Home » Arts & Culture » Lest We Forget Chingono [opinion]

Talking of humour, the late writer and poet Julius Sekai Chingono’s writings tickle his audience to laugh at the most serious matter and in so doing they dig up hidden meanings in the things taken for granted.

Although he died in 2011 aged 65, Chingono was seen most of the times socializing with the young poets whom he shared the stage with at various events in and outside the country. He was their ‘granddad’ of poetry. Whether these new poets called themselves hip-hop, dub, urban, conscious or toyi-toyi rap, to Chingono they were just poets like him. Age did not matter.

Where the youthful poets hanged out and performed, he would be there, offering moral support and at times actually taking part. His humility earned him the nickname “Mudhara Judza”because the poets loved him for his sense of humour and vast experience as a second-generation writer.

Sometimes life presents disappointment, grief, and pain and had there not existed “the arts”, the world would be but a home of “worriers”. It is in this respect that Chingono, humourist and satirist par excellence, contributed much to the appeasement of human degrading situations and his works prompt readers to think afresh about different aspects of life.

His collection of short stories and poems titled “Not Another Day”, (Weaver Press, 2006) is a testimony of Chingono’s satirist tendencies and tactful imagination in handling the sad human condition, in particular the funeral. Funerals are supposed to be held with respect to the dead and yet in some cultures the traditional conduct of funerals has changed due to modern influences. Often nowadays the deceased are buried amid controversies.

“The Funeral”, for instance, is one the most humorous stories in the collection and it exposes the clash of the times. Two camps emerge at a funeral with one arguing that the coffin carrying the deceased must be put in the big beautiful house bought for the mother by her son as a gift, and the other camp holds onto traditional values which entitles the deceased’s coffin to lie in the kitchen. The pall-bearers are confused as relatives start exchanging bitter words.

However, it is decided the big beautiful house is the right place for the deceased before burial. When the coffin does not seem to fit through the door of the beautiful house, it is then decided it should lie in the kitchen. Later when they are about to carry the coffin to the graveyard, the coffin, apparently manufactured by some unscrupulous coffin maker, breaks and the dead body tumbles out onto the ground.

In the story “Sahwira’s Condoms”, Chingono challenges the habit of “family secrecy” regarding AIDS. A number of members of a certain family have died and the traditional sahwira of this family learns that all the deaths in this family have been caused by AIDS. He decides to strictly play his role as sahwira at the present funeral (of another AIDS victim of the same family). Mourners are left astounded as he unstoppably openly speaks against sexual habits which lead to AIDS.

Afterwards, he starts to distribute condoms to all the mourners.

Another story set at a funeral is “Sister-in-Law” in which relatives of the deceased, Tarisai and Shuva, are two snobs who want to control their mother’s funeral proceedings while at the same time harassing their sister-in-law Tracey who had stood by their departed mother.

Chingono’s condemnation of child sexual abuse and the rhetoric surrounding it is felt in the story “Tomorrow is Not Another Day” in which a group of four social workers discover that they have done nothing while nine-year old Fungai, an orphan, dies of sexual abuse in the home of her abuser (vaHove). Fungai and her brother Masimba have relied on the organization represented by the four social helpers but the orphans’ condition worsened without anybody rescuing them.

“Not Another Day” is an anthology of 10 short stories and 27 poems dealing with various themes but the humor, the satire, grips the reader from page to page.

World recognition

As a poet, Chingono’s highest achievement was when he was recognized as one of 160 poets selected for the Poetry Jubilee CD box set of recordings from 40 years of the Poetry International Festival. The set, launched in Rotterdam in 2009, comprises 15 poetry CDs featuring the best performances by influential poets from all over the world. Chingono’s recording among the CDs was captured when he attended the Festival in the Netherlands in 2004 where he was involved in the readings of Pablo Neruda and the poetic verses of the Bible. The set also features other renowned African poets such as Ama Ata Aidoo, Wole Soyinka, Jack Mapanje, Ben Okri, and Mazizi Kunene. However, Chingono could not make it to the launch of this great Poetry Jubilee CD box set in Netherlands due to lack of financial assistance. Chingono was also involved in a poetry reading in Israel on September 19, 2008 where he read his poem “Commission of Inquiry”.

His last work is the posthumously published anthology “Together” (Musa Publications, 2001), a collection of poems with illustrations done by Hassan Musa. His English poems also appear in “State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry” (The Conversation PaperPress, 2009, UK), Intwasa Poetry (AmaBooks, 2008) and in various local and foreign journals. His other works are also featured in Weaver Press anthologies such as “Writing Still” (2003), “Writing Now” (2005) and “Laughing Now” (2007).

Second generation writer

As a second generation writer, Chingono witnessed and endured the political events of the 60’s and 70’s. He went to Mabvuku School for his primary education but it was at Nyatsime College where he came across Bernard Chidzero’s “Nzvengamutsvairo”.

The late veteran actor, producer and ex-editorial officer of the Literature Bureau Walter Lambert Muparutsa once said at a commemoration that he met Chingono while he (Chingono) stayed in Mabvuku in the 1960’s and this was the time when Chingono brought his poem titled “My Old Shoe” to Muparutsa. The poem had been broadcast on BBC and received positive feedback from listeners and yet, Muparutsa said, a certain British editorial officer aised Chingono to translate it into Shona, an aice which reflected the bias of Literature Bureau as an institution that cast linguistic precincts for local writers.

In an earlier interview with this writer, Chingono also revealed that just the sight of Chidzero’s photograph at the back of the book inspired him to vigorously pursue his education to become a writer. He later read Patrick Chakaipa’s “Karikoga Gumi Remiseve”, Kenneth Bepswa’s “Ndakamuda Dakara Afa” and a host of other books written by early Shona writers.

His earlier works appear in anthologies such as “Nhetembo”, “Mabvumira eNhetembo” and “Gwenyambira” published between 1968 and 1980. These Shona poetry anthologies were popular during the time they were selected as educational set books. Chingono’s first novel “Chipo Changu”, co-published by Literature Bureau and Longman Zimbabwe in 1978, is as scarce these days as most early Shona novels.

His play titled “Ruvimbo” won second prize in a writing competition organized by the Literature Bureau in 1975 before being published in 1980.

In an interview in 2009, Chingono said the award-winning play hinges on how culture and social status affect people’s responses to the issue of disability.

Ngoni Tichafa, a radio journalist born in a well-to-do family, is at crossroads with his family for deciding to marry disabled Ruvimbo a gifted poet.

Born at a commercial farm in 1946 in Msasa which is now an industrial hub east of Harare, Chingono spent most of his life as a rock blaster at various mines.

Source : The Herald