Home » Arts & Culture » Poets Honour Mbuya Nehanda, Malcom X

On February 7, 2015, the House of Hunger Poetry Slam celebrated the legendary Zimbabwean medium and freedom fighter Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana’s 50th anniversary which they twinned with the 117th anniversary of African-American civil rights champion Malcolm X. The celebrations were part of this year’s Black History Month which runs throughout February under the theme, “A Century of Black Life, History and Culture from 1915 to date”.

Throughout February events are held across the world to honour contributions made by outstanding African-Americans in different spheres of life such as religion, politics, sports, arts and culture.

The pairing of the Nehanda and Malcolm X legacies at the House of Hunger Poetry Slam indeed was a brilliant idea as it allowed poets and audience to reflect and honour heroes who championed freedom of black people in Zimbabwe and America from the 1950’s. When young people, poets at that, think about their past, it all fulfills what one reggae superstar sang,

“In this great futureyou can’t forget your past.”

The Malcolm X influence on America is as great as the influence Mbuya Nehanda had on Zimbabwe.

Just as our first and second generation writers and poets such as the late Solomon Mutsvairo, author of the iconic “Feso”, captured the agonies of black people in colonial Zimbabwe through their writings, in America there also arose a generation of courageous writers and poets who were outspoken against evils of racial segregation.

From the very moment Phillis Wheatley, a slave brought from Africa as a child, published “Poems on Various Subjects” in 1773, African American literature burgeoned and established itself glorious in the American bookshelves, reminding each generation about their history and hard won liberty.

The slam on Saturday at the Book Cafeacute was organised by Zimbabwe Poets for Human in partnership with Pamberi Trust. It was a spirited display of poetic memories of the struggles and dreams of black people before independence in Zimbabwe and before the abolition of slave trade in America.

Robson Isaac Lambada, director of ZPHR and a distinguished performance poet in his own right known on stage as “Shoes”, said they chose the two icons because there is a link in what they fought for.

“Both Malcolm X and Mbuya Nehanda fought against black inferiority complex and white supremacy. This is the reason why we singled out these two heroes this month as we remember efforts made to end racial discrimination in the two countries (Zimbabwe and America).

“They both inspired black people to fight white supremacy on the basis of the truth that all people were created equal regardless of skin colour or religion, et cetera,” said Lambada.

Lambada was also last year accorded an opportunity to interact with African-Americans in America where he had gone on a cultural exchange programme from August to December.

The slam, although it started some minutes late, opened with a recital of the unforgettable poem “O Nehanda Nyakasikana” by poet Jerry Mugweni a.k.a. Sir Zvavanhu.

The poem is adapted from “Feso”(1956) written by Solomon Mutsvairo. The recital of this poem never fails to ignite memories of our late Vice President Dr Simon Vengai Muzenda whose voice, whenever he recited the poem in touching timbre, made people feel why many sons and daughters of the soil had to go the “enough is enough” way and set out to liberate their motherland from the chains of colonialism.

In the slam’s first round the audience had a moment to enjoy splendid praise poems for our legends of the liberation struggle, deep Shona word creations from poets such as Passmore Ndeketeya whose poem “Vakafira Nyika” rang with unflinching grace.

Poems upholding Nehanda’s undying legacy were churned out one after another from poets such as Mhukahuru who did a poem “The Chimurenga Prophetess”, the Gambler who did “Nehanda Aizviziva”, Mwana weAfrica who did “Our Words, Our Swords” which was then translated and done in Shona by another poet known as The Orator.

“Our Words, Our Swords”, rendered in Shona and English, encourages the people to use their own resources so as to empower themselves. Somewhere along the poem, we are told to “wear garmentsfrom your own cotton”.

While some of the performers had illuminating poetry with excellent, compact messages, others simply went on stage drunken and ranted out such misconstrued concepts and still others had no idea what poetry is. It was the Black Poet, real name Mbizo Chirasha, who was brave enough to issue a statement that seemed too hard to swallow for fellow poets.

Before he performed a duet with another poet, he said, “This stage of poetry is not for failures and school drop outs. Let poets read. Let’s not abuse the title of “poet”. It’s not for failures and drop outs. Kana watadza kuverenga don’t you come and say ‘I want to be a poet’. This is a profession for some of us. Don’t spoil it. You need to go to school, you need to read. Thank you.”

And then the Black Poet boomed his powerful voice in a duet of his popular poem ‘African Names’. His voice cried out:

“Africa my mother’s name

Africa my brother’s name

Africa, my sister’s name

Africa, Africa, Africa!”

As the slam progressed, some poets were dropped who had low points. The audience waited with particular interest for the announcement of the top three who would walk away with prizes. After the adjudicators announced the top three winners, the guest of honour Shepherd Mutamba, a veteran journalist, congratulated and handed over prizes of books to the winners. Zacharia Mushawatu, known as Zack the Poet, came third while Allen Chitsanzana, also known as Mwana WeAfrica, came second and The Orator, real name Marshal Sango, grabbed the first prize.

ZPHR says they have lined up more events during this month of February to celebrate Black History Month.

On Tuesday, February 17, ZPHR will conduct a discussion under the topic: “Black Poetry in Motion: honouring the history and contributions of the Civil Rights Movement” at the US Embassy in Harare. The discussion is free to all interested members of the public.

The next House of Hunger poetry slam, according to Hector Mugani, who is the Book Cafeacute’s Youth Development Project Officer, is expected to take place on March 7 and will celebrate world renowned playwright William Shakespeare and some local artists of note

such as the Andy Brown and Sam Mtukudzi who passed on in March, hence the slam will be dubbed “The Ides Of March”.

Source : The Herald