Children and Childhood in Shona Proverbs
Keywords:children, childhood, Shona people, proverbs, Zimbabwe
Childhood is not a neatly definable concept as it differs among cultures. Among the Shona, a child and childhood are defined in terms of age, marital status, behaviour and also relations to other members in society. The Shona, like other ethnic groups, have a plethora of ways through which their worldview is fashioned and conveyed, and these include songs, folktales, riddles and proverbs, among others. In this article, Shona proverbs are analysed in terms of how they present Shona people’s perception and conceptualisation of childhood. Afrocentricity is used to analyse the content of proverbs selected from the anthologies Tsumo Chimbo neMadimikira (Zvarevashe 1984) and Tsumo-Shumo (Hamutyinei and Planger 1987). Among its findings, the article observes that Shona childhood falls into two main categories: early childhood and mid-cum-adult childhood. Children are perceived as an integral component of any Shona marriage, and society is ambivalent regarding who is more important between the boy and girl child. Also, early childhood is perceived as a very precarious and critical stage that can either make or break a child, thus warranting responsible shepherding from parents and society. Child behaviour is also believed to be largely modelled after that of parents and so it is important that parents behave responsibly so as to positively influence their children. It also emerges that it is quite common for children to disappoint their parents, but that should not lead the parents into despair. While all stages show that childhood is considered a position laden with responsibilities, which should be carried out for the good of all, the mid-cum-adult childhood stage is viewed as one where one should start moving towards or even exercise total independence and self-reliance. Overall, it emerges that the Shona people’s perception and conceptualisation of children and childhood have a lot of positives that can be drawn from for the good of today’s humanity.
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