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Jeddah Knowledge International School, Jeddah

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2014, Thurl Vere, IB2

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English HL L. Al-Youssef 12.4

To what extent does colonization compromise culture through education?

While almost all characters in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditons fall prey to colonial rule, women, such as Maiguru, Tambu, Ma’Shinghayi and Nyasha were considered the bigger victims.

Torn attemtping to liberate themselves from both colonial rule and gender oppression, one wonders about the idea of assimilation and the subliminal techniques utilized by the colonizers to unfurl the notorious concept of “Englishness”.

In the novel, education is notably used as a tool to infilitrate the minds of namely Tambu, Nyasha, Nhamo, and Babamukuru with western ideals in which rich African culture was compromised.

The sole purpose of Western institutions was to alter the characters’ system of thoughts. This is revealed through Nyasha and Chido’s growing rebellion and isolation from Rhodesian culture, as well as Babamukuru’s urge to give Tambu’s parents a Christian wedding, stating that a traditional wedding is ‘not legitimate.”

Our protagonist, Tambu, has been viewed as someone who respects the societal roles in place regardless of her desire not be held back by gender.

But as she becomes more fixed and established in her life at mission school, she begins to embrace attitudes and beliefs different from those of her parents and her traditional upbringing. She depicts the missionary as a “special kind of white person” since the missionaries come to the country to bring enlightenment, love, and an opportunity for salvation.

Both missionaries and colonizers travel to foreign places to enforce their superior knowledge and way of life.

They both also disrupt the Zimbabwean lifestyle by exploiting its people.

With a strong desire to better herself through becoming educated and in value of some respect, Tambu had to sacrifice her morals and Zimbabwean identity.

She gained insight into this ironically “educational” transformation through the perpetual change in her brother Nhamo, who attended the missionary school and often complained about the homestead, “we should have a special bus” as he could not stand the “rich smelling goat” and the “strong aromas of productive labour.” Before his death, he used to “visit” the homestead where a feast would be held for his return.

When Tambu’s wish for education is finally granted, she comes to live with Babamukuru’s family, where she is able to distinguish between the two contrasting lives; that of the colonial puppets and that in the homestead.

But more importantly, Tambu’s living experience with Babamukuru and his family was imperative. It unraveled the multiple personalities Babamukuru possesed to Tambu’s passionate eyes. Babamukuru resembled a strong and powerful Rhodesian as the leader of the family who tried to seize the cultural roots and traditions on one end; the homestead. However, it seemed as though Babamukuru had attempted to merge both lives into one, for instance, speaking in English yet replying in Shona.

Although his intentions towards the family were well, he only caused the family more lack of identity. This is shown in Nyasha, who reads books such as “Lady Chatterley’s lover”, wears different clothes than the rest of the family, is inarticulate in Shona and comes to develop a western disease: bulimia.

Maiguru – by far the most educated female character in the novel - acknowledges the Englishness of her children when she sees Tambu’s negative reaction to the manner in which Nyasha was speaking to her mother.

She explains, “They’re too Anglicised…they picked up all these disrespectful ways in England, and it’s taking them time to learn how to behave at home again.” Here, the reader is accustomed to the contrasting attitudes Tambu and Nyasha have towards Babamukuru and Maiguru. Despite her educated nature, Maiguru also struggled due to her gender. Her marital devotion and enforced social norms hindered her from rising above oppression, outweighing her deep frustration with the African lifestyle.

Her brief escape from her marriage served a warning to Babamukuru, but her return has well proven that her marriage remains of great importance and her willingness to sacrifice.

Also, after her time away from mariage, Maiguru comes back urging Babamukuru to send Tambu to convent school, shocking Babamukuru.

She states that when she herself was being educated “People were prejudiced about educated women.” Maiguru’s fight for Tambu was considered a positive change in her strong character.

Nervous Conditions presents an insightful analysis of not only gender oppression but also of the complex systems of colonisation, class and culuture; essentially Tsitsi Dangarembga illustrate numerous struggles brought about by oppression and the deceptive methods to magnify it.

All female characters have their experiences illustrated through Tambu, adding depth and meaning to what serves as a brilliant coming-of-age story.

"Nervous Conditions Themes." Study Guides & Essay Editing.

N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.

SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.

"Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions Literary Analysis: A UNISA Dissertation." Academia.edu.

N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.

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