Tjwao Language Party
The Tjwao Language Party to commemorate the International Year of the Indigenous Languages was held on the 12th of April 2019. The language party was hosted by the San or Tjwa communities in Zimbabwe. Tjwao is the language spoken by the Tjwa people of Zimbabwe and due to social pressures, the language stopped being spoken and as a result of that, there are no young speakers of the language at the moment.
Tsholotsho is home to three ethnic groups namely, Ndebele, Kalanga and the San also known as the Tjwa or Tshwa. The principal language is now Ndebele, spoken by 90% of the population and is understood by everyone. San in Tsholotsho live in small villages and dispersed extended family compounds ranging in size from 17 to 267 people. Some of these households were arrayed along straight geographic lines, the result of land settlement practices of the colonial and Zimbabwe governments in the past. The San have maintained that their ancestors had been resettled in Tsholotsho as a result of the founding of the Wankie Game Reserve (now Hwange National Park).
The event was well attended by both young and old people. Language grouping were comprised of the Tjwa, the Ndebele, which is the dominant language in Tsholotsho and the Kalanga. We started off by doing some introductions. We then introduced the theme and purpose of the language party.
Mthandazo Khuphe Vundla was the first to tell his story. He started by saying same greetings and then got involved in a conversation with other storytellers. He told the story of how the Tjwa used to live in peace and harmony before the arrival of the Bantu people. He also said that the arrival of the Bantu with their dominance created a language contact situation where Tjwao was rendered used and many Tjwao speaking people shifted to Ndebela. The establishment of Parks or Game Reserve had an effect on Tjwao language loss.
After the story, we invited the audience to ask questions and make comments. It was a very interactive session. Young people were the most vocal and some even offered to tell their little stories.
Photo: Mthandazo Khuphe Vundla
Msindo told the story of the monitor lizard and the rains that were coming. When the lizard saw heavy rains coming, he became so afraid and started to look for a place to hide. In so doing, he also picked up food that he could eat as he waited for the rains to go away. He then composed a song that he sung as he waited.
His story involved singing and a dance performance.
Molo Tshuma is now over a hundred years old. His story was in the form of motivating young people to learn the Tjwao language and the Tjwa cultural heritage. He spent his time talking to the audience. The audience was kept spell bound by Molo’s narration.
Photo: Molo Tshuma (Left) and Davy Ndlovu (right)
The young lady below narrated her story and told us how she grew up without the language of her ancestors. She is fluent in Ndebele and Kalanga, but cannot speak one single word of Tjwao.
When a community loses its language as is the case with the Tjwa in Zimbabwe, it also loses its cultural identity. For the Tjwa, this was a result of forced assimilation and because of that, Tjwao, the language of the San in Zimbabwe has only a dozen fluent speakers remaining who speak this language and there are no younger speakers at the moment. Today, the custodians of the language and culture of the Tjwa are elders between the ages of 65 to 97 years. The cultural identity of the Tjwa is threatened since many of them now speak languages of their neighbours. The Tjwa culture is under threat due to contact with other neighbouring tribes.
When discussing the role of language in culture, points to consider should be the relationships between language and society and the various functions of language in society. Language is simply what members of society speak and society is a group of people drawn together for a certain purpose. Society share knowledge of cultural values, norms, traditions through language. The basic function of language is to structure reality. Language is an integral part of society. Wherever we come from, the words we use and the way in which we use them are fundamental to our cultural identity. Culture can be defined broadly to include beliefs, patterns of thought, and patterns of expression transmitted in a society from one generation to the next. Language on the other hand is a set of symbols that expresses people’s thoughts and perceptions and also influences them. Language is the most important symbol used by humans to communicate messages. Language shapes the views of reality for its speakers and also people perceive the world through the cultural lens of their language. Language therefore influences how people understand the world around them. Language is a source of power and social control.