C LIT 323
Influences of White Man’s Education
The incorporation of the White man’s education to the Shona culture of Rhodesia has added to the struggle for cultural identity for many groups. Various characters within Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel “Nervous Conditions” present an assortment of influences that the white man’s education can have on an individual. The characters of Tambu, Maiguru, Nyasha, Mainini, and Babamukuru all depict a variety of the possible mentalities individuals in Shona Culture may attain towards the imposition and incorporation of the White Man’s education.
Tambu, the novels main protagonist is a character who is the most adversely affected by the White Man’s education. Tambu strives past the gender barriers set out by the patriarchs of her family and by as society as a whole. Even though education is reserved for the eldest son of a family, Tambu remained steadfast in her fight to attain a proper education. Tambu’s mother stated to her that “when there are sacrifices to be made, you are the one who has to make them,” (16) a statement that spurred her longing to be lifted up from the oppression as a byproduct of poverty and being a woman. Tambu understood that she needed to attain a western education in order to survive in a global society and economy through seeing the affluence and power of her educated Uncle and his family. When she realized that she was unable to go to school due to economic reasons she states to her father that “I will earn the fees” “If you give me some seed, I will clear my own field and grow my own maize.” (17) From a young age Tambu grasped the fact that to succeed in life you must attain and put to use a proper white man’s education. Tambu sees the oppression that her parents face as a result of their lack of education and wants to break the continuous cycle of poverty that her immediate family faces. The white man’s education is seen by Tambu as the only possible hope for uplifting her family and out of a life of poverty as well as a mode to free herself of the cycle of female oppression in Shona culture.
When Tambu finds out that she is leaving the mission and attending school at the elite European school, she expresses her elation and ability to escape the poverty left at home in Nyamarira. She states “I was to take another step upwards in the direction of my freedom. Another step away from the flies, the smells, the fields and the rags; from the stomachs which were seldom full. From dirt and disease, from my father’s abject obeisance to Babamukuru and my mother’s chronic Lethargy.” (183) To Tambu, education is important for the sake that it allows her escapism from her past. Her education of western thought is important but is secondary to her ability to attain the same status as that of the white man. Tambu does not want to be trapped within the confines of her gender and the cultural limitations of what she can do as a woman within Shona culture. To Tambu, the white man’s education will allow her to escape the oppression of cultural impositions on females as she can attain the same status as men with her white man’s education.
The incorporation of the white man’s education has the ability however to provide conflict to Tambu’s life as she will be forced to make a choice as to which culture she will adopt. Tambu, being a headstrong young woman, feels that identity is not dictated by your adoption of western education and she remains steadfast and adamant in her mentality that she will never loose her Shona culture at the hands of the white man’s education. Her family fears that she will not hold true to her Shona culture and thus Tambu states “Don’t forget, don’t forget, don’t forget. Nyasha, my mother, my friends. Always the same message. But why? If I forgot them, my cousin, my mother my friends, I might as well forget myself” (188) in response to their constant questioning. This statement will more