Harvest of Thorns Classic: Cultural decay?
BENJAMIN surprises his mother Shamiso. He acts strangely at times such that his mother does not understand him. We saw him going out as soon as he arrived back home from the war. He goes out for a beer drink with his crippled younger brother Peter to the disgust of his mother. Though Benjamin denies the responsibility of getting Peter drunk, it is quite clear that he was strictly to blame because he took him there.
He comes back from the war having lost cultural values. Benjamin shows little respect of his mother. Was the war responsible for this kind of behaviour? Traditionally children are not supposed to answer back their parents. When Shamiso, Benjamin’s mother accuses him with a fierce growl of making Peter drunk, Benjamin defiantly puffs smoke in her direction. Her mother emphatically tells him not to smoke in her house.
Benjamin knows very well that as a Christian, his mother is intolerant to beer drinking and smoking. When his mother asks how Peter got into that drunken stupor, Benjamin pretends not to know stating that he is surprised as his mother. But, it is clear he knows exactly how Peter got drunk. He lies telling his mother that Peter was drinking coke with Mabeza’s young brother. Benjamin disrespects his mother calling her, “Mai Tichafa.” Such an address shocks his mother.
All this is against tradition. It shows cultural decay. Are ex-combatants responsible for cultural decadency as displayed by Benjamin? Shamiso is devastated by Benjamin’s untoward behaviour and she appeals to her daughter-in-law, Nkazana, to listen to Benjamin calling his mother, Mai Nhingirikiri, Nhingirikiri. Shamiso responds to what Benjamin is saying it is all lies. That is all she has heard from him since he came back from wherever he was.
“I cannot understand your movements, Benjamin. You’ve been here two weeks now but you just come and go as if this were . . . some . . . kind of waiting room yepa train station. I haven’t had a single decent conversation with you. You never say anything.” This is proof enough that there is tension between mother and son. If there has never been decent conversation between the two and Benjamin does not say anything, therefore there is silence which is pregnant with tension.
Remember we have already got the impression from Benjamin that his mother was against him going for war. We are still to prove the truth of this. Benjamin is rude to his mother asking her, “Do I always have to tell you where I’m going? I do not blame you for not wanting me back here.” All is clear that Benjamin and his mother Shamiso are not getting along well. But as mother I believe Shamiso had a right to know where her son was going and she is right to remind that at least he should have informed his wife Nkazana.
Benjamin does not hesitate to lie to his mother telling her that Nkazana knows where he was going. Nkazana denies any knowledge of his going out and coming in. Shamiso wants to keep the family united as she has done before and reminds Benjamin that people are watching them and seeing things happening. Benjamin chides his mother for appearing to live her life for other people. He tells her that neighbours are all the people she has ever cared about.
He adds: “You seem to live your life for them. But when your rickety house comes crushing down on you it’s the same neighbours who gather to gloat over the ruins. Shamiso justifiably rebukes Benjamin telling him to stop preaching to him and she asks him what right he has to say anything against anyone telling that he knew very well that she was not responsible for the collapse of the house.
Next the discussion takes a gender view. Benjamin says that a man is always blamed when a marriage collapses. Shamiso in anger asks if Benjamin was defending his father for the collapse of his family’s marriage. She asks if his father cared for him why he has not even come to see him since he came back.
Benjamin insists that his mother was responsible for the collapse of their marriage as she drove out his father. He states that his mother knew about that woman Muchaneta long before she lured his father away. He claims his mother did not put up a fight and made his father think she did not care. How can a child involve himself in the marriage feud of his parents? A responsible child does not involve himself in the parents’ disputes.
I believe Benjamin is uncultured at this juncture. Shamiso’s response to these accusations by Benjamin goes on to reveal how her family disintegrated. She asks what Benjamin wanted her to do. Fight another woman and turn herself into the scandal of the township? She asks Benjamin about himself whether he cared for anybody. “First you disappear from home and leave for Godknows where. Then your father packs up.
“Then your sister Esther runs off to Joburg with a man I’ve never seen. Now you come back full of these . . . funny self-important airs to tear apart the little I’ve tried to hold together. You, who have brought nothing but misery all my life, finding fault with me! You made Peter like this, and now you want to cripple his mind, too. That boy will be taking mbanje next, and drop out of school like you. You’ll drag him into politics, too.”
Shamiso cannot believe what Benjamin is saying to her and pours out her grief. She is decent that she could not stoop so low as to engage in a street brawl fighting another woman and make herself laughing stock of the township. She reminds Benjamin that he disappeared and his father also packed up and went to live with Muchaneta and his sister Esther eloped with a man. She married the man without the blessing of the family.
All this proves beyond any reasonable doubt the disintegration of the Tichafa family. We have managed to trace cultural decay through what Benjamin does in the play today. His behaviour is hard to comprehend and we wonder how early independent Zimbabwe could have been if all ex-combatants took this combative approach to their families.
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