Culture – The Journey Back to Where It All Began

Updated: Jan 10

The depth and enormity that is this seemingly simple word!

A word riddled in complexities yet one that so intricately forms the very fabric of you.

Birthed from the foundations of values and beliefs.

Languages and symbols.

Norms and religions… giving way to the branches of kinship that bind us through tribes and totems.

Connection to the land and environment.

The strength of tradition and the power of knowledge that weaves through generations – culture, that seemingly simple word!

Maasai Warrior. Image source: Juliya Shangarey

We’ve all heard about being a tourist in your own country or city but… what about being a tourist in your own culture?

Why culture you ask?! Well, how much of your culture do you know? How deep is your understanding? Not the rudimentary institutional knowledge you’ve consumed as a student; not what colonization has said to be “true”; not what has been defined through the social constructs of society.

Do you know what is at the core of your culture? The essence of your culture in totality? How deep are those roots? When you hear the word belonging, what comes to mind? What makes up the tapestry of your cultural identity?

I ask these questions not from a place of judgment or aimless probing. I ask as someone seeking more knowledge of her own culture and in so doing, challenging you to do the same. Seeking more understanding and wisdom from this entity that evades time and the fragility of generations, such that long after the family elders have ascended, the origins of the family name still light the way for those yet to come.

Roadmaps have been left for the generations to follow, whether it be through our languages, customs, folklores, history, spirituality (think African cave/rock paintings, etc.) and traditional art.

Cave paintings. Matopos National Park, Zimbabwe. Image source: Goncalo Borba

But how much of the paths on this roadmap have been diluted or attempted to be erased over time? Consider this statement from Nyasha, a character in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel Nervous Conditions,

“It’s bad enough… when a country gets colonized, but when the people do as well! That's the end, really, that's the end.”

Can you confidently say you have a firm grasp on some of your cultural components - not to be able to brag about it, but because you have pride in the full acceptance of who you truly are and your roots. An acceptance and a celebration of one’s origins, the authenticity of the present and what lies ahead as one's future ancestral legacy.

Portrait of Suri girl taken in her village near Kibish, south-west Omo Valley Ethiopia. Image by @magbrinik

Perhaps you’re like me, part of the diasporic community who’s battled with belonging and identity. You know... that inner conflict that comes with the desire to hold on to the way of life that gave rise to your existence, whilst being pulled towards integration or assimilation into another more dominant reality. The duality of these two identities that become locked in constant conflict. There’s something to be said about the rise in appetite to know more about your roots when your feet have journeyed beyond the borders of where your ancestors roamed. This is where I find myself, asking questions, digging a little deeper, searching amidst two cultures for my own definition and meaning of home, identity and belonging.

I write this as a Zimbabwean immigrant in North America, on a scenic journey through my own culture – sometimes a beautiful one punctuated with moments of mundanity. Gleaning from the sages of old as I meander through being a Shona woman whose roots go as far deep as the people who roamed Manicaland. To be specific, the Manyika people. Guided by the family totem – the spirit animal hungwe. Governed by the family and continental values of ubuntu/hunhu. With lots more to uncover, dirt to sift through to reveal the treasures beneath, a healing to undergo, and a potential personal awakening to experience, I ask once more, what about being a tourist in your own culture?

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