21 May 2012

Zimbabwe: Chishona Advanced Level Practical Criticism Made Easy

Book Review : Mhenenguro: Bhuku roMudzidzi Danho Re "A" Level

Authors: W Magwa, M Mavesera & W Zivenge

Year: 2012

Publisher: Mambo Press

Reviewer: Tsitsi Nyoni

Practical Criticism has never been dealt with in such a comprehensive manner before. It has always been appended to books dealing with so many other issues hence thoroughness on this aspect was always compromised.

This publication, that was co-authored by prolific Shona writer Professor Wiseman Magwa, and Dr Miidzo Mavesera and Dr William Zivenge who are also distinguished scholars in their own right, is the first to deal with practical criticism at such length.

The book teaches, guides and demonstrates important aspects of practical criticism in an exciting manner. I.A Richards' Cannons Sense, Intention, Feeling and Tone are put to good use in this practical guide for 'A' level Shona students.

Extensive examples from a broad spectrum of ChiShona literary works are given for each genre, which makes it a step by step easy to follow guide, for the student of ChiShona at "A" Level. The language used is flawless "ChiShona chamandorokwati" which is a milestone in illustrating that it can be done, we can teach our own language in our own language without hindering understanding at all.

In Chapter 1, the concept of practical criticism (mhenenguro) is clearly distinguished from mere analysis of a text (ongororo). Criticism, it is argued, goes deeper than mere analysis of a text, for as a critic engages into the process there are a number of factors that have to be taken into consideration.

The critic has to have a sound knowledge of the Shona culture, its norms and values, beliefs and philosophy, as these are crucial to the text being critiqued. Such an exercise requires one to be equipped with practical criticism skills that this book goes on to illustrate in the subsequent chapters.

The various types of practical criticism are dealt with in Chapter 2; which deals with practical criticism poems, plays and prose narratives. It is argued that practical criticism is done in the same manner for the various genres but what differs are the styles of writing and devices engaged as illustrated by the example below given on pg 54-5.

a) Chinorova imombe kwete munhu

Ukaponda munhu gara wakaziva demo raSimon

Anodzoka kwauri ambambatira yava ngozi

(Mabvumira Enhetembo pg14)


b) Tavengwa: Mwana womukoma wangu akubaira zani ndewako

Chati homu chareva, chazunguzika kuti chionekwe

Mukai: Iri munzeve babamunini; tumburai tinzwe

Tavengwa: Munhu haarovi, uye kurwa haaregi

Kunyangwe akafa. Wauraya munhu; igaroziva kuti yave ngozi. Hapana anopondwa akarova

(Kwayedza, 21 Ndira 2003)

Text (a) is a poem and text (b) is a play but the clarity with which the authors illustrate how these two genres differ, flows well into their illustration of how to critique the various types of texts under the different genres found in ChiShona.

It lays the a foundation for the chapter that follows; Chapter 3, which looks at the various themes that students encounter in the various types of practical criticism among them; "kuraya" (to advise), "rufu" (death), "kupopota" (to protest), "kuvaraidza" (to delight), "kupira" (ancestral worship), "kutenda" (thanking), "kurumbidza" (praise), "kupfimbana" (courtship), "hondo" (war) and others (pgs 12-19). The themes are dealt with, with such thoroughness, that their understanding is enhanced.

Literary devices are the next port of call in Chapter 4. They are treated in a manner that creates mental images in the reader through the varied examples drawn from various ChiShona literary works. This goes to show that the authors are indeed experienced experts in ChiShona, for without that wide experience and a high mastery of the subject, they could not have come up with such a wide range of not only interesting examples but also very relevant ones.

The literary devices are in two groups those relating to practical criticism of a poem, poetic devices as well as literary devices used in plays and prose. In poetry, the authors touch on the various types of linkages such as initial, medial, terminal and cross-linking.

There are also repetitions such as that of the topic, a particular line, phrase, or idea and other devices such as the use of the metaphor, simile, rhetoric questions, concordial agreement, allusion, alliteration and assonance among others.

This is done in flawless ChiShona that is only characteristic of experts in the language. Where a mouthful of words could have been used, the brevity with which the terms are explained is impeccable. For example allusion is simply put as "hwereto" (pg27) and the following is one of the examples given to illustrate this:

  • Hongu zvitema zvedu pasi zvawanda
  • Asi inga kudenga tinonzi tichazviparira

(Mabvumira eNhetembo pg100)

The authors clearly explain that there is allusion here, since the idea of sinning and being judged in heaven is alien to Shona culture. It is something imbedded in Christianity that talks of sin, death and judgment.

The poet thus, alludes to a foreign religion: in Shona culture judgment is for the living, when one sins, one is expected to ask for forgiveness and settle issues while still alive since "seri kweguva hakuna muteuro!" (it is futile to pray after one has died).

The most practical chapters of the book, Chapters 4 and 5 then follow. Chapter 4 is a step by step guide for the student to follow for practical criticism of a poem. Chapter 5 does the same for plays and prose. Concise relevant, easy to follow examples are used. On practical criticism of a poem, the student is guided through steps from reading for understanding, getting the story through skimming, focusing on the theme.

It also helps the student on understanding the type of poem, getting the aim of the poet, the reader's feeling and showing how they are intertwined, and finally assessing whether the poet was successful or not in getting his intention across.

The reader's feeling is illustrated through the use of Hamutyinei's classic poem "Kana Wamutanga Musikana" (pg34). Here, the feeling of excitement is aroused as the authors follow the scene of beautiful girl being courted. The funny behaviour exhibited by the author gives pleasure to the reader.

The poet can also be judged as being successful in his endeavours because he presents a true picture of a courtship scene in Shona culture, the girl does not propose, but is proposed. Even if she wants to say yes, she can't but has to take her time as is expected in Shona culture. More examples are used to emphasise the practical skills and reinforce the key aspects for practical criticism of a poem that is quite commendable.

The same approach is used for steps to follow when doing practical criticism of a prose passage or a play. Students are also guided from getting the writer's intention, the literary devices, which include "nhangirapakati" (in-medias-res), "nhendeshure" (flashback), "nhaurirano" (dialogue), "tsumo" (proverbs), "madimikira", (idioms), "taurawega" (soliloquy), "fananidzo" (simile), "fananidzosiri" (metaphor), among others.

The student is also guided on how to handle assessing the fulfilment of the writer's intention. This is done through reference to a variety of ChiShona literary texts that broaden the student's scope of reading in ChiShona language.

The final thrust given is that students are made aware of the fact that the skills required for practical criticism of poem and those of prose narrative or play differ since the genres are different too.

The icing on the cake is the last part of the book, Chapter 7, for what more would a student of practical criticism in ChiShona want, other than model examination questions and answers. These illuminate the various aspects of practical criticism dealt with in-depth in the main body of the book as one prepares for examinations?

The authors go out of their way to give practical models that help students reflect on and apply the step by step guidelines given in Chapters 5 and 6 as well as the theory provided in the preceding chapters.

The questions and model answers are on the various types of practical criticism. The authors expertly set some of the practice questions while others are drawn from past examination papers.

This book is a must-have not only for the "A" Level student but also for the "A" Level ChiShona teacher, for it helps him/her get really focused in the teaching and learning of practical criticism.

Item writers and students of ChiShona in teachers' colleges and universities can also benefit a lot from this book. With such a remarkable, highly polished literary tour guide you are in safe hands, dear student!

Tsitsi Nyoni is an academic and lecturer at the Great Zimbabwe University.

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