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Indiana University Press
African Music, Power, and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe

African Music, Power, and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe

by Mhoze Chikowero
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In this new history of music in Zimbabwe, Mhoze Chikowero deftly uses African sources to interrogate the copious colonial archive, reading it as a confessional voice along and against the grain to write a complex history of music, colonialism, and African self-liberation. Chikowero's book begins in the 1890s with missionary crusades against African performative cultures and African students being inducted into mission bands, which contextualize the music of segregated urban and mining company dance halls in the 1930s, and he builds genealogies of the Chimurenga music later popularized by guerrilla artists like Dorothy Masuku, Zexie Manatsa, Thomas Mapfumo, and others in the 1970s. Chikowero shows how Africans deployed their music and indigenous knowledge systems to fight for their freedom from British colonial domination and to assert their cultural sovereignty.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253018038
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 11/24/2015
Series: African Expressive Cultures
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 364
Sales rank: 934,142
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Mhoze Chikowero is Associate Professor of African History at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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African Music, Power, and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe

By Mhoze Chikowero

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2015 Mhoze Chikowero
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01809-0


Missionary Witchcrafting African Being

Cultural Disarmament

Sometimes in an idle hour I amused myself by writing on the chest or back of the boys some inscription or design. A hard straw makes a whitish mark on their black skin, very much like the mark made by a pencil on a slate. — J. H. Morrison, Streams in the Desert

How can one prevent the loss of respect of child for father when the child is actively taught by his know-all white tutors to disregard his family's teachings? How can an African avoid losing respect for his tradition when in school his whole cultural background is summed up in one word: barbarism? — Steve Biko, I Write What I Like

In a paper that he read at the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1961, W. F. Rea argued that European missionaries should be judged as individuals who obeyed Jesus' command to set out and teach the Christian gospel to all nations, not as people whose purpose was to further any political ideology, including the imperialism of the late nineteenth century. He contended that their work will certainly be judged, "but it is only in the Kingdom of heaven that the verdicts are published" (2). Rea's work represents missionary self-writing, one of whose tenets is self-praise for "helping poor heathens" (Chadya 1997, 6). Thankfully, the copious archive of the mission and the psychological imprint it etched in the African consciousness — deeper than Morrison's hard straw on the children's black skin and longer lasting than the ephemeral missionary pencil on the slate — allow scholars to evaluate their work and its impact, here on earth. European missionaries intruded into the nineteenth- and twentieth-century African world as potent omens of unprecedented political, social, cultural, and economic turmoil and transformation. Africans dealt with them in their various guises as colonial functionaries, traders, gunrunners, vested moral agents, technologists, educationists, healers, and settlers. As pathfinders and cobearers of the imperial flag, missionaries were key agents in the colonization of Africa and African consciousness (Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff 1991).

I open this book by examining missionary attitudes and actions and how these impacted African consciousness and sociocultural security, which I read primarily through the optic of "ritualized sound," that is, song in its constitutive politico-cultural context (Wilde 2007, 5). This deep context is crucial because song is principally a sign of larger value systems, rather than an isolated expressive trait. It was because of this deep context that missionaries assaulted African musical cultures as special manifestations of "savagery," seeking to displace them in the African consciousness and replace them with European (and) Christian songs and musical cultures. Beyond the overt military violence that planted the colonial flag, this principally psychological assault sought to witchcraft African being, that is, to subvert Africans' psychosocial worldview, to spiritually disarm them in order to facilitate their re-creation into subordinated beings amenable to alien colonial designs.

While many Africans were able to blunt the missionary assault by tenaciously holding on to their indigenous philosophies and by inculturating aspects of the mission, the assault nonetheless significantly undermined the cultural foundations of their being, chivanhu. From its advent, the colonial evangelical mission conflated Christianity with European cultures while condemning African cultures as paganism. To fully appreciate this assault and its psychosocial effects, I preface this chapter with a scrutiny of the idea of the evangelical mission as it developed primarily in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. It is essential to remember this transterritorial purview because the mission was a traveling colonizing register that simultaneously served and transcended bounded territoriality.

Theorizing the Christian Mission: A Traveling Colonizing Register

The killing of the Putukezi (Portuguese) Jesuit priest Goncalo da Silveira by the Mutapa in 1561 halted the European missionary incursion, which did not return to the VaKaranga people, whom the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society's Francois Coillard called the "long neglected Banyai," until three centuries later. It returned as part of the northward expansion of empire from South Africa, the pedestal of white settlerism on the continent. In the judgment of John Buchanan of Lovedale Mission in South Africa, this mission was particularly "perilous but honourable." Hailing the effort of its head, Reverend Coillard, Buchanan (Christian Express, January 1, 1877) explained that the "perils" went beyond the great and terrible wilderness, with its beasts and deadly reptiles, its hunger, thirst, and wearing toils, its blazing sun, and its "reeking fever-beds." All these, he averred, shrank into insignificance "in the presence of the frightful magnitude of moral and spiritual evils to be encountered." He thus defined the mission as a direct, determined, multipronged attack on African cultures that he designated "Satan's seat, the very heart of African heathenism, the very central citadel of darkness, crime, and misery."

Considered retrospectively in the context of Coillard's subsequent snubbing and swift ejection from the country by Africans, Buchanan's characterization of this "field" reads rather like an eerie presentiment of the fate that awaited his colleague. But more importantly, his account signifies the mood of the returning European mission, garbed in the post-Enlightenment armor of cultural prejudice and fully backed by the military muscle of the incipient colonial state. The missionary discourse might certainly be read as propaganda for various purposes. My interest is neither to (dis)prove the discourse's truth claims nor to engage its various internal tensions. I analyze its deployment — that is, attitudes, sensibilities, and utterances — through the copious writings it produced (newsletters, travelogues, field notes, diaries, minutes of meetings, (auto)biographies, memoirs, and letters), seeing it both as a usable discourse and as praxis. The rich missionary archive and the variety of African experiences that I draw on allow me to dissect the attitudes, approaches, and actions this discourse betrayed, authorized, rationalized, and justified, and to think about how it affected African personhood, its object. Read both against and along the grain, this particularly copious and deeply confessional archive constituted what Esther Lezra has aptly described as the "colonial art of demonizing others."

The missionaries' new equipment lent force to their long-running rhetoric and self-construction as soldiers of Christ who bore arms against African "savagery." Following the missionaries' chronicles, one is struck by the vivid, recurrent twin imageries of the repugnant "heathen" dance and the metaphor of war. The missionaries were obsessed with the dance, projecting it into one key index of the "savagedom" that justified their very existence. The dance seemed to mysteriously give the missionaries energy to trudge on from village to village, effectively reducing African communities into citadels of the "darkness" upon which they trained their arsenal. A few quick examples help to sketch out a representative mental picture of the missionary figure spoiling for a fight on the "Dark Continent." The Methodist priest S. Douglas Gray wrote in 1923,

See an African village as it nestles beneath the hill in all its glory of a full tropical moon, and one can delight in its picturesque beauty and artistic effect; but visit that same kraal under the searchlight of the blazing sun, and see those things that were glossed over by the gentle moonbeams, its untidiness, its litter of evil-smelling things, its filth and general unsatisfactoriness, and the first impression is rudely dispelled. (27)

This antinomic, romantic exoticization and condemnation constituted a long-running European imagination of the African cultural constitution. Back in 1894, Mrs. Louw, the young wife of A. A. Louw of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) at the Morgenster Mission Station near Great Zimbabwe, had similarly pondered the station's topography and "bush," and what they must hide, and framed her thoughts in the language of the popular missionary hymn "From Greenland's Icy Mountains":

The scenery all round is very beautiful and uplifting — large, strangely-shaped rocks, deep ravines, tall, graceful trees with dense foliage, the beauties of nature on every side; and one feels inclined to say, in the midst of all God's marvelous handiwork, "only man is vile." And sad, indeed, it is to think that everywhere amongst these "koppies," hundreds and thousands are living who don't know their Maker and all that is wonderful about them ... We are looking forward with much longing to a time when these poor heathen shall be lifted up out of sin and darkness and shall know and serve the only true God and receive Him as their Saviour. ... Yesterday, we two — Mr. Louw and myself — walked to Zimbabye which is about four miles distant from here I believe the general idea is that it was once a large heathen temple. It does really look like it. And if it is, the thought came to me, how glad we should be that God has honoured us to send us to proclaim the true God almost on the very place where once the grossest idolatry was practised. (Christian Express, December 1, 1894)

Mrs. Louw's "testimonial" echoed Theodore Bent's (1893) verdict on Ishe Mugabe after visiting him as part of his brief from Cecil John Rhodes to excavate at and "prove" the white origins of this grand Madzimbabwe site. Bent had already discovered this abode of vileness, declaring, "Here is distinctly a spot where only man can be vile; and the great fat chief, seated on the top of a rock, sodden with beer, formed one of the vilest specimens of humanity I ever saw" (88). Mrs. Louw wrote her tale in a private letter to Lovedale Mission, reporting her and her husband's progress among "the Banyai," helping to map an imagined "terrain of evil." The historical inhabitants of the Zimbabwe plateau since at least 900 ad, the VaKaranga (VaNyai) — later designated "Shona" by Rhodes's settlers — were some of the latest crop to be folded into the expanding mission project, which had extended beyond the Limpopo and Zambezi river valleys by the mid-1870s.

A nondenominational, institutionally advanced mission station, Lovedale was the principal nerve center that drove this expansion, providing training and technical support in the field. It boasted a robust press that churned out the self-reinforcing missionary discourse as the frontier expanded. The Lovedale press, together with the newer Catholic and Protestant mission presses in Rhodesia and the region, thus provides a good insight into missionary evangelism as a traveling register whose power inhered in its ability to transcend geography, to sprawl its rhizomes across expansive space. The missionary register represents both a projection of an imported European colonizing psychology and its resonance and dissonance as it rebounded on the ground. The mission station propagated and relayed such ideas through itinerant missionaries, localized diocesans, visitors from "home," settlers, and to a degree, through differently positioned vatendi (African converts). Early mission stations like Lovedale worked as rear bases and relay platforms for the deployment of personnel, equipment, and the ideas that constituted the ecumenical discourse. They recruited and trained local "bright boys" into helpers and sent them back to their natal communities or into the expanding transterritorial field. Wrote S. Douglas Gray (1923, 53), "The first native helpers accompanying the missionary are usually drawn from other fields already evangelized. ... Our first African helpers [in Rhodesia] were brought from the Transvaal." A prominent example was Mamiyera Mizeka Gwambe — baptized Bernard Mizeki — a Mozambican Anglican catechist recruited in Cape Town and deployed among VaNhowe people of eastern Zimbabwe. I discuss the Mizeki story later.

Among the "helpers" were interpreters, evangelist-teachers, carrier-trekkers, and porters who hauled the missionaries on palanquins and carry chairs, and their baggage in headloads and wagons. They also hauled the missionaries' liturgical literature, including the first hymnbooks: translations of translations — English to Zulu (or Xhosa) to Shona — set to quaint European melodies. The mission was an extraordinary intervention in African life worlds, and its cultivation depended as much on African labor and resources as on the begging bowl at home.

The missionaries generally located their mission stations on high ground, often targeting places that Africans considered sacred. The Morgenster DRC Mission Station peered down on African homesteads from the Mugabe Mountains of ancient Madzimbabwe. What was the rationale for siting the stations thus?

Hunting and shooting down African "rebels" during the African uprisings in Malindadzimu (also called Matombo, rocks, corrupted Matopo) Hills in 1896, British trooper R. S. S. Baden-Powell reflected on the process of crafting the colony through cultural conquest and disarmament. He wrote to his mother in England, "[Even] when the present force has broken up the impis in the field, and cleared their strongholds out, there will remain a tale of work for local police to do in carrying out disarmament" (1970, 137). The settlers worried not only that African fighters would cache their weapons for another uprising, but also that such an uprising would again likely be spiritually driven. Malindadzimu — the abode for the ancestors' graves — was a burial place for African rulers, and was therefore sacred. In light of this, fellow trooper Frederick Selous (1896, 61) thus agreed that "striking terror into the hearts of wild savages" and forcing them to surrender their guns, knobkerries, spears, and bows and arrows was the easier of two tasks; beyond the physical destruction, they also had to destroy the people spiritually. This meant searching out and assassinating the priests of Mwari (M'limo), the African High God, and destroying their mapanya (shrines, sing. banya). Through the killings and physical destruction, the colonists intended to spiritually reengineer the African subject to guarantee a permanent colonial future. The destructive logic was informed by the realization that "hardly a hill or cave existed, in a landscape full of hills and caves, which did not have a religious or political historical significance" (Ranger 1987, 159). Projecting a future state of total African subjugation, Baden-Powell explained, "The doses being given ... 'though bitter now, they're better then.'" The immense violence "seems the only way to get these men to understand there is a greater power than their M'limo; and once the lesson has been unmistakably brought home to them, there is some hope that a time of peace en permanence may dawn for them" (138). Mission stations were then built literally on the rubble of the mapanya — destroyed by cannon and the Maxim gun — completing the claiming of African cultural landscapes.

The Brethren in Christ Church (BICC), a semi-ascetic American missionary body, challenged the African cosmological order early on by holding its first mass in a cave in Malindadzimu in 1880, where Africans buried their rulers and consulted Mwari (Ranger 1999, 15). One of the church's leaders, Rev. Jesse Engle, approached Rhodes, founder of the colony, in Cape Town in 1898 with a request, and Rhodes accordingly telegraphed his lieutenant in the British South Africa Company (BSAC), Arthur Lawley, asking him to grant land to the church to establish a station in the region. Rhodes told him, "I think you might grant a farm of fifteen hundred morgen in the middle of natives, title to be given after proof of work, place say Bulalema or one of the outfalls say near De Beers grant or say in Mattoppos to deal with Umlugulu or Somabula" (L. Mahoso 1979, 16). This communiqué reaffirmed the political significance of a strategic location for the missions, signaling a shared conceptualization of the idea of a mission as a weapon for conquest. And Rhodes added matter-of-factly, as he often did by way of explanation whenever he parceled out African lands to the various denominations, "This class I think is better than policemen and cheaper" (Hostetter 1967, 26). The mission's job, Rhodes reiterated, was to epistemologically revolutionize and spiritually disarm Africans for empire. The BICC therefore duly planted its Matopo Mission Station in the natural fastnesses of the granite hills.


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Cross-Cultural Encounters: Song, Power and Being
1. Missionary Witchcrafting African Being: Cultural Disarmament
2. Purging the "Heathen" Song, Mis/Grafting the Missionary Hymn
3. "Too Many Don’ts:" Reinforcing, Disrupting the Criminalization of African Musical Cultures
4. Architectures of Control: African Urban Re/Creation
5. The "Tribal Dance" as a Colonial Alibi: Ethnomusicology and the Tribalization of African Being
6. Chimanjemanje: Performing and Contesting Colonial Modernity
7. The Many Moods of "Skokiaan:" Criminalized Leisure, Underclass Defiance and Self-Narration
8. Usable Pasts: Crafting Madzimbabwe Through Memory, Tradition, Song
9. Cultures of Resistance: Genealogies of Chimurenga Song
10. Jane Lungile Ngwenya: A Transgenerational Conversation
Epilogue: Postcolonial Legacies: Song, Power and Knowledge Production

What People are Saying About This

Williams College - Tendai Muparutsa

A worthy contribution to African history, ethnomusicology, music, and dance married together with the powerful institutions of African colonialism and missionary work.

University of South Africa - Maurice Taonezvi Vambe

Reveals the power of colonialism to infiltrate African culture and manifests how Africans were socially engineered to be complicit in the colonial project.

University of Louisville - Tyler Fleming

Whereas previous generations of scholars have argued how Africans adapted and revived musical traditions to resist colonialism in Zimbabwe, Mhoze Chiowero takes a longer view to demonstrate just how complicated and varying music history across Africa is during this era.

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