‘A Long Journey’ by Musaemura Bonas Zimunya
‘A Long Journey’ by Musaemura Bonas Zimunya – Zimunya was born in 1949 in Zimunya Communal Land in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. Earlier, at the time of his birth it was known as Rhodesia. In 1973 he was expelled from the University of Rhodesia for creating problems. He was exiled to Britain and there he studied in the University of Kent. He got a bachelors and Master’s degree in English. His dissertation in MA was later published.
In 1980 he came to Zimbabawe which had now become independent. He began to teach English in the University of Zimbabwe and continues to do so. In 1999 he left for the US and now Director of Black Studies at Virginia Tech. His poetry mostly deals with the beauty of Zimbabwe. Some of his poems depict the history and poverty, suffering of his times. Most of his works are in English while some are in Shona.
Synopsis – ‘A Long Journey’ by Musaemura Bonas Zimunya
The poem is titled ‘A Long Journey’ and he talks of the journey which starts from some decades before to the present day. There is a stark difference in the times and that makes the journey longer than it actually is. The journey is through a lot of woes and a lot of back breaking work. In this journey of life and change the motor cars came and the ox cart disappeared. Even when the motor cars came the cycle was still a dream of every village boy. With the arrival of the bus distances were reduced so the city came to the village. With the city coming into the village people began missing the horizons.
The poet says it was a long laborious journey form ‘bushes to concrete’. Now the poet is haunted by the earlier style of dwelling, the cave dwelling, of the earlier times. These haunting memories are threatening the new found luxury of the city. He tries to fight the nightmare but in vain. There are some well laid roads which become dusty gravel and then foot-tracks ending in plastic huts and mud-grass dwelling. These are constantly threatened by wind, rain and cold.
They have escaped the witches and the wizards on their long journey to civilization but in the city there is a new danger lurking. It is the cry from killings by people. The people have moved into lights but there is ‘an almighty’ hands which reaches for their shirt and keeps them under control.
The theme is the comparison of the times before colonialism and after colonialism. The year is also mentioned, ‘eighteen ninety’. While under the British rule there was suppression and slavery. Then named Rhodesia it became the first self-governing British Colony in 1923. This did not improve the lot of the natives and there was guerrilla warfare for 15 years and it was declared an independent state in 1965.
An understanding of the political changes of Zimbabwe is needed as this journey talks about the changes that happened over the decades and this is closely connected to the political changes. Once it became independent Robert Mugabe became the President and it was an authoritarian regime. There were widespread human rights violations. This is what is referred in the lines
We moved into the lights
but from the dark periphery behind
an almighty hand reaches for our shirts.
Though the country got independence the people lived in the constant fear of the President, ‘an almighty hand’.
Along with the political changes the poet also talks about the changes the civilization has brought to the country. The superstitions and witchcraft were replaced by the fear of killings and bloodshed. There were many changes on the surface but in reality it was like jumping away from the devil into the deep sea.
Structure and Poetic Devices
There are 30 lines and it is a free verse. There is no rhyme scheme and the meter varies. The number of lines in a stanza also varies. The emphasis is laid on the development of a thought. So the lines go till the thought is complete. So the lines in the stanzas change. The poet addresses in first person singular and plural – I and We are used intermittently.
The poem is full of imagery. Pick, shovel, sambok and the jail indicate the times where they had to toil as slaves under the British regime. One could be easily imprisoned during that period but it did not change much after independence too as the president ruled with an iron hand. ‘Ox-cart began to die’, showed the changes in transportation. The description of villages being transformed is beautifully pictured in these two lines.
With the arrival of the bus
The city was brought into the village.
The usage of the phrase ‘bush to concrete’ is pregnant with images of changes.
The words ‘haunt’, ‘nightmarish’ indicate that the poet hated the changes.
On the surface it seems there have been many changes for the better but in reality there are many pockets that have been caught between the old and the new. The city roads are well laid and then into the villages it becomes dusty roads and narrow lanes.
The use of the words ‘witches and wizards’ indicate the highly superstitious society that Zimbabwe was once was. With the onset of civilization this disappeared but it was replaced by the fear of being killed.
The conclusion of the poem has another interesting imagery – ‘we moved into the lights’. In this simple line the poet has conveyed two layers of thought. One was the physical transformation from darkness to light as there would have been electrification in the cities. At a subtler level it also indicates the transformation from ignorance to knowledge. Yet from the dark there was an unknown hand that was controlling the lives of the people. ‘….reaches for your shirt’ is the imagery used to indicate the control the state had over the people.
MusaemuraBonasZimunya has succinctly conveyed all the changes and problems faced by the people of Zimbabwe during and after the transfer of power from the British to the local governance. The words have a deep impact on the readers giving a clear picture of ‘long journey’ taken in vain.