Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fascinated by the Complicated: Groupings

Understanding cultural differences between different groups in our country is one of the hardest things Kurt and I have found about transitioning to Africa. That's because although the Shona live intertwined in the lives of the white colonials around them, it is clear that some of their unspoken cultural understandings greatly differ, both from each other and, in turn, from us strange Americans. Throw in another tribe, the Ndebele, in the southernmost part of the country, and you have quite a beautifully complex patchwork.  Race and culture are hard topics in a place with such a background, and though it would have been helpful for you to have this info earlier in the blog, my perceptions have changed greatly as we have come to know our country.
Our capital city is what I’ll talk about because it is what I have been exposed to the most:  There are three main groups of people. White nationals, Shona, and foreigners. Here are some tidbits about each group. (Please keep in mind that whenever generalizing, some people will not fit into descriptions...)

-Foreigners seem predominantly from China or the British Empire, with a small population of the Americas and other African nations represented in the minority.) The leaders maintain strong and strange relationships with China, a country that has a great deal of economic influence and active investment here.  Even the military college here has been built by the Chinese, and not by the country itself.  Because of this, there are many Chinese immigrants working in the city and a good deal of Asian groceries and restaurants can be found.  Supposedly Chinese imports do not get taxed here; hence a large percentage of our products are Chinese in origin.

-“The locals,” as they are called so often that even my three year old refers to them this way, refers to white colonials whose ancestors moved to the country, in most cases, generations ago.  These colonial ties come from either British or Dutch (Afrikaaner) origins.  For a number of reasons, many of the whites that used to work or farm in the country have moved.  The top five places they have gone: Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Zambia (if they have wanted to continue farming).  Because so many locals have family and friends living abroad (some trying to wait out current situations), the ties of our country with the countries listed above are great. These connections are reflected in flight availability, imports, sports, fashion, and cuisine. This population is small in size comparatively speaking, but owns most of the country’s businesses and is by far in the upper tiers of the economic bracket. They have almost no political representation. When asked, most locals will tell you they stay here for the luxuries: raising children with swimming pools, housekeepers, gardeners, large square footage, boarding schools, and little debt.  It is extremely common for this population to fly to other countries on large yearly or monthly sprees for goods like clothing, electronics, housewares, and other luxury items hard to resource in the country.

-The Shona people have a beautiful language of which I am slowly learning pieces.  (In the meantime, our English is evolving into a strange muddled mess and my child comes home each day with more of a bend toward a local British colonial dialect interspersed with Shona words.)  The Shona people make up the largest population in the country, and strangely hold both the most political power but also make up the most povertous piece of the population. The most extremely wealthy citizens of the country (sort of like the 1% in America) are Shona. The poorest people in the country are also Shona. The population outside of our capital city is made up almost entirely of Shona peoples.  The extended family is important for this group of people.  A “sister” or a “brother” or any other family term used does not necessarily indicate a blood relation in the same way it is implied in English.  Because of often difficult living situations, family is family by choice here.  This population also has the highest AIDS and HIV rates of any in the country.
Okay.  So those are the Cliff’s Notes.  You have my permission to stop reading.

But if you want a teeny bit more background about the indigenous people here, here is some more information, mostly obtained from a Spectrum Guide of our country:

Intense and carefree, cosmopolitan and parochial, the vast majority of our country’s people stem from the great family of Bantu-speaking migrants who first ventured east and south across Africa some 2,000 years ago.

Iron makers and agriculturists, they settled on the Highveld, Middleveld, and Eastern Highlands and began the long process of establishing the distinctive Shona culture that is so much a part of the country today.  Their Bantu kin- the Zulu warriors of King Mzilikazi –did not arrive until the first half of the nineteenth century. They form the Ndebele, our country’s largest minority.  Despite their late arrival, there are many cultural similarities between the two Bantu-speaking communities, which together form an overwhelming majority.