Home » General » Our Love-Hate Relationship With Dogs [opinion]

Like most dog names around, a dog’s name is not just a dog’s name. It serves to convey a message, usually in defiance or resistance to whatever conflict was happening in the family.

THE elders in our village used to say, unless you are a hunter, there was no reason to love a dog. Dogs are dirty. Dogs do not have morals or hunhu. Dogs can’t tell the difference between a sister and brother. As a result, they are incestuous.

We generally treated our village dogs badly, with little care or sympathy.

Dogs got kicked, abused, starved and beaten with sticks. Stones were thrown at them for no reason at all.

If the dogs stole eggs, they were beaten so hard with their faces pressed down on a broken egg so they know that eggs are not to be eaten by dogs.

In old age, dogs were mercilessness put down because there was no better way of letting them die.

Although the elders also said being cruel to animals brought bad luck, dogs were still treated badly unless they were good hunting dogs.

In the village homestead, we always had a dog called Siyaso. When one Siyaso died, another was born. Siyaso means, “just leave things the way they are”. The name was a message to someone in the village homestead who was trying to interfere with either my mother or grandmother, Mbuya VaMandirowesa’s affairs.

Like most dog names around, a dog’s name is not just a dog’s name. It serves to convey a message, usually in defiance or resistance to whatever conflict was happening in the family.

The original Siyaso was grey with a white face and a black tail. We did not know what type of dog he was except that he was an African dog with incredible speed and strength.

Siyaso was not good at hunting at all. His best skill was to guard the homestead against any chicken thieves at night. We fed him on sadza leftovers or scrapping from saucepans, makoko.

If we did not cook anything, he ate nothing. But he was a very resourceful dog because he did not just sit there looking into the kitchen hut waiting for someone to throw him a morsel of food.

When nothing was coming his way, Siyaso went scavenging for rats, mice or birds. Occasionally, Siyaso and other village dogs had a party when a beast was killed for ceremonies to remember the ancestors like kurova guva or the killing of the bridal cow to celebrate the bride’s virginity, mombe yechimanda.

After some years of being a very loyal dog, the original Siyaso looked very old, and skinny. He was covered in sores and flies followed him everywhere. If he approached you while you were about to eat your sadza, you would lose your appetite immediately.

He was a sad and ugly sight. Yaisemesa. Although skinny ugly looking dogs and bitches were a common sight in the village, Siyaso was becoming an embarrassment to our visitors.

One day Mbuya VaMandirowesa took one look at Siyaso and said the dog had to die. Mbuya called Nyakudirwa, the animal killer from behind Dengedza Mountain. Nyakudirwa’s normal job was to hunt. He moved around with a pack of hunting dogs. In the dry season, Nyakudirwa could catch at least two rabbits in one day. He used a snare to catch big game like bucks or mhembwe.

Nyakudirwa loved meat and he never hesitated to kill any animal. When there was a celebration and Mbuya wanted a beast killed, Nyakudirwa came with his axe and did the slaughtering.

He tied the beast to a tree and we heard one cry from it and in no time at all, the beast fell on freshly cut branches.

Nyakudirwa collected blood in a bucket which was then mixed with other internal organs and cooked.

The elders said this mixture called musiya improved man’s virility remarkably. Nyakudirwa’s dogs and Siyaso sat nearby and ate the leftovers as well.

Nyakudirwa did not like killing dogs but he would do it for the small price of two mugs of beer. He arrived to kill Siyaso towards sunset. “How do you kill a dog without being cruel?” My sister Charity and I asked him. He laughed and said we should come along and watch. But we said no.

Then Nyakudirwa tried to get Siyaso to follow him to the dark pools further down the valley where only baboons, jackals, tokoloshis and other night creatures frequented. Siyaso refused to go unless we came along with him. So Mbuya asked us to walk down to the dark pools with Nyakudirwa, his dog Bwai and a pack of his other healthy looking hunting dogs.

I recall the day very well. It was sunset, in the middle of the dry cold season, sometime around September. Siyaso followed us. When we got to the dark pools, Siyaso allowed us to put a string around his neck, probably thinking it was just a leash.

We then handed him over to Nyakudirwa and ran back home.

We did not turn our heads at all, in case we saw Nyakudirwa tying a big stone around Siyaso then drown him in the dark pools. How could we watch Nyakudirwa drown our dog?

That is how Siyaso died, by drowning. It was a cruel way to die. Since then, every dog in the homestead is called Siyaso in memory of the original one.

Nyakudirwa loved his dog Bwai. Whenever you saw Nyakudirwa arriving at a beer party, Bwai was right behind him. From afternoon to late at night, Bwai sat quietly under a tree waiting for his master to say it’s time to go home.

One day, Nyakudirwa went up Mbire Mountain along the Save River to hunt for rock rabbits or mbira among the granite boulders.

He had been climbing these hills for years, and he knew every single big rock, every tree, its name and most plants.

High up in the mountains, between two big rocks, Bwai chased after a rock rabbit. Nyakudirwa waited because he knew Bwai would take one single bite at the rock rabbit then bring it to his master, dead or alive.

Then Nyakudirwa heard one single loud wail from Bwai, followed by a deathly silence. He followed in the direction of the sound. To his horror, there was Bwai lying on the ground, dead. Poisoned.

His whole body was rapidly changing to black. Nyakudirwa looked up and saw the biggest, longest and most scary king of the cobra snake family, rovambira, curled up in the tree. Nyakudirwa ran for his life, down the mountain, without ever turning his head.

Nyakudirwa grieved for his dog. He waited until the rovambira had eaten all the maggots from the dog because that is what a rovambira does. He does not like fresh dog meat nor does he eat the rotten one.

But he eats the maggots. Some weeks later, Nyakudirwa was brave enough to go up the mountain and look for the carcass of Bwai. He dug a pit and buried the bones. Then he placed the branch of thorn tree and said, “Goodbye Shamwari.” Nyakudirwa had lost his dog Bwai, his best friend.

After Bwai died, we never saw Nyakudirwa with a dog. Whenever people asked if he could still hunt, he put on an angry expression and said, “Can’t silly, can’t happy, nonsense! Bwai ndichinayo?” Although most of the words he spoke did not make sense at all, we knew that he was mixing Shona and English to say that without his beloved Bwai, his hunting life was over.

Although it’s more than 30 years ago since our original dog called Siyaso was drowned, people still call any our village dogs Siyaso. When a dog runs towards them, you hear them say, “Pfutseki, Siyaso!”

Pfutseki is a swear word we borrowed from the Afrikaners. We corrupted it because we did not know how to say, Voetsek meaning “Go away or get lost!” The Afrikaner farmers used this term to shout at their workers back in the colonial days. But we use it to swear at dogs or to people we do not particularly like.

Years later, Nyakudirwa’s nephew Jemba returned to the village from Hwange where he worked. He found a dog and named him Bwai. Then he started hunting too. Even though wild game is largely disappearing due to deforestation and annual bush fires, Jemba could still catch a rabbit here and there. Occasionally he traps a buck.

The other day, Jemba’s dog Bwai caught a rabbit. Jemba dropped by our homestead singing praises of Bwai’s ability to hunt. Our third generation Siyaso saw the rabbit and jumped up and down, trying to grab it off Jemba’s shoulder.

Bwai growled and Jemba said, “Pfutseki, Siyaso, you skinny good for nothing lazy dog!” I said Siyaso was not a lazy dog. But I had to admit that Siyaso was terribly skinny and he had not been fed well at all.

“Why are you so cruel to your dogs?” Jemba asked, placing his dead rabbit next to the fire in the kitchen hut. He rolled his tobacco in the newspaper and lit a cigarette with a piece of smouldering log from the fire.

Then he sat on the bench and started telling us to stop treating our dogs so badly. “What crime have the dogs committed apart from being loyal to us human beings over generations of time?”

Dr Sekai Nzenza is CEO of Rio Zim Foundation. She writes in her personal capacity.

Source : The Herald