Conceptions of Family in Zimbabwean Sculpture and Literature

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

"It is the pain of my son that kills,' she says to me. Bones, p. 6

"Marita, what will you do if you find your son?"

"Child, how can you ask me such a question?"

"Chokwadi, I want to know what you will do when you find your son."

"I will be happy."

"Just that?"

"Yes. Just that. The things that trouble my heart will go away. I will be happy."

"But you are happy without him, Marita."

"The things inside the heart ore heavy child, very heavy."

Bones, p. 39

She had not thought the right thoughts to keep this child away. How could she have conceived the child without some knowledge in the matter? It burdened her, this surreptitious birth. Mazvita rejected the baby because it pulled her back from her design to be free. Without a Name, p. 64

When she thought of Joel, she wanted the child to go away. She had no memory of being close to this child, even while it grew inside her. She had no memory of this child growing inside her. She fed the child from her breast, and turned her eyes away. Without a Name, pp. 79-80

What is immediately striking about the sculpture of Zimbabwean artists is the strong dominance of images of family and of women and children. Though portrayed in the individual artists' varied styles, the family, the mother, and the child are present in vibrant and memorable forms, and these forms are often evocative of togetherness, love, and presence. The four works that I have cited, Gedion Nyanhongo's "Feeding the Baby," Colleen Madamombe's "Growing Well," Wencelous Marufu's "Rural Mother," and Henry Munyarazi's "Family," depict a mother and child that are connected, both physically and figuratively through the construction of the sculpture. If the student of Zimbabwean culture were to base her assumptions on these works, she would conclude that the mother-child bond is essential to the construction of a strong and healthy family, and that this kind of family is central to Zimbabwean conceptions of harmony, happiness, and safety.

How disturbing, then, are the passages cited above, when compared to the feelings one takes from the sculpture. In Chenjerai Hove's Bones we see the mother, Marita, shattered and haunted by the loss of her son, not only in his physical removal, but also in the notion that he has become a "Terrorist, a killer who kills his own mother." ( Bones p. 4) The novel, combined with the artwork, suggests that it is at least partially the disruption of the mother-son bond and relationship that is to blame for Marita's pain, for the heaviness in her heart.

< P> Yvonne Vera's Without a Name also explores the tortured exsistence of a mother who is cut off from her child. In this instance, however, the distance is not physical, but rather, emotional. Mazvita keeps her child with her; however, she does not want it, does not even name it. She sees her child as a burden, a betrayal. For Mazvita, the baby itself, as opposed to its loss, is (at least partially) the cause of her pain. Mazvita carries her child, nurses it, but does not feel connected to it, does not nurture it. In this instance, the disruption, the absence, of the mother-child bond indicates a serious disruption of natural order, or of culture. The values and beliefs present in the sculpture are simply absent here, and add to the development of the "something is very wrong here" feeling of the novel.

Through a comparison of a sampling of the visual and literary art of Zimbabwe, one may glean a sense of the cultural and artistic values of this people, as well of the ways in which the two are interrelated. The prevalence of the family and the relationship of mother to child in the sculpture and the obvious absence of these relationships in the literary works cited above suggest a clear link between these absences and the tragedies of the works in which they occur.

Other Discussions of Zimbabwean literature and sculpture.

Postcolonial Web Zimbabwe OV Visual Arts OV Sculpture Overview Authors