlike others, with the venerated titles, but empty upstairs.
Like the veteran lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe who was simple but a master of the art, so was this village elder who threw nuggets of wisdom and embodied self-taught knowingness from eating books.
Apart from the key lesson on the reading culture, another key lesson was that of the organisational capabilities in the village.
Across Africa, elders play a key role in family and societal issues. When one looks at Nigerian movies for example there are often these ubiquitous uncles, whom the society approaches to fix the complex issues.
Despite not having any legal training, they mediate over disputes with ease. Even whenever there are social gatherings, they are well sought after to give guidance about the protocol or procedures, especially at traditional weddings, funerals and so on.
Looking at the African village, there are now very few of this breed of elders. Sadly when they depart to another world, they go with the attributes, which we cherished much.
Possibly this is why the speeches at funerals of elders now tend to be longer. Longer to match their deeds and life well lived.
Sadly these days, when the great questions are being discussed at gatherings, our youths are not there, or are not paying attention at all, electing to fiddle with their fancy gadgets.
Resultantly, the succession concept of learning from elders, which in fact applies in all matters of life including business, politics, education and many other spheres, is now gone. As the remaining elders were presiding over ceremonies to allocate clothes of the deceased, the youth were imbibing. A surely sad indictment to the state of affairs!
It was equally sad how most are now visiting the village occasionally. In other families some rarely go to their roots and it is now quite common to see deserted homesteads.
The fraternal ties of the village are now broken. It could be many factors including migration to urban areas or even to the diaspora. Or perhaps a question of disinterest all together.
Though we had gone to the village to bury our own, many things left an indelible mark. We were reminded of our mortal lives on earth as we buried our uncle.
We understood the sentimentality of the village as the burial place of choice for the older generations having long memories from the rural environs. We understood the village as the place where the umbilical cord is buried, which is also a final resting place of choice for our elders.
The third lesson was the evident urbanisation of the village having both positive and negative results. The fourth key lesson was the testimony of the great friend who showed a lot of gusto in reading texts even in his advanced years. It showed the positive mentality, which one needs in all undertakings!
Surely there are many lessons from the village, collectively bunched together in this piece. Rich for posterity but deserted. Despite being our source of reference, it has now become “exotic” as we have become mere visitors to it!
* Francis Mupazviriho writes from Harare, Zimbabwe.