They argued over the meaning of education for boys and girls. My grandmother said boys should go to school so they can learn to read and write. That way, they will get a job on the white men’s farms as clerks or mabharani.
A tall boy with muscles like my brother Charles was likely to become a trusted driver or possibly the man who stayed in the office and supervised the handouts of maize meal, beans and the occasional pieces of meat that the white master gave to his farm workers once a month.
Mbuya did not see any other role for my brothers beyond the white man’s farm or the Native Commissioner’s office, kwaMudzviti. For her, the only knowledge needed for us girls was the life skills in the village and some reading and writing for the boys.
But my mother, with my father’s hidden support, stood right there in the middle of the village compound and said, no, both girls and boys must go to school. She declared over and over again that she did not give birth to sons who will become mabhoyi emurungu, slaves to the white man.
Education was going to liberate us from the destined life of servitude. Her sons were never going to set foot on the white man’s farm. They will be teachers or lawyers. As for the girls, they will be teachers too, or nurses before they get married.
“Your first certificate is the one you get from a training school or a university,” said my mother.
“The marriage certificate should be the second certificate.”
But Mbuya would give sarcastic laughs, saying the girls will achieve nothing from going to school.
Mbuya often pointed to me and said I was the typical example of laziness and uselessness. She said education was not going make much difference to a skinny girl like me, kamudyahandikore, who was no good around the house anyway. What husband would want a girl who showed a certain genetic lethargy in her physical stature and moved around like she had no bones?
At that time, I was not only very dark, (still am), but I was very skinny, as opposed to my cousins, Millicent and Alice, who were fatter and also very brown skinned.
People said they were like makharadhi or people of mixed race. This meant they were very beautiful. But Mbuya did not dislike all my mother’s girl children for going to school. No. She loved my older sister Charity, who was her namesake.
Charity had inherited Mbuya’s deep voice and tall physique, including that aggression to claim she was right all the time, even when we knew she was wrong.
Mbuya’s negative comments about my physique became worse when I started boarding school at Kwenda Mission, the school she said should never have been built because it imparted Christian knowledge that could only bring bad cultural behaviour in both boys and girls.
Mbuya’s maiden name was Mandirowesa Kwenda, daughter of Chief Kwenda, of the VaNjanja totem. Sometime in the early 1900 or earlier, Chief Kwenda accepted the request by the Methodist missionaries to build a school as long as the school was named after him.
Mbuya was a young girl when the missionaries arrived at the chief’s court, accompanied by Evangelist Tutani from South Africa.
My great grandfather Sekuru Kwenda then allowed his second daughter Jatisayi, who had converted to Christianity, to marry Evangelist Tutani. But Mandirowesa was not in the least interested in the gospel nor did she want to go to school and gain the white man’s education.
Mandirowesa said the village knowledge from the elders was enough for her. She would find the right man and have many children who would grow up to be good farmers and hunters.
Mandirowesa and her sister Jatisayi hardly saw each other later in life. My mother said the tension between the sisters was caused by their different approaches to the role of Christianity and Western education.
Jatisayi became part of the missionary journey to civilise the natives. Mandirowesa married Sekuru Dickson of the VaHera Nyashanu totem.
When the Rhodesian colonial settler government passed the Land Apportionment Act in 1930, which allocated most of the fertile land to European farmers, Sekuru Dickson and his brothers were brutally forced to leave the Chief Chiwashira area and were settled in the barren land near the Save River in Chikomba.
The old Chief Chiwashira land became Charter Estates, where some of the Boer farmers fleeing from the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa settled. Sekuru Dickson worked as a clerk and a foreman on various farms.
At one stage he joined the King’s African Rifles. He later claimed that he was in Burma fighting for the British Queen during the First World War.
Maybe that was true. Maybe not. But we knew that Sekuru had a khaki type colonial uniform, a pith helmet and a gun, which he used to hunt for wild pigs and deers. Mbuya often praised Sekuru for his hunting skills and wanted one of my brothers to hunt as well as learn to read and write.
In Mbuya’s mind, the education required to make a man was well defined. But my mother saw a different future in which knowledge was a combination of village systems of knowledge, balanced with that brought to us by the missionaries through the colonial education system.
I never met Mbuya VaJatisayi. But I saw pictures and met her grand children who are my second cousins, much later in life.
The conflict between Mbuya VaMandirowesa and Mbuya VaJatisayi continued until their deaths. Before her death, Mbuya VaMandirowesa said she was royalty and her body was to be buried on top of flat rock. They buried her on the big granite rocks and her imposing grave is like a white monument or shrine. You can see it from afar.
Last Saturday evening I took a walk to my grandmother Mbuya VaMandirowesa’s grave. I was alone. The sun was setting amidst colourful orange and purple clouds, some full of rain.
Standing at Mbuya’s grave, I had this flashback and remembered the many verbal fights between Mbuya and my mother. These two women in my life never resolved their differences.
Standing at her grave, I spoke to my grandmother’s spirit last Saturday. I said, Mbuya, I have been away in the Disapora for so many years. But I have returned. I am still strong and healthy.
I am fortunate to be alive because my other siblings are now dead, having suffered from various illnesses.
Charity, the one who you loved the most and the strongest among us, died a few years ago. She had been well educated to university level and served the Zimbabwean Government at as a diplomat in New York, Brussels and Addis Ababa.
And yet, Charity could still come back here to the village and brew traditional beer and cook the village chicken in the hut like she had never left the village.
She could still play the drum and sing, though badly. Her knowledge of both worlds was balanced, unlike mine.
I had taken the born-again Christian path for so long and neglected to look at what was of value in the village knowledge systems that you, as my grandmother, always wanted to teach us.
We got education the way our mother wanted. It was difficult to balance both systems of knowledge and create an identity based on the past and the present.
I stood at Mbuya VaMandirowesa’s grave for a while. Then I looked around in case somebody had seen me speaking to a grave. Good Christians do not talk to dead spirits. And I am not claiming to be a good Christian either.
I walked back to the homestead. At the kitchen door, I immediately got a nice whiff of the smoked guinea fowl being fried in an old cooking clay pot over the fire.
Mbuya Chigondo, my mother’s old friend, was seated near the fire, the way my mother used to sit in her old age. Mbuya Chigondo never had any children of her own. She stays with us most of the time.
As we ate rapoko sadza, nyevhe and the smoked guinea fowl, I asked Mbuya Chingondo what she remembered most about Mbuya VaMandirowesa. She was quiet for a moment, enjoying the piece of the guinea fowl drumstick.
Then she said, “Mbuya vako namai vako zvaisaonana panyaya yekudzidzisa vanasikana. Zvino hona, taidai tiri muno nhasi here dai musina kudzidza?
“Your grandmother and your mother never saw eye to eye on educating girls. But, would we be sitting here if you had not been educated?”
We needed to balance both the knowledge systems within our culture and that of the modern. Knowledges complement each other to make us who we should be today and tomorrow.
Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic.