"Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life" - Joseph Conrad.
|I know from my National Identity Number that I am Zimbabwean, but is that enough?|
Having deliberately skirted the subject for the longest time, my next big project finally sees me discussing Zimbabwe in explicit terms. Though I have not engaged in any public debates about Zimbabwe thus far, I have always been well aware of all the discussions making the rounds in both the academic and social circles. The one thing I have noticed which the academic and pub discussions of Zimbabwe hold in common is an abysmal ignorance of the Zimbabwean processes.
If only these people had been born and lived there like I did, then they wouldn't be so ignorant of what is happening and why. If only they knew the motivations, the personality, the national identity, and the mentality of the quintessential Zimbabwean, then they would not be so mistaken in their discussions. On reflection, by thinking in these terms, I was actually being very conceited myself, because who really knows what a "quintessential Zimbabwean" (or for that matter a quintessential American, Frenchman, or Tswana) is anymore?
My conceit has not been idle either because I have had, since 2010, a blog where I write about every topical issue under the sun. On this blog I have (subtly) suggested that I am in possession of the knowledge of what the quintessential Zimbabwean looks like: I have, as my header, a banner of me engaging in various activities which I think Zimbabweans surely identify with. Beneath this banner is the legend by Virgil: "behold a nation in a man compris'd."
|The banner in question.|
"Behold a nation in a man compris'd?"
This, surely, would be the high watermark of conceit if it wasn't tempered by the fact that I have realised, on my own, that it is not possible for one person or group of persons to claim to know what the national identity ought to be. We can only hope that at least fifty plus one per cent of the population identify with the image of national identity we possess in our minds. This realisation has made me ask myself the question: "what then is the Zimbabwean national identity?" Today's blog entry does not answer this question, instead I am just going to tell you how I intend to approach that question: through seeking out what is Zimbabwe's foundational story.
All nations have a foundational story from whence their chief characteristics are drawn. The older nations can rely on fictional accounts such as that of Greece and its 10 year siege of Troy story (and the derivative accounts of Brutus who found Britain and built New Troy - now London - after vanquishing the nation of giants who lived there and; as well, Aeneas who found the Latin civilisation at Rome et cetera). The newer nations can only but rely on true accounts for events that unite them. Modern people have so many tools at their disposal to question fantastic stories such as those told by Homer in The Iliad.
|A nation's literature is the repository of its identity.|
If you take for example the context from which I extracted that quote, "behold a nation in a man compris'd," you will understand my angle in arguing that a foundational story is the repository of a nation's identity. My first degree was in English Literature so my point of view with regards how we can know a nation's identity may be overly influenced by the tenets of that guild. Still, I think literature can explain how identities are formed from a nation's myths and how other factors cross-pollinate and impact local identities (this has always been the case even way before the invention of the internet age).
Case in point: the quote "behold a nation in a man compris'd" comes from the Roman/Italian poet Virgil's epic poem; The Aeneid, itself a 'spin-off' from the Greek poet Homer's epic poem; The Iliad. I have already written elsewhere about this phenomenon - intertextuality - so will only make the point here that this borrowing from each other's stories in antiquity is the proof of the cross-pollination in foundational stories I mentioned above.
Homer was the pre-eminent poet of antiquity and his poem, The Iliad, is the earliest literature book in existence, it tells the story of Greek heroes fighting a 10 year war at Troy. The siege at Troy ended when the Greeks devised an ingenious plan - the Trojan Horse plan. In The Iliad, Homer mentions the Trojan Horse plan in passing, it is Virgil who picks up this story in earnest and further expounds what really transpired - keep in mind that none of this actually happened. In Virgil's account, the only reason why the subterfuge of the Trojan Horse succeeded was because one Greek allowed himself to be captured by the Trojans so as to tell them the false story that the horse was a symbol of the Greeks' supplication to the might of the Trojan gods:
Meantime, with shouts, the Trojan shepherds bring
A captive Greek, in bands, before the king;
Taken to take; who made himself their prey,
T' impose on their belief, and Troy betray;
Fix'd on his aim, and obstinately bent
To die undaunted, or to circumvent.
About the captive, tides of Trojans flow;
All press to see, and some insult the foe.
Now hear how well the Greeks their wiles disguis'd;
Behold a nation in a man compris'd.
Trembling the miscreant stood, unarm'd and bound;
Behold a nation in a man compris'd.
Trembling the miscreant stood, unarm'd and bound;
He star'd, and roll'd his haggard eyes around,
Then said: 'Alas! what earth remains, what sea
Is open to receive unhappy me?
What fate a wretched fugitive attends,
Scorn'd by my foes, abandon'd by my friends?'
In this regard, Virgil tells us that Greeks, to a man, are purveyors of deceit. That their chief characteristic is deceit and subterfuge. Of course, he would say this because his poem represents the point of view of those who survived the Greek siege at Troy. What I took from this passage however, was the inkling that it is possible to assign to a nation, its characteristics: a national identity. This can be done by looking for the nation's foundational stories and what positive self image they project of themselves. While not everyone will be able to live up to this self image, it represents what the collective strives for, and whoever approximates that image will be held in high esteem by their nation.
Now, the foundational story for the Roman (now Italy) civilisation is The Aeneid, while that for the Greek civilisation is The Iliad. From these stories the elites and those who are held in high esteem in these countries have learnt their conduct. Why, even though these stories did not happen, Plato and Aristotle, in their teachings often dipped into these accounts to put a point across.
Plato tells us in Apology that: "Someone will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I may fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong - acting the part of a good man or of a bad. Whereas, upon your view, the heroes who fell at Troy were not good for much, and the son of Thetis above all, who altogether despised danger in comparison with disgrace; and when he was so eager to slay Hector, his goddess mother said to him, that if he avenged his companion Patroclus, and slew Hector, he would die himself." While Aristotle is reputed to have taught Alexander the Great to emulate Achilles.
All I have said above is in support of one point and one point only: a nation's identity can be found in its literature. The nation's identity is also not static, it borrows from and is influenced by other nations' cultures and identities on point of contact. This is my entry point into the discussion of what constitutes the Zimbabwean identity in the Internet Age. I will look to Zimbabwe's literature and foundational stories and how they relate to other competing narratives. As Zimbabwe is only 35 years old, I think the main foundational story to rival the Greeks' The Iliad is that of Chimurenga II. It would seem that this is not much to go on but, fortunately, my English literature taught me to read road signs, monuments, dances, cultural ceremonies and so on the way one would read a book.
|A national flag is actually a thick-volume-book-length text|