Unhu/Ubuntu and the Shona Economy: Teaching the Traditional Economic Ethos in Zimbabwean Secondary Schools through Patrick Chakaipa's Pfumo Reropa.

AuthorEunitah, Viriri
PositionZimbabwe: The Royal Residence - Critical essay


Zimbabwe has made commendable efforts in improving both the quality and relevance of its inherited education system. The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has a vision of a united and well educated society with unhu with concerted efforts in introducing this concept, not only in the Shona syllabi, but in the secondary school curriculum as a whole. The thrust of this study then, is finding out the extent to which the teaching of Shona literature, Pfumo Reropa by Patrick Chakaipa in particular, carries the unhu impetus, especially, in Shona economic life. Unhu among African people has been central and pivotal to the identity of many African cultures, and this explains why in Zimbabwe it was so intricately interwoven within the traditional education system passed from generation to generation as a perpetual marker of social history. In other words, the philosophy formed the basis of Shona culture in Zimbabwe as every member of society thrived to uphold unhuism in whatever he/she did (Gelfand, 1973).

It is evident that from ancient times, African literature has been at the centre of education, an education well known for its contribution to the well-being of society, socially, economically, religiously and politically. Among the first Shona societies, African literature manifested itself in the form of folk tales, songs, riddles, proverbs, taboos, poetry, among other ways to teach the subject of unhu which was core in their curriculum. However, the coming of the Europeans marked the beginning of written literature as yet another conduit in the transmission of unhu among the Shona people. The reading of fiction was introduced as compulsory component of the school curriculum and so, Shona writers of fiction saw their works "as a preservation of their traditions through which they could teach the young along the lines of pasichigare society" (Chiwome, 1984: 32). Hence, this study examines how Pfumo Reropa, a romance, can be used to impart economic unhu in school going Zimbabwean youth whom Makuvaza and Gatsi (2014: 375), believe are currently at cultural cross-roads where they "are experiencing serious cultural crises resulting in identity crises and mimetic philopraxis", hence, an explanation why the Zimbabwean education system is seriously advocating the teaching of unhu in schools.

Pfumo Reropa

In short, Chakaipa's Pfumo Reropa (1961) presents Chief Ndyire who is greedy and covetous. His kingship is characterised by grabbing of subjects' beautiful wives and murders. For example, when he covets Munhamo, Shizha's wife, Ndyire destroys the whole Nhindiri village, except for women and Tanganeropa. The Nhindiri women are shared among Ndyire and his counsellors. Tanganeropa, the surviving son, discovers his identity from Haripotse after Ndyire's death. Later when Tanganeropa finds out that the Chief who replaced Ndyire wants to take his senior wife, Munjai, Tanga and his sympathisers fight the chief who is killed and Tanganeropa takes back the chieftainship. When he is old, Tanganeropa shares power with his half-brother, Rwiriko, who later turns against his brother and kills him together with his wives and father-in-law, Godobo (Kahari, 1990).

The Concept Unhu/Hunhu

Unhu, which is also known as ubuntu in Africa can be described as a "broad philosophical concept that defines what is expected of a member of an indigenous African culture" (Sibanda, 2014: 28). Nziramasanga (1999) describes the expectations (values) as responsibility, honesty, justice, trustworthiness, hard work, integrity, a cooperative spirit, solidarity, hospitality, devotion to family and the welfare of the community. Thus, unhu can be explained as "a bundle of cherished values in African societies" that encompasses social, economic, religious and political life. (Ndondo and Mhlanga, 2014: 3). This concept describes what makes up a 'perfect' African person (munhu). Therefore, for one to be identified as munhu; one should "uphold the African cultural standards, expectations, values and norms and [keep] the African identity" (Sibanda, 2014: 26), and failure to do so means that "one is not a real human person but just a human being among other forms of being in the universe" (Mukusha, 2013: 34).

One with unhu is referred to as munhu (person) meaning he/she carries the social-cultural values of Shona society. However, as noted by Tatira (2013), it is really impossible for one to possess all the qualities of unhu, although members are expected to do their best in order to become vanhu (the plural for munhu). What disturbs and draws attention among the Shona is...

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