Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why Chamakanda?

Some folks have asked, “Why Chamakanda?” "What is that name, where does it come from?" So I’ll tell you the story.

A long time back I listened to a cd by Ephat Mujuru, the late Zimbabwean musician. It included the story of Chamakanda and was accompanied by Ephat on mbira. 

The story of Chamakanda touched me somehow, and I learned it to be able to tell the children in my kindergarten. Several years later in the summer, a band named Mawungira Enharira, some new friends from Zimbabwe, were touring the US, and we were hanging out after one of their shows in Ashland, Oregon. I asked if any of them would tell a story from back home, and they claimed not to know any. So I said, “You must know the story of Chamakanda? It’s from Zimbabwe.” They said they didn’t know the story, and cajoled me to tell it to them. Sheepishly I did, and from then on I have been known as Chamakanda in certain circles.

Click on this link to download my version of the story for free. (It is also available on my cd Chamakanda Tells Stories.) The music is by Mbira dzeMuninga.  Chamakanda the story

And by the way,  my ears are not exceptionally “big, big like a donkey’s ears” as they are for Chamakanda in the story.

I think of folk tales, or ‘fairy tales,’ as a portrayal of the variety af aspects in all of us. Each of us contains all of the characters within us, a la Karl Jung. I have thought about this story a lot, and while dissecting a story seems harsh, here are some themes I have come to about Chamakanda, a humorous story from the Shona people of Zimbabwe. 

Chamakanda is a man who is a friend to the children. He lives alone and spends his days singing and dancing and playing with children.

One of the children is curious because Chamakanda never takes off his hat. He wonders what Chamakanda is hiding. Chamakanda eventually agrees to show the boy but sternly tells him, “You must never tell anyone what is under my hat.”

The boy is a Simpleton-like character, innocent but simple. Not intentionally, the boy does not keep his promise and the secret of what is under Chamakanda’s hat is revealed until eventually everyone knows.

Chamakanda does not want others to know that his ears are “ big, big like a donkey’s ears.” He cannot accept himself as he is and wants to keep aspects of himself hidden. He will not let himself be vulnerable and let others see his true self out of a fear of how they will respond. 

When the community around him learns of his formerly hidden aspect, he decides he must move on to a new community where he can start again without the new community having knowledge of his big ears. Until Chamakanda can accept himself, his whole self, he will continue to wander the world. No community can truly accept him until he accepts himself. To evolve he must accept himself and be vulnerable. Only then will he be an adult, able to relate to the children as well as adults.

Sounds like the story for all of us, just right for this modern time!

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