Cultural Catholic

09 Apr


I was raised in a very conservative Roman Catholic and African family. Catholicism has been a significant part of my family’s culture alongside my indigenous Shona culture. My family’s culture lies somewhere on the intersection of Shona culture and Catholicism. The Shona, like most Africans are very spiritual people. This I believe is the reason that even in the present day many of us have taken to religion and adopted Christianity in particular with such aplomb. Being naturally spiritual people we need to feed our souls. And Christianity has been the table we have chosen to sit at and feed our souls from. It is all most of us know when it comes to spirituality. Our colonisers made sure of that.

Our forefathers after being made to feel inferior were coerced into abandoning their own spirituality. Focusing on bad spirits and witchcraft they were told that their own traditional African religions were evil. They ignored the presence of good spirits that the Shona believed inspired individual talents associated with healing, music, or artistic ability. Christianity was all good and the practice of traditional religions was evil. Those were the only two options they were presented with in the newly introduced formal education system which was closely linked to the new Christian religion. The more people converted to Christianity often in pursuit of a formal education the more they neglected their own traditional religions.

My late great grandfather was one of the early African converts to Christianity from his clan. He eagerly took to Christianity playing a big role in building the first Catholic Church in our rural village. In honour of his role in building that church it has since been named after him and is known as St Edmund’s Parish. This church also happens to be one of the oldest Catholic churches in Zimbabwe. My great grandfather’s conversion to Christianity marked the first significant shift in our family culture into what is today, a fusion of both Catholicism and elements of traditional Shona culture such as Hunhu. It is under the influence of that hybrid culture that I was raised. Although if I am being entirely honest Catholicism played a much bigger part in my upbringing to the extent that until only recently I not in tune with most elements of my Shona culture.

As a child all the way into my early teens I was an Altar boy. Every Sunday I helped the Priest to serve Mass. For my high school I attended an all boys Catholic boarding school. Catholicism was further indoctrinated into me and all the while no conscious efforts were made by myself or anyone else to educate or enlighten me on Shona culture. When it came to my Shona heritage I was an ignoramus. By the time I left for university and began the quest to define myself for myself the influence of the Catholic Church on my individual culture fizzled. For a period of five years in my twenties I did not see the inside of a catholic church or any church for that matter. Like with anything that you inherit or grow up when you gain some independence you start question its role and influence in your life. And when I asked myself those questions I struggled to accept or agree with the doctrines I was supposed to follow.

During that period you would think that I would have made a greater effort to reconnect and educate myself on my Shona culture and try to see if it was more in line with the individual culture I was subconsciously building, but I didn’t. Instead I took to assimilating many other different cultures. It was the period in which my inner culture vulture was born. In fairness though for the majority of my twenties I was living an environment that I wasn’t exposed to Shona culture or even Catholicism. So it might be understandable that either’s influence faded quickly. Still, I considered myself a cultural Catholic if not a practising one. I understood and was familiar with catholic dogma and routine even though it didn’t influence my life as much. It was however a big part of my childhood and provided some cultural conectivedness with my family.

Catholicism for better or worse is ingrained in my culture. I can’t say the same for my own Shona culture. Unfortunately I was never indoctrinated in the ways of the Shona as much as I was the ways of the Roman Catholics. And that is what this part of my life is about. To indoctrinate myself in the ways of my ancestors so that I can also proudly call myself ‘Mwana wevhu” ,a son of the soil. The whole idea of being a son of the soil is something I will explore in my next post, in which I will look at how the land is so deeply associated with Shona spirituality. At the end of the day I am trying to decolonise my own individual culture and be true to the culture vulture in me. In the same way I don’t agree with all aspects of Catholic doctrine I am sure I might not agree with all aspects of Shona Culture. What I want to have though is a better understanding of it. In that way I will be able to incorporate it more consciously into my own life.

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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Culture Vulture


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