Educational Themes and Issues in Bones

Valerie Braman, Class of 2000.5, English 119, Brown University

Part 6 of "Education as a Means of (Post) Colonial Control in the Literature of Zimbabwe and Singapore: A Theoretical and Literary Analysis"

The characters in Chenjari Hove's Bones enact personal struggles for freedom against the prohibitive social and economic structures imposed upon them by Manyepo and the other colonizers. Throughout the novel, the reader becomes aware of the intertwining lives, stories, and concerns of Marita, Janifa, Marume, the freedom fighters, and the colonial powers with which they must contend on a daily basis. Through the characters' often non-linear memories, outcries, and episodes, the reader learns that education is indeed something that is newly valued, a source of power and prestige among the Shona peoples. A high social value is ascribed to those who can read, or who are further educated; they will be the ones to advance to careers and to bring both money and honor to their families. However, it is also clear that this system of education and the values it encourages initiates conflict between the educated and the non-educated, for not everyone is able to afford the expense of school fees or to endure the teachings that take them so far away from their own understandings of their people.

From the first page of the novel, it is clear that Janifa holds an advantage over Marita (at least, in the older woman's eyes) because the girl can read, while Marita cannot. Since the text that Marita wants to hear so badly is a letter that had been written by her own son, the reader also learns that education, in the form of literacy, is something that is granted to the younger generations with more regularity than to their parents. This may only occur because children are more traditionally students than are grown-ups, and because adults generally have familial and occupational responsibilities that prevent them from attending classes. However, the fact remains that the younger generations are generally more educated and therefore the source of hope for their elders.

As Janifa recounts her experiences in school, we also see that her teacher was a fearsome figure, one who was adversarial to his pupils, "You bitch, all you keep in your dirty mind is love letters, nothing else. Take this rubbish and throw it in the rubbish pit, you prostitute of prostitutes . . . " (Hove, 3). The teacher wields considerable power, however, not only over his students, as might be assumed to at least some degree, but also over their parents. The educator has the ability to command: "They command, you know. They command even my own parents to send this or that, or else your son, your daughter, will be out of school for ever. They command" (3). This fact, and this passage, allow us to see that the teachers (most likely white Europeans) present a hostile presence, not sympathetic to the cultures and needs of their Zimbabwean students. It further suggests that, coming from the position of the colonizer, they retain the power to withhold a very potent source of hope, pride, and advancement from not only their students, but also from their students' families. If the threat of not having their children in school is enough to make parents send what seem like tribute to their children's teachers, then education must be of the utmost importance to these families, and the role of the teacher begins to look like that of the master, who holds the key to happiness or success, but also the right to whisk that key away at any moment,

The status of the educated is clearly distinguished from that of those who have not been schooled, as Janifa's mother refers to her not as "the girl," or "my daughter," but rather, as "the school, girl, child of school" (5). The parents' obvious difference in status from their children's teachers is once again highlighted, as the mother continues, "Remember the other day you rolled your tobacco in her school report. You want to do it again so that teachers can laugh at us because of our ignorance?" (5) English education and the values and norms that it brings along with it are clearly alien to the families that it is beginning to affect. The separation of the realities of the family and those of the classroom are evident here. However, the need for education according to the ways in which the colonizers deem it appropriate is also reinforced in this episode. Janifa remarks that her uncle has made her a bag for her school papers "because he says I am the one who will give him cattle for the bride-wealth to bring home his fifth wife." (5) Again, Hove calls the reader's attention to the role that education and the educated are to play in this society. The hope for the well being and financial security of this family, as well as its adherence to cultural customs, now depends on their successful performance in English schooling.

The higher social status and opportunities afforded to those who are educated is also illustrated painfully and beautifully in the reminiscences of Marume:

It started long, long back, Marita. I knew it from the day I ran away from school. Ask the baas boy. We were together in school, and I used to beat him up even in the forest fights we had when we herded cattle. But now he kicks me around like a small boy because he was able to stay at school much longer than me. He can write and speak the language of the white man. Did you not hear him the other day, even speaking through the nose like Manyepo? He is another one that one. The way he keeps on saying beg pardon beg pardon, to Manyepo as if the white man were his own elder brother. Ask him, Marita, I left school just like that. (21)

Again, the idea that education in the ways of the white colonizers brings the student closer to the status of those powers through an assimilation to their ways of thought and action is one that causes both benefits and bitterness in the colonized peoples. Although Marume once thought himself superior to the baas boy by virtue of his physical prowess, a value that came naturally to them, the tables have now been turned and the baas boy enjoys a position of superiority in terms of his occupation and relation to his former peers. This position is one that could only come about in a system imposed by the English which placed a higher premium on those who come through the institutions that they had set up to reinforce their power over the colonized subjects.

Here, the reader may also observe Marume's contempt for the baas boy, which seems to come not only from the obvious issue of social and economic status, but also from the fact that the boy is now acting white (something that is, in this situation, linked to status). This is an example of the creation of hybridity, as described by Thomas Macaulay. In order to advance, the baas boy found it necessary to abandon the ways of his own people, and to take on the position of servant to Manyepo, who is their clear oppressor. He therefore plays a role in oppressing his own people, as well as himself, as he is at the same time trying to achieve the highest status possible. The double-edged sword of the hybridity that results from the colonized subject's attempts to raise himself out of his disadvantaged situation by becoming more like his oppressors is indeed sharp, and cuts not only Marume, but the baas boy as well.

Marume talks also of his decision to leave school as something that would allow him to take care of the things that were truly important to him, such as being a man, having a home, and providing for a wife. In school, he saw himself as wasting time, or worse, as subject to a tyrannical teacher's wrath: "I do not want to continue to be whipped on the buttocks by a woman as if I were a small boy" (22). Once more, the hierarchy of power in which the teacher is both hostile to and in control of the student appears, and once more, the relationship of student to teacher resembles that of slave to master. This subordinated position that Marume sought to leave behind in his flight from school, however, seems to be one that will be present in all areas of his life. He now finds himself "cracking [his] feet and ploughing the land for another man and his wife to enjoy" (22), thus suggesting that while an English education seemed in some ways unnecessary and superfluous to making the life he wanted for himself, it has also been set up by the colonizing powers as the one path to this goal.

In these few examples from the text of Bones, it is clear that schooling in the English tradition served a clear marker of social and economic status for the colonized and postcolonial characters to whom Hove introduces us. It was represented by the colonizers, and also internalized by their subjects, as the one path to greater things, the one way in which the people might rise from their unhappy positions as destitute farmers on poor lands into more wealth and therefore, happiness. However, it is also clear in these passages that the educational systems instituted by the colonizers were not only insensitive to the needs and cultures of the people who they supposedly served, but also hostile and often unattainable in terms of monetary cost and prevailing attitudes and values. Further, as illustrated in the case of the baas boy, education in this system leads to a form of assimilation, an acceptance of the ways and thoughts of the white colonial powers, in order to gain some of their status. This then, in turn, leads to a distancing from one's own ways and people.

As Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin claim, education can indeed be an insidious and cryptic tool of colonialism (425), as even a strong-minded and resilient woman such as Janifa can be taught to believe that even her own lover could be "a terrorist" who "eats people without roasting them . . . takes the wives of other men, sleeps with them before the eyes of their husbands, then asks the parents to roast their children for him . . . a killer who kills his own mother" (4). How, if not through the indoctrination of the primacy of English teachings and the inferiority, even baseness of her own people in the schools of her oppressors, could Janifa come to such conclusions?


Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, Eds. The Post-colonial Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Hove, Chenjari. Bones. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 1988.

Education as a Means of (Post) Colonial Control in the Literature of Zimbabwe and Singapore: A Theoretical and Literary Analysis

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