The Setting of Chenjerai Hove's Bones

Rino Zhuwarara, Ph.D., Chair, Department of English, University of Zimbabwe

This material originally appeared in Rino Zhuwarara, "Men and women in a colonial context: A discourse on gender and liberation in Chenjerai Hove's 1989 Noma award-winning novel -- Bones," Zambezia: The Journal of the University of Zimbabwe 21, No. i (1994): 4. Published by University of Zimbabwe Publications, P.O. Box MP 203, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe.

It is significant that Bones is set on a large commercial farm whose fields are described as 'stretching forever as if they were the sky'. In contrast, areas occupied by Blacks are 'not very good for donkeys to live in', a place where 'people and dogs eat from one plate'. At a stroke the vast commercial farm becomes a strategic and powerful symbol which captures the central contradictions and tensions which revolve around the issues of land and which constitute an essential feature of the Zimbabwean experience. At the edges of that huge Whlte farm is a pathetic African drama characterized by deprivation, hence the sense of horror with which Chisaga recails the past:

Do you remember how the whole Muramba village came here to look for work when they heard a new farmer was coming to open a new farm? Some came with their children, their dogs and cats and all they could carry. Manyepo was here, fuming as if the villagers had annoyed him by coming to offer their sweat to him.5

Being alluded to by Chisaga are those demographic pressures which forced many Blacks to forgo the peasant option especially during the 1930s and 1940s. Shortage of fertile land plus the numerous taxes which settler governments imposed on an already impoverished peasantry compelled many destitutes to seek employment in the mines and factories which were mushrooming all over the country as well as on the White- owned farms. All these were economic institutions of the settler state which were forever hungry for cheap Black labour. Thus intensified the process of proletarianization which almost became synonymous with the brutal exploitation of Blacks. In addition, the African had to suffer the proverbial abuses associated with White racism—itself a facet of colonial ideology which, in its irrational way, tried to justify the exploitation which was going on. Hove captures the colonial attitudes and practices of that time through Manyepo, who occupies the topmost social and economic position of an essentially hierarchical society. Manyepo has the brutal style of a slave-driver and a voice which echoes that of his literary ancestor, Charlie Slatter, in The Grass is Singing The question is: How do African men and women respond to the repression and exploitation inherent in the colonial state?

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