Remembering Kutyauripo, the custodian of cultural values

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Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore
One of the greatest finds in the Shona tradition, Crymio Kutyauripo, who died on Tuesday May 19, 2020 at Beitbridge District Hospital aged 41 after a short illness, was not only proficient in the Shona language, but a custodian of cultural values and mores.

His first novel, “Museve Usingapotse” (2014) was selected as a ZIMSEC O-Level Shona set-book in 2015.

Kutyauripo’s contemporaries in the old war novel, which was his forte, are Elias Machemedze, Oscar Gwiriri and Tinashe Muchuri, among others.

The wordsmith has written two other books “Chinyaride” (2018) and “Nhaka Yeropa” (2016), which go beyond “Museve Usingapotse”, both in setting and storyline to purvey the ignominy of avarice, deceit, hypocrisy and individualism at the core of modern society.

When I heard about his death through writer and poet, Tinashe Muchuri, I was pained. It hurt me so much that I wept. Crymio was more than a writer to me: he was a dear friend and confidante.

Not that I had known him too long to pretend to know more about him, no! But you see, he was that kind of man, you would meet for the first time, and he strikes an inert chord in you that makes you wonder if you had not met before.

There was something about him that was hard to define: he was a humble, reliable, honest and selfless man. He was a good man, I should say, and am mindful of not being everyone’s spokesperson. But a good man is defined through individual interaction, which in a way sums up to the collective.

Well, I was introduced to Kutyauripo by another respectable man in academia and literary spheres, Memory Chirere, in his office at the University of Zimbabwe in 2014. In literary circles one is introduced to writers through their works, and not always physically.

That is what happened with my first contact with the prolific writer who had just published his debut book, “Museve Usingapotse”.

It was Chirere who gave me the book for review. Rarely do débutantes make such an impact that Kutyauripo has had At the Bookstore.

Told in the third person narrative technique, the book combines the macabre, sombre, gloomy and sordid with the glee, rapturous, tantalising and ennobling in such an adept way that leaves the reader aghast.

His narrative skill, cultural depth, an infinite source of indigenous words, proverbs and idioms; descriptive prowess and attention to detail consumes the reader into the world of yore with such abandon that one might not want to be jogged into the present one of woes.

As a wordman, the artist uses powerful and original language which befits the setting that he uses; pre-colonial Zimbabwe.

His subduing of the movement of the plot through fracturing it into different episodes which interact and merge into one discourse, creation of suspense sustained through the use of symbolical elements obtaining in the setting preferred, and powerful descriptive language, makes the reading of the story not only captivating, but didactic.

Aptly playing his role as a custodian of the cultural mores and values of his people, Kutyauripo highlights the essence of culture in moulding the individual, and how African religion can be used in his/her redemption. He explores the rich African cultural landscape, untainted by foreign influence to demystify the cultural bankruptcy brought by colonialism.

His world is a true African one whose hope is only manifest in its own sensibilities.

The writer examines how African religion through the invocation of ancestral spirits has always been used to bring communion among the living and the dead.

Traditional ceremonies like the burial of a chief, the rain-maker’s rituals as well as rites to bring the spirit of the dead to the fold play an integral part in establishing this fruitful communion.

He reminds me so much of great luminaries in the Shona novel tradition that would engage my young mind when reading was still in vogue, and writers were worshipped. The likes of Giles Kuimba, Ignatius Zvarevashe, Patrick Chakaipa, A. C Hodza, Moderkai A. Hamutyinei, Emmanuel Ribeiro, Washington Chaparadza, Paul Chidyausiku, Charles Mungoshi, Samuel Chimusoro, Aaron Chiundura Moyo, Vitalis Nyawaranda and T.K Tsodzo, among others.

I would later call him for an interview in which he revealed more about his dream to preserve the cultural traditions of his people, his desire to leave a mark on the over trodden, yet resilient literary landscape, and the future of the Shona novel in Zimbabwe.

He intimated in 2015: “I grew up in the rural areas and my late father was a great storyteller and traditionalist. As a spirit medium he was always consulted pertaining to any traditional rites that the ancestors wanted carried out.

“He was revered as he could foretell future events. He was my primary source of information into the way our people lived before the advent of colonialism, although I did some other researches on my own through books and other community elders.”

The writer’s road to recognition was not a smooth one though, as he had to skirt around obstacles thrown his way:

“Breaking into mainline publishing in Zimbabwe is not a stroll in the park for upcoming writers”, he continued.

After completing “Museve Usingapotse” in 2011, I embarked on the bumpy road to the press. Armed with the encouragement I got from Aaron Chiundura-Moyo, who edited the book, I approached Mambo Press, and thereon despondency set in. They rejected the book.

“I was downhearted, but I was not defeated, for I had so much faith in my book. I gave the book to Mr Nathan Chikoka, a lecturer at Mutare Teachers’ College. He indicated to me that I was filling a void in the Shona tradition that could not be ignored. He thus recommended the manuscript to College Press, and they accepted it and published it in 2014. I owe a lot to him.”

On the remuneration that comes with publishing with a major publishing house, especially when a writer’s efforts are recognised by selectors of academic books, the beaming author said: “Getting published, and given a platform to impart my ideas in the pursuant of the cultural norms and values that inform us as a people, is enough for me. The honour of having my book selected for study in our schools is as satiating as it is ennobling. I haven’t got a dime yet from my publishers but I am happy.”

At one point I called his publishers when he expressed displeasure about the way they were treating him. It was on a Friday, and they promised to sort out the royalties issue with him by the following Tuesday; and they did.

In 2016, Kutyauripo called me, asking for directions to my place in New Marlborough. He was in town, and had decided to pay me a visit. That was the first time I met him in person.

What a wonderful surprise it was!

Like I said earlier on, he was that kind of person who impresses you as having been holding a part of you for a long time: a childhood friend.

We talked like old friends from the afternoon of his arrival to the early hours of the following day.

I discovered that he was passionate about his work which he wanted translated into English to reach out to a wider audience.

There was a kind of urgency in the way he wanted it done, so I agreed to translate one of his books “Nhaka Yeropa” which was yet to be published. He initially wanted to publish it under the title “Mwoyoweshumba”.

The book was published some time towards the end of 2016, and in 2017 I started the translation journey which am almost done with. There will be no greater honour than to translate, not only “Nhaka Yeropa”, but his other two titles as well.

On April 7, 2017, I took my first and only trip to South Africa. And the person who accompanied me across the border post on April 8, was Kutyauripo. He was waiting for me in Beitbridge when I arrived around 4am, and he drove me to his place, where I met his wife Veronica and their four lovely children, before we proceeded across the Limpopo on my maiden voyage across the bridge.

He showed me around the vast expanses of pre-owned vehicles, the malls and all, as I did my shopping. I would later visit him in Beitbridge on three other occasions. He was building a big house for his family, which he urgently wanted to complete. Am not sure if he fulfilled that dream. It’s been over two years now since I last visited the site.

David Mungoshi had this to say of Kutyauripo in 2015: “He is a powerful Shona storyteller and writer with a great sense of reality. He is likely to be an important writer in the not too distant future. I have been translating a manuscript of his into English, and it is a dramatic story.”

On Kutyauripo’s passing, Memory Chirere, who is the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Association (ZIBF) executive chairperson, said: “It is sad that Kutyauripo has died in his prime. He was a rare breed of a writer, alongside Elias Machemedze, Oscar Gwiriri, Tinashe Muchuri and others.

“He was leading a noticeable revival of what is often called the old war novel. If you read through his “Museve Usingapotse”, for example, you see an author who researched deeply on our enduring African culture and traditions. He was generous and humble as seen through his contributions at Zimbabwe Writers Association meetings, and the ZIBF writers’ workshops. Being faraway from Harare never deterred him.”

Muchuri of “Chibarabada” fame said Kutyauripo was a great storyteller who was passionate about taking his stories to the world.

He said: “We have lost a new voice. Ndipo pafira Sarungano. He was like a brother to me. He always complained about book piracy. He was bitter about it. He left us stories to nourish our minds. He will always be with us through his work. Let us celebrate his passion, hard work and determination to tell our own stories and empower the world.”

His other contemporaries, Gwiriri author of “Hatiponi” and Machemedze, who wrote “Saraoga” and “Nherera Zvirange” (2015), expressed shock at Kutyauripo’s untimely death.

“The death of a writer is the demise of knowledge: it is the death of impartation of knowledge from one generation to another. However, for a published writer like Kutyauripo, death is not the end, as his name lives in his works forever.

“It pains to lose someone so passionate about the preservation of our culture and traditions, as embodied in the Shona language. We have lost one of us as writers,” Gwiriri said.

“Zimbabwe has lost a great writer and researcher in the mould of luminaries like Patrick Chakaipa”, Machemedze said.

“Kutyauripo contributed a lot to the education and arts sectors. He was a humble and prolific writer”, he added.

Indeed, Kutyauripo remains a shoulder above the rest in the new generation of Zimbabwean writers, as he established himself as a true custodian of the cultural mores and values of his people.

Go well great storyteller of our time!

HERALD

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