Ignatius Zvaravashe, who died in 2019, was a Jesuit priest and a writer. He was born in Gutu, Zimbabwe, in 1943 and was a keen observer of traditional customs and use of language. He has recently been ‘discovered’ in the sense that his thought, expressed in his writings and in the memory of those who knew him, is being studied and appreciated. A seminar on his work was held at Arrupe Jesuit University in Harare this week.

One of the speakers, Dr Ignatius Mabasa of the University of Zimbabwe, set the theme of the seminar by speaking of Zvaravashe’s life as lived between two walls: one was the Christianity which he learnt in his early years and which became so much part of him that he became a Jesuit and a priest. The other was his deep roots in the tradition of the ancestors which was so much part of him that he saw all his experiences in the light of that tradition. Walls are solid things and that, no doubt, was why Mabasa chose them as symbols of the two worlds between which Zvaravashe found himself.  He was driven by a desire to punch holes in those walls for he passionately believed both Christianity and tradition were not opposed to each other but both drew their power from a common source: the story of humanity.

This drive was agitated, and irritated, by the seemingly common perception that once a person becomes a priest, he would put all his traditional upbringing behind him and embrace a new doctrine, ‘purified’ of all ‘pagan’ beliefs. Zvaravashe fought this idea vigorously and suffered much to draw out the deeper unity that underlies all human searching for meaning. He was misunderstood by many and perhaps especially his own Jesuit companions who were scared off by what they saw as his wild language. He was not invited to teach at the Jesuit colleges that trained younger Jesuits and even his period with the novices, as an assistant to the director, came to an abrupt end.

Where he was accepted, and with enthusiasm, was in his writings. His novels became set books in Zimbabwean schools. Mabasa described Shona culture as ‘awash with words’ and gave as a simple example people being dissatisfied with saying just ‘Thank you,’ when receiving a gift. They would wish to express their appreciation in many words, including poems and songs of praise. Echoes of the psalms. Other speakers at the seminar, Fr Dominic Tomuseni, Dr Aaron C. Moyo and poet Chirikure Chirikure, developed different themes from their personal knowledge of Zvaravashe and from their close study of his writings. The dean of AJU, Fr Evaristus Ekwueme, closed the seminar by announcing it is just the beginning. We will hear more of Zvarevashe.

Post published in: Faith

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