Daily Archives: March 8, 2010

Branding (HUM415)

Today we talked about Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay and some of the final paragraphs of Nervous Conditions. We discussed the position of the “native elite” (and a related term, somewhat synonymous though generally used as a pejorative, “comprador”) in relation to both colonized and colonizers.

In Sartre’s view the native elite is “branded… as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture” and functions to exploit and control more efficiently the mass of natives under colonial hegemony. The most obvious candidate for this role in Dangarembga’s novel would be Babamukuru, whose acculturation to what Ma’Singaiyi calls “Englishness” allows him to gather power and, in his eyes, uplift the family. Certainly Baba’s branch of the family is better off materially than Jeremiah’s, though his marriage and his culturally hybrid children are explicitly in crisis. If, on one hand, Baba is authoritarian and unsympathetic he also seems to fit the paradigm of the self-made man, someone who has risen socially due to ambition, luck and talent. Yet the opportunities he has maximized are provided by the missionaries who, you might recall, expect certain things– diligence, a deferential attitude, Baba’s clear-cut commitment to mission values– in return. His function as an educator is to inculcate his students with those values, to teach his students their role in Rhodesian life, to guide their ideological development and thus attempt to guarantee the social reproduction of the colony.

Recently we’ve been discussing the parallel between Tambu’s personal development– as a young woman, as a student, as a hybridized subject– and the political development of Rhodesia into the nation-state of Zimbabwe. We can link the chimurenga to decolonize and attain independence with the conflict Tambu (and that other deuteragonist Nyasha) experiences in coming of age. The dangers of the transformation are manifold: loss of identity, alienation, even madness. One question we might ask is what happens when those problems extend beyond the post-colonial individual and come to characterize the post-colonial nation?