Pass the Brainwash Please, On Second Thought
Quietly, unobtrusively and extremely fitfully, something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things, and to refuse to be brainwashed The main character, Tambudzai, in the novel Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, is determined to get a white education without losing her native tongue and ways. However this proves to be more difficult that she would expect and seeds that are planted in her mind by the whites begin to take shape, and greatly affect her existence. I will begin by giving an overview of the story leading up to the point where Tambu heads off to begin her education at the missionary school. Next I show how Tambu has already been brainwashed into believing that the whites educational system is better than her own. Following I will discuss the influences that Tambu had to overcome in order to refuse to be brainwashed further. Finally I will give exam to the insight that Tambus story offers on the situation of a person in her position.
Tambu, as we shall call her, wants very badly to attain an education. Since her brother is the oldest and male he is given the first opportunity to attain an education. Because Tambu is a female it is thought by her family that attaining an education would not benefit her family, but some other man outside of her family, because she will marry, therefore she is not given an opportunity to be educated. Tambu fights this oppression by cultivating mealies in her grandmothers old garden, and then taking them to the city to be sold. While there she is told by a white woman that she should be in school, and her teacher who was with her states that Tambu would very much like an education but can not afford it. The woman gives Tambu ten pounds which pays for her education at the local village school for a long time. Her brother then dies, creating a opening for a student from their family at the missionary school where her uncle Babamukuru is the headmaster. Since she has no more male siblings at the time it is okay for Tambu to be educated. Tambus education is now of some value since her brother is gone, as it will help pull the family further out of poverty since a higher education will allow her to marry well. Tambu believes that her education will help her family, although she hopes it will be independent from marriage.
Because of her desire to help her family and to escape poverty Tambu does not stop to question in the beginning whether she has been brainwashed. It is not until later in the novel that Tambu realizes that she had been brainwashed to believe that the white educational system was better than her villages black education system, and that the white ways are better than her villages ways. This is reflected in her uncle Babamukuru, who is looked upon as a being of higher status by those in African culture because he is educated, but his education taught him white ideas, therefore his transformation from African to white caused other blacks to view him as being higher up then they are. Tambu wants badly to help her family escape poverty, but does not realize that they only way to do that is to follow the whites ideas outlined for her throughout her education. She wants to be able to avoid conforming to the cultural ideas held by the whites, all the while using their education to get ahead. However the avoidance of brainwashing is not as simple as she thinks.
Tambu decided that she did not want to be brainwashed like her brother. Tambu first noticed the effect that brainwashing had on her brother Nhamo when he returned on school vacation to their homestead. She disapproved of her brother because he renounced the family life, as he had been brainwashed to believe that since there standard of living did not meet the expectations of a white standard of living then their standard of living must be bad. Nhamo shows increasing contempt for manual labor. He also shows a new inherent dislike towards and disrespect of the women in his family. Each time Nhamo came home he knew less Shona, their native tongue. Tambu was determined that when she went away to the missionary school she would not fall into the same trap as her brother. She refused to be brainwashed into believing that her families ways of life, and their language were wrong. Tambu was not going to allow all the riches that her uncle had to go to her head. Some strategy had to be devised to prevent all this splendor from distracting me in the way what by brother had been distracted (69).
Tambu does not realize that the education she would receive at the mission school would come with a non-monetary price. When Tambu is reflecting back on her time at the mission she realizes that she was already brainwashed into believing that white ideas and education were better even before she got there. She subconsciously wanted to attain this status of white education because she saw the way that her uncle was treated by those in her family. Her uncle Babakuru was treated as an individual of higher status due to his education. However it follows that his education taught him how to transcend being black, and that being white, and having white customs is better. All these idea are subconsciously seen by Tambu. Her uncles education brings us to the missionaries who are viewed as mini-deities. At first she does not see the whites as trying to change her over to their ways but instead as nice people who are providing her with incredible opportunity. In the beginning Tambu views the missionaries as being right and craves the knowledge that they have to give her. She heads with big aspirations towards the missionary school thankful that they have provided her with the opportunity to learn right, which just happen to be white, ideas. What she does not see directly is the effect that a white, English education will have on her. She has been brainwashed because she believes that a white English education is better than the education she would received within her hometown culture.
Tambu has to battle several influences in order to refuse to be brainwashed. First and foremost she had to overcome her own thought process that a white education was better than the education she received at home because it was white. Originally Tambus pursuit of this white, English based education causes her to be cut off from her parents who maintain the traditional cultures and values. The very education that allows her to survive in this magical new world of education which was created by colonialism is the same thing that cuts her off from her heritage. Second she must overcome the influence that her uncles ideas have over her. Tambu must realize that her uncles ideas are often white and were assimilated into him while he was attaining his white education. For example her uncle Babamukuru comes up with the idea that Tambus parents must get married, which is a white tradition, to clear their family of the sins that are causing the families hardships. The idea that sex outside of marriage is a sin was brought about by the whites. The Africans believed in sex before marriage as a way to insure the fertility of the woman before marrying her. However Tambu must also take guard that she is not brainwashed by her own culture into believing that women are less valuable than men. This idea is procreated in her household when her father pulls her out of school, and in her uncle Babamukurus household when she finds out that her uncles wife has a masters degree but does not work outside the home because Babamukuru wants her to be a traditional wife. However Tambu sees that being stuck between two cultures has very little reward, as her cousin Nyasha is stuck between being English and African and is very miserable because she does not fit in anywhere. It is possible that Tambu could have offered Nyasha some useful advice on the situation of a person torn between their original culture, and a new way of thought.
First Tambu might suggest that Nyasha take a step back and try to look at the big picture. Looking at the big picture will help to gain perspective on what is really important. In Nyashas case is asserting her independence more important than pleasing her father? Second, always ask why, make sure to question everything. This is what Nyasha should have done when going to England while her parents attained their masters degrees. Tambus ability to question everything about her own culture, and about the whites culture was the only thing that kept her from being sucked into the whites culture of opulence and luxury, and losing her culture, although it was considered dirty. Tambu would tell Nyasha to make sure to question peoples motives, even if what they are doing just seems like a nice gesture, like providing a person with an education. That education can end up convincing you that some things are good, such as white culture, and that some things are bad, such as African culture. However it can work both ways. Nyasha had to face being told that her culture was bad while in England so she conformed to the English culture; however Nyashas father is now telling her that all her English ways are bad, both parties sought to educate Nyasha, and she did not bother to ask why. Finally I believe that Tambu would want people to know that ones will to succeed can cause them to be able to triumph over circumstance.
In this paper the quote from Nervous Conditions, Quietly, unobtrusively and extremely fitfully, something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things, and to refuse to be brainwashed, bringing me to this time when I can set down this story has been analyzed to show how Tambudzai thought she was brainwashed. Also examined were the influences that Tambudzai had to overcome in order to refuse further brainwash. Finally we deducted what insight Tambudzai would offer to a person who was in her similar situation. Like Nyasha and Tambudzai, millions were negatively affected by colonialism not only because of the plundering, but because of the loss of their culture.