NOVELS IN CHISHONA
ChiShona is Masimba Musodza's native language, spoken in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and in Zimbabwean Diaspora communities in the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other countries. It is a member of the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo (or Niger-Khordofan) family of African languages.
With at least 10 million native speakers, it is the Bantu language with the most speakers, after KiSwahili, isiZulu and Lingala.
Historically, it is a language that developed out of Kalanga, losing the "l" sound through the influence of Portuguese. When British colonialists established themselves among the ChiShona speakers, they elevated those dialects that they were first exposed to in to what is now ChiShona. It can be argued therefore that ChiShona was invented by colonialists. Like many Zimbabwean children, Masimba Musodza learnt a ChiShona ( called "Standard Shona") at school that was different from the one his family, especially relatives who lived in Buja, used at home.
The first novel in ChiShona was Feso (1957), by reknown academic, Dr Solomon Mutsvairo (1924-2005), who also penned the lyrics of Zimbabwe's national anthem. Since then, there has been a growing body of fiction in ChiShona, with names like Mordecai Hamutyinei (1934-1999) and Aaron Chiundura Moyo (1950) etc emerging as masters of the genre. However, literature in ChiShona was restricted first in the colonial period, when writers had to clothe political and other sensitive themes in idioms and parables in order to bypass the censors, to the post-colonial period where greater emphasis and prestige was associated with English. ChiShona fiction came to be regarded as for the less sophisticated classes. Unfamiliarity with it was considered a status symbol. Masimba Musodza attended a Primary School in the
"Group A" category, i.e. former Whites Only, where English was treated as the native language. In many settings, reinforced by popular culture, the ability to speak English fluently suggests social superiority and cosmopolitan sophistication, while fluent use of ChiShona is not considered something to be proud of. In fact, people from this socio-economic group are derisively called The Nose Brigade (from the ChiShona expression Kutaura Chirungu chemumhino, "speaking English through the nose." The Africans who encountered the British colonialists in the 1890s thought their long noses were the reason for the strange nasal tones that English sounded to them, so to "speak through the nose" is to enunciate like a native speaker) One image from those days will always be seared in his mind: the look of horror and shame on the face of a girl from Malborough Girls High when a ChiShona novel fell out of her satchel on the bus.
Even as ChiShona fiction was in danger of being relegated to the periphery of serious literature, events were set in motion for its revival. TV Drama adaptations of novels inspired many viewers to seek out the source material. The education system was reformed, and by the time Musodza was at secondary school, ChiShona literature was now part of the curriculum. It was at secondary school that he was exposed to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Decolonising The Mind, which was to shape how he would view his native language as a vehicle of expression.
Masimba Musodza has written several works in ChiShona, and is set to publish more. Two of his contributions to the development of ChiShona literature are penning the first ever science-fiction novel in ChiShona, which also became the first to appear as an e-book first before going in to print. However, not long afterwards, amazon
discontinued that novel. It would take the emergence of Zimbabwe-based ebook distributors before Musodza's dream of seeing this generation supplied with content in ChiShona would be realised.
The second achievement was the translation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Musodza first did this in 1986, when he narrated the story to his maternal grandmother (now deceased). Masimba is of the view that people who have not been exposed to English should not necessarily be deprived of its many fruits.
Because most of his works are of the sci-fi and fantasy genre, he has a ChiShona vocabulary that is richer than that of the average speaker, many of whom tend to use English for technical or "sophisticated" discourse and often assume that there are no words in ChiShona for various terminology. Masimba Musodza's novels are a good way of expanding one's vocabulary.