The Term Postcolonial and Yvonne Vera's Nehanda

Gregory Gipson, English 27, Autumn 1997

In contrast to Soyinka's Aké and Emecheta's The Slave Girl, Nehanda has a poetic and mysterious style infused with strong currents of metaphysics and dense imagery. It is also firmly postcolonial, in every way the proof of my definition. Nehanda is the story of Nehanda, a spirit medium among her people who, at the end of the nineteenth century, leads a revolt against the still-new British colonial rule. The novel is completely centered in the context of its time; all details are contained within the story. However, if one knows a bit of the history of Zimbabwe, it becomes quickly apparent that something more is happening than merely a chronicle of failed revolt. If, for instance, one knows that Nehanda (and Kaguvi, the other leader of the book) was a real figure who was executed by the British after the end of the first Chimurenga, and if one knows that there was in fact a second Chimurenga, which succeeded in ending colonial rule, and that the identical names are not coincidence, and finally that Nehanda does not adhere strictly to historical fact, than not only is this one very learned, but he or she is also aware of some of the deeper levels of Vera's writing.

Vera is creating a myth, a national myth, and thus addressing the issues of tribalism and nationhood so critical to Africa's decolonized peoples. She is creating a story behind which to unify, a culture hero for several cultures. She is trying, at least, to be the "wind" that "covers the earth with joyful celebration" (Vera, 118). She does all this by using poetic language and diction, by deliberately not naming Nehanda's people, by inventing details of ritual for verisimilitude and symbolic resonance, but most fundamentally by fully integrating the story into its world. The story will stand alone as such, but becomes a postcolonial novel when read in the context of its genesis, that is, with knowledge of Zimbabwe's history and colonial experience.

Nehanda is, if not the most potently, at least the most consistently postcolonial text of the three examined: its firm roots in Zimbabwean and colonial history, its depiction of the clash of cultures of irreconcilable difference (within the novel's own context), and its powerful prose make it like the "large cloud of fire" which "leaps up in the midst of death" (Vera, 117). Taking a story of no little tragedy, Vera uses language and story to reorder perspectives on colonialism into new myths -- she contributes to the creation of a new culture from a plethora of old reactions -- among them anticolonialism, that long ago first glimpse into the meaning of "postcolonial."


Vera, Yvonne. Nehanda. TSAR Publications, Toronto Canada, 1994.

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Last Modified: 21 March, 2002