11 March 2011

Who's Your Father?

The young Shona man approached his European employer and asked for time off to visit his musha* for the funeral of his father. His employer felt sympathy for his faithful worker in his time of sorrow and granted his request.

A few months later the same young man again approached his employer and once again requested time off for the funeral of his father. This time his employer began to berate him. "What kind of fool do you think I am? You just buried your father a few months ago. Don't make up lies just to get a holiday. Be off with you! You no longer work here."

This unfortunate termination of a loyal worker was the result of differing understandings of the answer to the question "Who's your father?" on the part of members of the Shona community and Europeans.

For the European, one's father is his immediate male progenitor. One only has one father (although allowance is made for step-fathers). In Shona culture, one may have many fathers. The Shona word for father, baba**, refers not only to one's immediate male progenitor, it also includes all of that person's male siblings.

A person's father's brother is called baba. If he is an older brother of his father, he is baba mukuru. If he is a younger brother, he is baba munini.

So, the answer to the question "Who's your father?" depends upon the language you're using or the culture within which you are operating. If you try to operate with word for word translations, you can end up with misunderstandings, broken relationships and conflict.

*musha -- homestead

**Baba is pronounced with implosive "b"s as opposed to the explosive "b" used in English. Hold a piece of light paper in front of your mouth and say "b." If the paper moves, you have used an explosive "b." The puff of air exploding from your mouth moves the paper. The implosive "b" will not move the paper since any movement of air flows gently into the mouth rather than exploding outward. Shona has explosive "b"s as well as implosive. The explosive "b" is written as "bh."

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