OTI Online
Fall 1992

Zimbabwe Women Negotiate Their Roles
by Faith Fungayi Chimanda


It is no longer a common sight in Zimbabwean cities to come across women with head covers. Many women have turned from this tradition to view life from a more westernized way. The few "cultured" [traditional] women in cities can be easily spotted by their head covers, called dhuku in Shona. This type of head cover has historically identified the married lady. It shows that the heads of women are to be respected. Traditional women can be recognized by this custom, and also by their way of kneeling down when addressing their elders. The "modern" woman still bends a little but not in public places. She feels too ashamed to be called backward.

Before westernization, Zimbabwean women knew that if any of their children fell ill they would have to call a N'anga (witch-doctor) who would dig up tree roots for herbs. Now the "cultured" woman has to face a bit of the modern facts from today's woman. She hardly wants to, but she tries both the N'anga and the doctor.

The "cultured" woman who stands for tradition listens to her husband, and is required ^o let him make all decisions as she still prefers to defer to her man, while "modern" women are struggling with the policy of equal rights. The new woman allows discussion, but not oppression. The traditional woman turns obedience into oppression, as she allows it to be.

A 19-Year-Old Woman Explores The Growing Gap Between Traditional Culture And Women's Equality

In this society of the 1990s, Zimbabwe is trying to encourage women and men to have planned pregnancies. The "cultured" woman allows her husband to expect her to do everything to avoid unwanted pregnancies while he neglects condoms. The woman wants to be praised for all this because "she is keeping tradition." Her husband does not want her to work because she will turn wild. We all know that this is not true. The man is suppressive because he is scared that his wife might finally know her rights and turn against him.

Women in Zimbabwe still have the choice whether to be "modern" or traditionally "cultured." A mother's choice might make the difference between progressing or limiting the options of teenagers, who are the women of the future. If women allow oppression now, the chances are that their future granddaughters will carry oppression to their generation.

The woman who wants to be "modern" has chosen to be so because the advantages outnumber those of being "cultured." She works for herself and does not have to rely on anyone's money. She finds joy in her new life, for she no longer has to harden her hands trying to prove that she is a suitable bride. She does not have to work in the fields anymore. To show her love for her Vamwene (mother-in-law), she can now send presents and not labor.

The "modern" woman admires the "cultured" woman although she won't admit it, for it's a well known fact that "cultured" women are well-mannered.

The woman who follows tradition also envies the westernized woman. The "cultured" woman has few freedoms, for she lives in rural areas where her life is speculated on and discussed by village elders. The opinion of these elders affects her marriage as much as it affects her in-laws, so there is every point in trying to please elders.

The few "cultured" [traditional] women in cities can be easily spotted by their head covers, called dhuku in Shona. This type of head cover has historically identified the married lady.
The few "cultured" [traditional] women in cities can be easily spotted by their head covers, called dhuku in Shona. This type of head cover has historically identified the married lady.

The "modern" woman gets her bride price paid in cash for she has a lover like her who owns no cattle. Her parents accept the cash for they know of the changing times. But back in the rural areas, the bride price is still paid in form of cattle, goats and sheep. In my country the argument over Lobola or Roora (bride price) is still hot. The "modern" woman argues that Lobola makes her feel as though she has been sold and bought. The "cultured" woman says Lobola should be paid, and still in the form of beasts, according to tradition. The men are ever caught between these arguments, but are equally concerned, for they have sisters who will be married too.

The reason behind this argument is that some men are now mistreating their wives and calling them "bought property." In some families they now charge Lobola around six to seven thousand Zimbabwe dollars, which is very expensive. Why is this happening? Lobola has now lost its original meaning. The tradition of paying the bride price only united the two families of the bride and her spouse.

I personally feel that if the bride price is to be paid, it should not cost a lot. I think it should not be paid in form of cash, so parents will realize that they can not plan on buying furniture after their daughters have been married. I wish there was a fixed rate for all brides to discourage parents from making girls sources of generating income. After all, a marriage should bring joy and not sorrow. Why should the woman or man suffer if they have fallen in love?


Faith Fungayi Chimanda ia a 19-yearold writer from Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa, She is a member of the Zimbabwe Women Writers' Association.


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