Morris Mtisi Post correspondent
HE speaks with precision. He speaks with a typical British accent. Yet his vision and wisdom ooze from the cultural depths of mother-Africa . . . not the echoes of kaleidoscopic England. He speaks with mother-earth passion, not textbook position. His research outcomes are his message. He is a psychoanalyst and African cultural revolutionary from Zimbabwe studying in England.
A young Zimbabwean cannot be so wise, intelligent, patriotic, impressive and down-to-earth in one. While many both young and old Africans lose all the negritude . . . all the African-ness, across the length and breadth of the Atlantic Ocean and end up blacks with white masks, the product of a cardinal Zimbabwean chieftaincy, Ashirai, proudly uses vernacular architecture to expose the psychology of racism and architectural plans and policies of the past colonial regimes which he said were calculated to bury the cultural architecture of the African people in Zimbabwe. Ashirai has been studying Vernacular Architecture at the Association of Architecture in England. He is in his seventh year.
Speaking on Diamond FM Radio recently, the 26 year old Ashirai said his research studies revealed the dark side of colonial architectural town planning in Rhodesia. “Umtali (Mutare) and Salisbury (Harare) were not built for Africans. These were intended to be typical white cities where eventually all Africans would have no access to. The cities were meant to forever accommodate a small white minority, not the mammoth black populations. That is why even today we are struggling to fit in the towns and cities. They were not planned for enormous numbers of the black majority. All the colonial architectural planners could do was to build ‘‘Single Quarters’’— KuMa Singuru, typical of Sakubva in Mutare, where women and children were not allowed. The little boxes were obviously not convenient space to raise a family. So the woman’s . . . the wife’s place, was in the countryside — kumusha. The idea was to depopulate Africans. And it was systematically done through architectural colonisation,” said Ashirai.
‘‘We need to go back to this history, regenerate its values and be exactly who we are if we do not want to remain captives of the dreams of our colonisers.” Said young Musikavanhu: “Architecture is a fascinating field! It involves Agriculture, Landscaping, Buildings . . . anything and everything . . . a whole plethora of things and ideas. It is a way of life. It allowed me to be who I always wanted to be; namely EVERYTHING.” I asked him why he came back to do his research in Zimbabwe and about Zimbabwean cultural psychopathology.
“I realised how I was mentally colonised and didn’t know who I was. I asked myself ‘Who am I? Ndiri mwanawevhu yes, but who am I? My supervisor in England always asked me, ‘Who are you . . . you and your identity . . . your culture? And I knew I didn’t know,” said Ashirai.
‘‘Second it was my mbuya . . . mum’s mother . . . mbuya Tondhlana, who kept on telling me as I was growing up — ‘Petuka kanyi Ashirai . . . uri Musikavanhu . . . petuka kanyi Ashirai. Those words stuck onto my mind deep and permanently. At first I said to myself, oh well, I am young and adventurous . . . I will go to America . . . Japan . . . everywhere I wanted. But it always dawned on me . . . If you want to go everywhere in the world, start at home . . . otherwise you get lost.” Ashirai pleasantly surprised even this reporter when he said, “We live in a global world today as excitable youngsters, fascinated by global magic and excitement, but we don’t know who we are. We need to ask ourselves, ‘What is our place in the world? 21st century Zimbabwean students and scholars need to find a correct answer to that question.”
It was such a shocking delight for this reporter to learn that a young man from Zimbabwe had and was refusing to disappear in the streets and neon lights of London . . . refusing to vanish into thin air by choice. He was and is determined to be a freedom fighter for cultural liberation . . . a psychopathologist undertaking an architectural post-mortem of who we are and how we can restore or regain our cultural dignity and integrity as black Zimbabweans.
Ashirai’s final touches of a long study of Vernacular Architecture in distant England focuses on the architecture of the traditional Zimbabwean homestead . . . its beautiful plan and arrangement . . . the power structure design with baba namai at the head of the home. Then everybody else deployed in a circular formation in a very pluralistic way . . . no restrictions, no corridors. The homestead has (must have) space to do everything . . . Agriculture, the dare . . . the family ‘‘parliament house’’ . . . then the prototype kitchen. “This was a fascinating space,’ said the young architect. “There was chikuwa . . . beautiful ritualistic space for women who were the custodians of the ancestors. They talked to Mwari (God) here and it was a life-giving space. In the centre of the homestead was a cattle kraal. Mombe’s (cattle) were our ancestors’ currency. They had to be guarded jealously and securely. May be in today’s day we need to redefine a new traditional currency . . . in which I case I would suggest water,” said Ashirai.
His partying words on Diamond FM radio could not have been more touching and profound, “I’m thankful and humbled by everyone who helped to make me who I am now and today. One more year and I am back in Zimbabwe to do what I must do for my country and my people. I am my community . . . and my community is me.”
The Manica Post wishes Ashirai success in everything that he does in his life and may Zimbabwe be thankful, in advance, for the wealth of knowledge and experience he promised for the country as he champions Zimbabwean cultural liberation through vernacular architecture. If Zimbabwe had a few more Ashirais . . . only a few more, we could be assured of a victorious restoration of everything colonialism killed. For now, it is a mental crusade. It is a battle of the mind. Young Zimbabwean scholars like young Musikavanhu need to keep the discussion going . . . keep the candle burning . . . keep the fire burning!
During his short research stay in Zimbabwe, Ashirai visited Great Zimbabwe in Masvingo, Victoria Falls, Hwange where he met Tonga people, Mutare, Chipinge , including parts of Chikore. At ‘A’ level the young man studied Government and Politics, Law, Classical Civilisations (English Language and Literature) and was destined to become a lawyer. His anxiety and curiosity to discover who he is and certainly his intellectual tenacity or stubbornness found him pursuing Vernacular Architecture. Well done Ashi!