Africa: Communicating Climate Change in Indigenous Languages
Zimbabwe has taken the lead in Africa on communicating Climate Change using indigenous languages after journalist and author, Benson Gono published a Climate Change focused novel in the local Shona language.
The book is entitled Pepukai Kunze Kwasunama (Wise Up. The Tides Have Changed).
Within a short time of its publication and with support from The Culture Fund and Swedish funding, the novel has been translated into other local languages such as Ndebele, (Umkhathi Uguqukile) Tonga (Musinsimuke: Zintu Zyasanduka) Venda (Lifhasi Lothanama and Kalanga (Tjenjelani: Kuhhe Kwabangalala).
In total, the five indigenous languages represent the majority of Zimbabweans and some communities in neighbouring countries in Southern Africa.
The novel makes great efforts to unpack and explain the devastating effects of Climate Change and global warming.
It’s a simple and intriguing story that compels the reader to take action.
The book is set in rural Masvingo, in the south eastern parts of Zimbabwe.
In Chapter 1 ‘Moto Wabva Nepi?’ (From Whence Cometh The Fire), Gono explores the subject of veld fires, a common problem in most rural and farming areas of Zimbabwe.
With real characters and real dialogue, the book kicks off with a manhunt for an arsonist who started a veld fire that destroyed animal life and vegetation in the villages of Tami and Mushawasha.
The author portrays a typical occurrence in a rural Zimbabwe set up as residents of both villages refute accusations of starting the veld fire out of fear of reprisals from the chief.
The characters in the novel portray how people ignore real life issues at hand and lack of knowledge on how their day-to-day activities can destroy the environment.
“Imi makambozvinzwa kupi kuti hutsi ndihwo hunotadzisa mvura kunaya hanzi ndihwo huri kuita kuti kunze kupise?” (Where on earth have you ever heard that smoke can stop the rains from falling? They say it is also causing the rise in temperatures) remarked one of the villagers as they reviewed the consequences of veld fires.
The author tackles the issue of Climate Change and global warming by taking the reader from the root cause to the devastating effects, including the lack of preparedness in dealing with crises.
In simple language the reader is led to a world of myths as traditional and modern beliefs clash as demonstrated in Chapter 2 ‘Handina Muti Unoera Sanhu’ (My Axe Knows No Sacred Tree).
Cultural differences, rather than the depletion of natural vegetation is seen as the root cause of Climate Change and global warming.
“Iye mukadzi uya woku . . . hanzi chii? EVA, EMA (Environmental Management Authority) hameno! Anouya akapfeka mutodo . . . ndizvo zvimwe zvinotadzisa mvura kunaya” (“That woman from …, what did she call it? Is it EVA, or EMA, anyway whatever they call it! That woman is not respectful at all! How could she come to address us while wearing a pair of trousers like a man? That is the reason why we have not received any rains!”)
Chapter Three ‘Denga Razaruka’ (The heavens have opened up) explores the issue of flooding. Homesteads are destroyed and animals killed as devastating floods pound villages and surrounding areas.
As the heavy rains continue, roads become inaccessible; classrooms are destroyed and schools go for days without opening. Local businessmen record heavy loses as the extreme events of Climate Change unfold.
The author gives Climate Change a global dimension by introducing Sainos, the eldest son of Mamhere who is studying at a University in Scotland. A letter he writes to his parents further allows the reader to better understand the subject of climate and global warming.
The fog experienced in Europe and the melting ice, culminating in the rising water levels that inherently bring floods into countries like Mozambique, demonstrates the creative skill used by Gono in connecting a seemingly obscure village in Masvingo with the whole world.
The letter is used to link events in Europe, Mozambique and Masvingo and underlines Climate Change as a menacing global challenge.
The book does not only reflect activities that trigger Climate Change and global warming, it also echoes some measures that governments, traditional leadership and communities can enforce to combat threats caused by the global menace.
In Chapter 5 Mutemo Mutemo (The Law Is The Law), Zakiyo, one of the key characters in the story is jailed for three years after destroying the once forested areas of Machitenda in search of firewood for sale to surrounding communities and distant markets.
The wanton cutting down of trees by Zakiyo results in serious deforestation.
Gono places more emphasis on Climate Change adaptation and mitigation in his concluding chapter Pepukai Kunze Kwasunama (Wise Up. The Tides Have Changed).
The author uses two lovebirds Ruramai Runodamoto and Hezekia Makedenge to explore various ways to tackle Climate Change issues.
The two lovebirds bemoan the rapid environmental degradation, hunger, increased prostitution and diseases brought about by the recurring extreme events of Climate Change such as droughts and floods. The two student teachers at a teacher training college, Morgenster agree to launch a not for profit organisation to address issues of Climate Change at national level when they finish their studies.
They name their unborn baby Pepukai (Wise Up) and their planned organisation Kunze Kwasunama (The Tides Have Changed).
This is a simple and compelling tale, fast paced and thought provoking. A different kind of novel, a diverse view of the global weather phenomenon threatening the existence of mankind. This is a must-read book for EVERYBODY.
About the writer
Curran T. Maisiri is a Harare-based freelance journalist with keen interest in environmental issues.