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Dirty African Proverbs and Other Literary Concerns: The Censorship of Dambudzo Marachera

Dirty Talk

Black SunlightDambudzo MaracheraLanguage will always resist some form of policing, is the argument put forth by Percy Zvomuya in the pages of the Mail & Guardian. Referring to Zimbabwe’s 1981 banning of Dambudzo Marachera’s The Black Sunlight on the grounds that it was “obscene”, Zvomuya investigates the defence made by Aaron C Hodza, who set out to show that profanity was nothing new to Shona culture.

One of Hodza’s examples, quoted in Dambudzo Marechera: A Source Book on His Life and Work, is from a maize-threshing ceremony, where the phrase was uttered, “Evil buttock / Lion testes / Slave to the cunt”.

Zvomuya says that instead of suppressing the impurities of language as did the “sinister Orwellian body” that silenced Marachera, our African ancestors recognised their value and designated a special space for them in the form of proverbs. Zvomuya offers us a startling array of some of these “vulgarities”.

For example, we have “Unless it dies young, the penis shall surely eat bearded meat”, “It requires a lot of carefulness to kill the fly that perches on the scrotum” and, “A child can play with its mother’s breasts, but not its father’s testicles”. We invite you to compete with these scorchers in the comments section below.

Read the article:

One of the ironies of post-independence Zimbabwe was that on the eve of writer Dambudzo Marechera’s return from Britain after years in exile, his novel, The Black Sunlight, was banned by the censorship board. This sinister Orwellian body, established in dark Rhodesia, alleged that the novel imitated the worst aspects of modernism — it was “clumsy, [made] excessive use of four-letter obscenities” and was generally meaningless.

The Black Sunlight is a coruscating carnival of witty erudition and an anarchic narrative of the human condition. It could best be described as a bastard child of two mongrels, one from Europe and the other from Africa, with no known continental relatives except for a few nodding acquaintances. It was, therefore, ironic that one of the people who appealed the decision was Aaron C Hodza, a rainmaker and eminent researcher of Shona culture.

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