"We Shall Be Kings in Heaven"

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

In Yvonne Vera's Nehanda, after the priest has tried to convert Kaguvi with baffling claims about eternal happiness and freedom from work that make no sense in a Shona community, he summons yet another foreign idea, telling his puzzled listener:

"We shall be kings in heaven. All of us shall have an equal share of happiness." The priest speaks in a sonorous voice and spreads out his arms as though to level out the inequalities in the world.

"We shall all be kings?" Kaguvi repeats incredulously. This would be a chaotic world indeed. He makes impatient sounds through his cheeks. This was a matter for a man to consider with his kin.

One again the individualism implicit in this presentation of Christianity conflicts with a worldview based upon community -- something that Vera reveals by Kaguvi's thought that this strange idea is the kind of thing a civilized man does not consider by himself but discusses with all those closest to him.

When the priest then tells Kaguvi, "Your god is an evil god" and he, the missinary, has come to save him from "eternal flames," he finds the priest's arrogance "shocking." To him the missionary's depictions of hell and eternal seem "unconvincing," yet the Englishman does not seem "a man who would lie. . . It is hard for him to believe that the priest is entirely foolish. There is certainly a tenderness in his smile, and real concern in his voice." Looking for common ground, Kaguvi agrees that "there is life after death," but by this he means "'life as a spirit, to help protect those who are living.' But the priest insists on an afterlife in which men will rise from their graves in their former bodies."

[Passages quoted from Yvonne Vera, Nehanda, Harare: Baobab Books, 1993, 106.]

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