When language becomes a tool of oppression

16 May, 2016 - 00:05 0 Views

The Herald

Elliot Ziwira @ The Book Store

Words must have a shared meaning if they are to have any impact on interlocutioners; without which communication will be void. Suffice to say words must be coined into a language for them not to be lost to the wind. To the undiscerning ear words are mere symbols.

WORDS are a powerful weapon to dissect and perforate Man’s seemingly impenetrable heart, whose voyeur derives excitement from trauma and suffering.

Unlike missiles or nuclear weapons that are mass destructive, and whose possession or purported ownership begets fear, deceit and deification, words perforate the hardest shell that makes up Man’s fortress, which gives it a formidable outlook; not to destroy per se, but to deface the heinous apparition fore-fronted, so as to expose the inner man, whose inherent virtues foist a peaceful, tolerant, harmonious and corrigible world.

But words must have a shared meaning if they are to have any impact on interlocutioners; without which communication will be void. Suffice to say words must be coined into a language for them not to be lost to the wind. To the undiscerning ear words are mere symbols.

In “Harare North” (2009), Brian Chikwava effectively explores the oppressive nature of language on the migrant worker who seeks hope in foreign lands. Language becomes a barrier to progress as he or she navigates the unfamiliar terrains across alien borders.

The use of the term “original native” in the novel, as well as the use of Shona names gives authenticity to the rationale of the master-servant relationship in post-colonial Africa. This is also compounded by the use of Pidgin English, as the language used should only have as much sense as to follow instructions.

In an oppressive set-up, where language is used as a tool of instruction, emotions remain subdued, leading to psychological and emotional oppression.

The use of rustic language in “Harare North” purveys a far-reaching relationship with roots in colonial states where Chilapalapa was used on farms and mines in Southern Rhodesia, as cited in Jeater (2006:188): “In this Africa of a thousand languages and dialects, it is essential for the success of the natives, as wage earners, that they should have a common language, intelligible to each other and their masters. It does not matter much, what the language is, so long as it is adequate for the ordinary purpose of life.”

The “ordinary purpose of life” as prescribed to the African native is to labour for the benefit of the imperialist, therefore, the language used should just serve that purpose.

This use of lingua Franca for purposes of exploitative communication was not only unique in Southern Rhodesia, but it was also used in Northern Rhodesia and South Africa, where it was called ChiKabanga and Fanakalo, respectively (Jeater, 2006).

Therefore, as pointed out by Lacan (1973), language becomes a form of neurosis, and subsequently, a communicative tool, which according to Fanon (1952, 1967) is as universal as colonialism and a direct response to imperialism. The African remains attached to the colonial master for his “purpose of life” and to him/her, language remains a symbol of oppression.

The obsession with the West as the panacea to African challenges is what Mashingaidze Gomo takes a swipe at in “A Fine Madness” (2010).

The original native, the anti-hero, is obsessed with freedom in a country that everyone else is running away from, like a burning ship. Like a patriot that he feels he is, he wants to return to his homeland, hence, his psyche is reduced to figures -$5 000.

Whatever he does, thinks of or dreams should add up to $5 000. Eventually he becomes a problem, not only to others, but himself. He alienates himself from his friend Shingi, Paul Sekai and his cultural norms.

His obsession is deep-rooted, his repetition of thought worrisome and his habitual fantasising irritating. His desire to raise $5 000 at whatever cost makes him selfish, amoral and outright snobbish.

His past becomes his nemesis as he says: “When the past always towers over you like a mother of children of darkness all you can do is hide under she skirt,” (Chikwava, 2009: 75).

Closely linked to the oppressive nature of language is the motif of the chestnut tree. The tree is symbolic of the universal neurosis at the core of humanity in general and pertinently the African story. Homeless, hungry, jobless, normless and despondent, the migrants, and other vagrants meet under the chestnut tree in search of hope; and therefore a language of hope has to be coined, since they all come from different social, political and cultural backgrounds, but are historically linked.

It is not only Africans who seek solace under the tree, but Europeans and Asians as well. The chestnut tree embodies the universal degeneration rooted in imperialism and prevalent in postcolonial states. Britain as the empire or colonial master, exercises authority over her former colonies.

It is ironic that migrants from these former colonies who seek asylums are held at ransom, because getting them means assuming British protection from imagined or real enemies home, until the said regime cedes power or collapses.

However, this does not always happen; which means the asylum seeker will not return home to his or her loved ones. He or she becomes a source of cheap labour and taxpayer as the narrator laments: “Immigrant people’s contribution to this country is equal to one Mars bar in every citizen’s pocket every year,” (Chikwava, 2009:24).

On the other hand, if the asylum is denied, the cat and mouse games that the migrants have to play with authorities aggravate their suffering, and reduce them to sycophants who are always fleeing from their own shadows. The mental breakdowns they endure remain two-fold.

The malaise at the family level deepens because social responsibility is trivialised to monetary gain. Psychologically as in the case of Shingi and Aleck whose papers are in order, the provider suffers as he or she is unable to go back home, because of the restrictions of asylum provided by the erstwhile imperialist in the disguise of protection.

Homesickness burdens the migrants and mother tongue becomes therapeutic when it is uttered within one’s earshot, as is the case with Tsitsi when she meets MaiMusindo for the first time.

The communication of oppression pargeted on the migrant’s face, is immediately despised. So the chestnut tree offers respite out of a condition which is rather permanent.As the migrants converge under the tree to chance on meeting fellow Africans and brothers from home, so that they express their feelings adequately in their vernacular languages, the different neuroses that burden them become a universal condition that cannot be simply wished away.

Dave and Jenny who are white and British, as well as the Polish hooker that Shingi loses his virginity to, do not only complete the coloniser-colonised relationship, but purvey the oppressive nature of language; psychological, emotional, physical and mental.

Characters who meet here are drawn from different trades, and level of academic qualifications, but sharing a common visionless hope. Inasmuch as the former colonial master would want to project a clean image as far as poverty, violence and social ills are concerned, characters like Dave, Jenny, the Polish hooker and the lunatics of the mental streets, put the empire to shame.

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