Shona, because of you I pronounce the O’s in onions and ovens

I was three years old when I migrated to the UK, speaking little to no
English but fluent in Shona (as fluent as a three-year-old can be). This
would be the perfect time to write a descriptive paragraph about how I
felt when I landed on “the greener side”, but honestly, I remember
nothing.

Yes, I’ve been back to Zimbabwe several times but does going for a
holiday really compare to being raised Kumusha?

Kumusha = the place where you come from.

Whilst I can’t recall memories of Zimbabwe prior to me moving to this
country, what I do have is my language, the Shona language.

I’m using medium to divert from the question which asked “how much
power am I afforded by the languages I speak?”, because it is important
for me to first establish what the languages I speak mean to me.

I can’t begin to paint the bigger picture, without the initial understanding
of colour. We’re still headed for the same destination, this is just a
necessary pit stop.

Pit Stop №1 — The Shona Language.

This was the first language I ever spoke. The main language my parents
speak. I speak Shona to those who understand it. From the moment I
say “hesi” (hi), those who understand it, know exactly where I come
from. Shona is the currency of the Zimbabwean side of my identity. Its
exchanges are exclusive.


I need to take a break here, this has been a struggle to write. As a writer,
I am in the practice of not only writing for myself but for others as well,
for you to understand me. I am struggling to use English to concisely
explain what Shona means to me. So instead I am going to write a letter
to my native tongue, and I hope that through this I will break the barrier.


Dear Shona,

You are not just a language; a dictionary of words I use to communicate.
You are more than a skill I can add to my CV. You represent a side of
me that only those close to me know. You represent my culture, the
culture that has taught me to be nurturing and respectful.

You represent my mother’s roots and my father’s land, because of you I
will never forget where I came from. Even though I don’t see her often,
through you I remember the things my Grandma used to say.

Because of you my mum is “mama” and my grandma is “gogo”, it doesn’t
matter if I speak English, who they are stay the same. I feel an
intense love when I call my little sister “nhanha”, stronger than when I
use her name.

You constantly remind me of the importance of family and togetherness.

I appreciate how you call my mum’s sister “mainini”, which translates to
“smaller/younger Mum.” I appreciate how you have no specific word for
“cousin”, to you my cousins, are my brothers and sisters. You don’t like
to distance yourself from your history and your relatives, so you use
brother because you fear “cousin” will get lost in translation.

I notice how you seep into my second language, English, the language I
use the most. I notice how because of you I pronounce the O’s in onions
and ovens.

I notice how sometimes when I am lost in intimacy, I turn to your words
to express either love, joy or excitement without even realising.

Shona, you are my memory’s oldest friend. No matter where I go, I can
never seem to shake you.

There have been times that I have tried to suppress you, but you held
on. For that, I thank you. I realise now that in this western world, I need
you more than ever.

Each of your words tells a story. You are substantial. You are a living
artefact. You will never die, so long as your people continue to speak
you. I wish I had understood earlier, my history is significant now more
than ever.

But soon I must ask you if I was to create a product out of you, what
would your unique selling point be and how much would you be worth on
the market?

I ask this not so that I can degrade you, I will never. My personal
relationship with you will always remain. I ask so that I can widen my
perspective and understand where you fit in the grand scheme of things.

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