The Effects of Colonial Education in Coming of the Dry Season

Valerie Braman, Class of 2000.5, English 119, Brown University

Part 7 of "Education as a Means of (Post) Colonial Control in the Literature of Zimbabwe and Singapore: A Theoretical and Literary Analysis"

Charles Mungoshi's collection of short stories, Coming of the Dry Season, provides a series of vignettes of life in colonial Rhodesia and postcolonial Zimbabwe. Some critics have argued that the text as a whole functions as one cohesive novel, with characters, issues, and themes remaining consistent throughout the ten chapters. While to this author, the text of Coming of the Dry Season seems to defy classification as a novel, it is important to note that several themes do in fact recur within the stories of the text. As a discussion and often an indictment of the colonial systems of governance and power set up in Zimbabwe, as well as their effects on the colonized subjects' relationships to each other and to their traditional ways of life and belief, the topic of education comes up frequently throughout the different stories and situations in this text. The establishment of education as the way for children to find better lives and opportunities for both themselves and their families, the creation of a social system in which the educated are granted higher status than those without schooling, and a created alienation between those who are educated in the English tradition and their own cultures are each illustrated in several of Mungoshi's tales.

In "The Mountain," the narrator immediately establishes the fact that how far a student progresses in school is a status marker between peers:

We were the same age although I bossed him because I was in Form Two while he had gone only as far as Standard Two. He had to stop because his father, who didn't believe in school anyway, said he could not get the money to send Chemai to a boarding school. We had grown up together and had become great friends but now I tolerated him only for old time's sake and because there was no one within miles who could be friends with me. Someone who had gone to school, I mean. (Mungoshi, 15)

The school to which this character refers is obviously one that comes from an imported, English background. Mungoshi is careful to point out that these boys were friends on an equal level until they entered into this alien school system, and that it was the values and social hierarchies imposed by this institution that created the rift between them. The impetus to socialize with someone becomes not that you share interests or a common background, but rather that you are both involved in this educational apparatus. Here, the effect of removing traditional, indigenous networks of value and social behavior from the colonized subject in favor of those of the colonizing powers is clear. Further evidence of the competing value systems lies in the fact that Chemai's father did not believe in schooling, apparently favoring more traditional Zimbabwean methods of education in the ways of the home and the family. As in several of the other works we have seen, the prohibitive cost of education in this system is also a factor and serves to further stratify social and economic classes on the basis of educational access.

Chemai, too, recognizes the differences that education (or, the lack of it) has created between his friend and himself. He, having left school, speaks with and believes in the stories of his people, justifying his words with such statements as "All the people say so" (15). He knows that his friend feels superior to him in terms of knowledge and the right to speak and be believed, as he exclaims, "You know it's true but just because you have been to school you think you know better" (15). Clear rifts are being illustrated here between the life and beliefs of those who have been educated in the colonial schools, and those who have not. Still, the narrator clings to his notions of superiority and the absolute truth of all that he was taught in school.

The boy begins to waver in his confidence, however, as he goes further up the mountain, closer to the ways and life of his people, and further away from the classrooms and the teachers who would have him disdain his heritage,

There are many things that must be left unsaid at night, but Chemai kept on talking of them. Of course the teachers said that this was all nonsense. I wished it were as easy to say so here as at school or in your heart as in your mouth. (16)

Here, the conflict between the intellectual ideas that the narrator has encountered at school and still hopes to cling to and the realities of his experiences and heart becomes more pronounced. His fears and the words of his friend, as well as what the reader can assume to be past conversations with relatives and traditions that he has encountered in his home, begin to take hold of him, and to suggest that perhaps it is not the mouth by which we are ruled, after all.

As the story concludes, the narrator, in his attempt at defiance of Chemai and the beliefs he represents, is stuck with a mountain goat whose spirit he has offended in his callous laughter. His attempts to shrug off both this goat and the culture that it comes to represent to him do not seem to work. He ends up in the home of his superstitious grandmother, the one who refused to assimilate to new ways and wished to remain in her original, old village, fully trusting in her capabilities to aid him,

Grandmother was eating medicines and Chemai was watching her intently. I felt safe. Somebody who knew was taking care of things at last. It is a comforting feeling to have someone who knows take care of those things you don't know. (21)

The narrator's adventures with Chemai and the goat force him to confront the mismatch of the ideas he has encountered in school with the beliefs and circumstances that he will encounter in the world in which he is living. His education does not serve him at all when he is faced with the goat's spirit, and the superior position that he had formerly taken on for himself as a result of his educated status is given over to his grandmother, who in this situation, is the one with the knowledge and experience to achieve the desired result. Mungoshi, in "The Mountain," paints a picture of the contradictions that the colonialized subject, as he encounters the educational institutions of the powers that seek to keep him in a subordinated position, must navigate.

"The Setting Sun and the Rolling World" is another of Mungoshi's short stories which foregrounds the issue of education in colonized territories as it detracts from a sense of connection and belonging in the colonized subject's culture. Nhamo, the boy who wishes to leave his father and his land in order to seek a better life in other places, thinks to himself

You have given me damn all and nothing. You have sent me to school and told me the importance of education, and now you ask me to throw it on the rubbish heap and scrape and starve for a living on this tired cold shell of the moon. You ask me to forget it and muck around in this slow dance of death with you. I have this one chance of making my own life, once in all eternity, and now you are jealous. (29)

Here, the reader may observe that education, as it was set up in the colony of Rhodesia, and as it continued in Zimbabwe, was not designed to teach the student how to be a productive and successful member of his own society and culture. Nhamo's values are no longer those of his father, but rather, those of the colonizer's curriculum, which tell him that his father's way of life is empty and meaningless, with no opportunity for economic of social success. While Old Musoni most likely bought into the idea that education in the English system was the one path to success, since he was the one to send his son to school, he has not gone through this system himself, and therefore, remains loyal to his land and the ways of his ancestors. Nhamo, following his father's guidance, went to school, and there learned that all the other things that his father told him or believed in were inferior to those things that were imposed upon him by his teachers. Now, unable to reconcile the sharply conflicting value systems that he has been presented with, Nhamo must leave the site of the conflict, thus accepting the colonizer's view of the world and his relationship to it. At the story's conclusion, the boy feels that his psychological ties are broken, that "only the biological tied him to his father" (31). It is only through the education to which Nhamo has been subjected that this ultimate separation from his heritage and the peoples and lands that he comes from is possible. The English educational institutions have then succeeded in creating a student who is sympathetic to the needs and goals of the colonizing powers.

"The Ten Shillings" affords the reader a view of the effects of the colonial education system on the native peoples from a different point of view: that of the young adult who has completed his education and is now trying to make it in the world. In this story, Paul Masaga enters the city (one assumes it might be Harari) fresh from the completion of his Junior Certificate. He exhibits complete faith in the ideas that his teachers have been filling him with since day one: "People had told him that a JC would have no trouble getting a job. He had believed them. He had been hopeful and overconfident that he held the open sesame to life." (Mungoshi, 39) Again, we can see that an education in the English system imported to their colonies was represented to students as the ticket to a successful career, and therefore, life.

However, as Paul learns after he is jobless for two years after coming to the city, this myth of the cure-all of English education does one little good when facing the realities of a metropolitan job hunt, replete with all the social, economic, and racial stratification of the colonizing power.

The thing to know was that a JC was not important. It was a mistake to have ever thought so. The price one paid for going to a missionary school with a motto and believing all that they told one. Education, Paul thought sardonically, it awes us as did the bicycle, the motorcar and the aeroplane. It is a Western thing and we throw away brother and sister for it but when it fails us we are lost.

Again, the fact that the social and educational values in which Paul is trying to operate are not natural to him, but rather, imported from the West as a product promising a better life is emphasized. The mottoes of the missionaries were perhaps successful in creating in Paul and his peers a sense of the primacy of the Western system of intellectual and social knowledge and behavior, but they fall short in the light of the world in which these trusting students have to make their lives. Paul has become a sort of educational hybrid, possessing enough knowledge and training to make him want to aspire to more white collar jobs, but the skin, identity, and prejudices that mark him as one designed for menial labor. However, Paul is denied even this, having lost a job as a roadworker because he showed his Junior Certificate to his prospective employers. He has enough education to alienate him from the positions he is supposed to (by his ethnic and social background) take, and the wrong skin color to occupy the spaces that he was led, by his teachers, to believe his education had earned him.

Mr. Thompson holds no regard or desire to know Paul's level of education when the man comes in search of his promised position, saying "I don't want any bloody thinkers in here. I want somebody to listen and obey orders and do what he's told. Don't tell me you think. I do the thinking for all of you bunheads here and you listen and do, see? My, I think, I think. You think my ass" (41). Even the European in the office is not sure what to do with Paul, as he states "You know, we have never had people like you working for us before . . . " (43). Clearly, the world in which Paul lives and must try to make a living is not ready to accommodate this hybrid of the English colonial educational system. He has enough education to want to aspire to the positions that his teachers assured him only their teaching could help him reach. Yet, as he tries to achieve this goal, he finds that, as neither white nor Western, these opportunities are not truly open to him. Further, he is alienated from his own people and the jobs he might take with them as a result of his education and the hopes that it has given him for his future. In telling this story, Mungoshi alerts his reader to the particular plight of the colonized subject who must contend with both the pressures of the institutions of the colonizing powers, and those of his own survival.


Mungoshi, Charles. Coming of the Dry Season. Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1972.

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