An Afrocentric Analysis of Some Zimbabwean Proverbs and Sayings.

AuthorNdlovu, Sambulo
PositionZimbabwe: The Royal Residence - Critical essay


Metaphor does not merely operate at the linguistic level of communication and expression, but it is a mental process that transfers images from one brain to another. Gibbs (1996:309) has argued that: 'metaphor is not merely a figure of speech, but is a specific mental mapping that influences people's thinking, reasoning and imagining in everyday life.' The mental mappings are done from experience, and the people's experiences are vital in metaphor construction. The African experience and worldview has been tampered with and undermined over the years prompting liberation reasoning such as Afrocentricity and the Black movements.

African scholars and luminaries have tried to move the centre back to Africa across domains. Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president, has been selling the idea of African renaissance, and Momoh (2003:51) has argued that: 'Thabo Mbeki's African renaissance has offered the specific political response to the challenge of Afro-pessimism. However, a cursory look at the thrust of that neologism shows that it is a mere cliche with only economic component and not social and political parts.'

While African people have been robbed by the west on the economic front the most dangerous robbery is that of the mind as evidenced by un-African mind products such as metaphoric expressions. Afrocentricity addresses the inadequacies within African people that were and continue to be orchestrated by western indoctrination and acculturation. Propagators of Afrocentricity such as Dei (1994:4) have sought to draw the boundaries of Afrocentricity, and he says: 'the notion of Afrocentricity I am advancing here asserts both that African indigenous cultural values, traditions, mythology, and history may be as a body of knowledge dealing with the social world, and that Afrocentricity is an alternative non-exclusionary, and non-hegemonic system of knowledge informed by African people's histories and experiences.' An Afrocentric metaphor is one that uses African history, values, and experiences in its cross domain mappings, and some latter-day metaphors in Zimbabwe exhibit lack of Africanness.

The question of language has been a central theme in Afrocentric struggle as the colonisers imposed their languages on African people. This paper avers that metaphors are part of language and that they are part of the languages debate in post colonial Africa. Mclaren (1998:393) avers that: 'the question of language is central to both Afrocentricity and Ngugi's readjustment of the centre.' Using African languages to tell the African story as Ngugi does is part of the decolonisation agenda, but here the argument is that even within the African languages there is euro centrism that is exhibited through language generation. Metaphors are to be expressions of African integrity not western arrogance that flies in the face of African ethos. Boykin et al (1997:409) note that these: 'expressions of integrity are rooted in an African cultural legacy and that these Afrocultural expressions continue to help shape the contours and textures of the African experience.' Textures and contours of African experiences are laced with virtues such as respect, plurality, communalism, Ubuntu, and fairness. Some of the metaphors we see today in some Zimbabwean cultures defy conformity to the Afrocultural ethos.

While it is true that culture changes over time and that metaphors change as the culture changes the change towards western values is a violation of African culture. Using the west to derive metaphors is not a new thing, as Nyembezi (1963:1) asserts that: 'The proverbs in use are not confined, however, to the old expressions, because we may clearly discern some proverbs, which must have come into the language in fairly recent times, for instance, the expression, wahambis'okwejuba lika Noah (he went like Noah's dove). The Judeo-Christian religion is not the centre of African religion, and metaphors derived from this religion are un-African; they perpetuate colonial legacies in the brain and linguistic conduits that express thought. Ndlovu (2010:80) explains that: 'In the same way these wise sayings were derived from folktales, some have been coined from Christian bible stories; experiences in bible verses are used as a factor and foundation for idiomatic expressions in Ndebele.' The forced Christian religion in Africa has eroded African religious heritage, and today we see African people creating metaphors using borrowed histories as if they do not have their histories, experiences, and faith.

There has been colonial brainwashing and bleaching that turns African people against themselves; even western beauty concepts are used to define African beauty. Dixon et al (2009:349) say that: 'today, images that support a Eurocentric standard of beauty are perpetuated not only in media produced and featuring whites, but also in the African Americans portrayed in Rap music.' There is a need to reorient African minds to African values so that our thought processes are aligned with being African people.

African values are based on fairness and equality of humans and in some cases the equality is even extended to animals. Feminism and gender discourses are un-African preoccupations that are reactions to the unfairness of the western worldview. Western ideas and systems that undermine and exclude women have been inculcated in African minds, and we now see the emergence of metaphors that undermine women in society. The west's undermining of women has prompted Pan African theorists on women's issues to shun feminism for Africana Womanism. Hudson-Weems (2004:24) alludes to the fact that Africana Womanism is grounded in our culture as African people and that it is an African alternative to Feminist and Black Feminist theorising on African womanhood. All metaphors that exhibit negativity towards women and womanhood are un-African because women are respected and valued in the African worldview. Kairen in Hudson-Weems (2004:46) indicates that to African people women are very important and valuable since all human life passes through their bodies. Gambahaya and Muwati (2009:56) have described motherhood as transcending biological designations to a level of a life support for the community. However, in Zimbabwean African cultures we see traces of metaphoric expressions that undermine and downplay the role and strength of women, and this can only be a result of invading western values and ethos.

African values of fairness and hard work do not encourage uncouth ways of acquiring materials. People are expected to do their part for the development and sustenance of humanity, not to take advantage of other people and situations. P'Bitek (1986:25) has advised that if all members in African societies play their numerous roles fully there is no danger of societal or individual disintegration. Disintegration of African societies has seen some people take on western capitalist tendencies of abusing others to make profit, and this mind set has seen the emergence of corruption metaphors in African cultures. Selfishness and individualism are disdained in African cultural values, but the west has imprinted these in African minds-and today some Africans produce metaphors that encourage selfishness and individualism. Cobbah (1987:311) has noted that in the west: 'supererogatory acts are not required. They are performed as acts of charity and goodwill. Thus conservative U.S. constitutionalists argue that the concern for the needy falls under the heading of charity and has nothing to do with rights.' To African people, and in accordance to African values, there is no charity as Ubuntu dictates that I am because you are and your brother or sister's welfare is your duty. Boykin et al (1997:409-410) have averred that: 'communalism... highlights the social interdependence of people... [and is] embodied in this [Afrocultural] legacy [;.... it] is seen as central to the Afrocultural social ethos.' Some of the metaphors even cross taboo lines on conceptualizations of nudity, sexuality, and religious expressions, all of which are influenced by the west that has sought to de-taboo African cultural ethos.


The research uses Fraenkel and Wallen's (1990) content analysis to analyse metaphor within...

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