Poetry in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has a rich oral tradition and, historically, poetry was the medium for expressing genuine and heartfelt sentiments of appreciation, homage and gratitude for any commendable action done by someone for someone else.
Zimbabwean poet Tendai Maduwa doesn’t offer his poetry “free of charge”, as he puts it. “I commercialise my services just like any other artist.”
By Jeffrey Moyo, Harare
“I became a poet simply because I was born as one; to me, poetry is not something that I needed to go to university to study,” says Tendai Maduwa (1989) who was born in Mutoko, a rural district in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East Province, 143 kilometres east of the capital Harare.
Maduwa gave his first performance as a poet at age seven, during a prize-giving day at his primary school. It was one of the few highlights of his childhood. “My upbringing was sour and bitter,” he admits. As an orphan, he had to leave school at one point and live on the streets.
But he remained focused thanks to “knowing what I wanted to be in life.” And eventually, he did return to school. “Simply put, I don’t believe in limitations,” he says.
Committed to the job
Maduwa does not allow his troubled past to bog him down, but rather sees it as a springboard.
“In life there are things that we should learn to understand and accept and use them for our own good, no matter how painful some of the things may be. I didn’t choose to lose my parents at a tender age, […] but from such mishaps our artistic skills produce a better tomorrow for us,” he says.
Today, Maduwa performs as a poet both at home and abroad. “I don’t go on stage before rehearsing for a performance. I sleep three hours every night, dedicating much of my time to perfecting my poetry,” he claims.
For Maduwa, poetry performance has become a commercial venture that he can’t offer “free of charge,” as he puts it. “I commercialise my services just like any other artist,” he adds.
Maduwa is however careful not to perform too much in his homeland. “With the experience of being an international performer, I have realised that in Zimbabwe local talent is not really honoured or appreciated,” Maduwa observes.
“Consequently, I have personally policed myself to stop performing at just any local festival in order to maintain my international artistic status.”
Word is power
Meanwhile, Maduwa hopes that poetry will regain more of its traditional status in Zimbabwe. “We really need to work hard and remove the belief that most of the ordinary community has of perceiving poetry as a funny game played by elders around village fireplaces,” he says.
To achieve this goal, Maduwa has the following advice for his fellow Zimbabwe poets: “Be yourself. Word is power and don’t abandon your poetic potential. You are the voice of the voiceless.”