In Imagining a Nation, Ruramisai Charumbira analyzes competing narratives of the founding of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe constructed by political and cultural nationalists both black and white since occupation in 1890. The book uses a wide array of sources—including archives, oral histories, and a national monument—to explore the birth of the racialized national memories and parallel identities that were in vigorous contention as memory sought to present itself as history. In contrast with current global politics plagued by divisions of outsider and insider, patriot and traitor, Charumbira invites the reader into the liminal spaces of the region’s history and questions the centrality of the nation-state in understanding African or postcolonial history today.
Using an interdisciplinary methodology, Charumbira offers a series of case studies, bringing in characters from far-flung places to show that history and memory in and of one small place can have a far-reaching impact in the wider world. The questions raised by these stories go beyond the history of colonized or colonizer in one former colony to illuminate contemporary vexations about what it means to be a citizen, patriot, or member of a nation in an ever-globalizing world. Rather than a history of how the rulers of Rhodesia or Zimbabwe marshaled state power to force citizens to accept a single definition of national memory and identity, Imagining a Nation shows how ordinary people invested in the soft power of individual, social, and collective memories to create and perpetuate exclusionary national myths.
Reconsiderations in Southern African History
Written in a lively, exuberant style, this book is an important contribution to the development of gendered Zimbabwean historiography and makes an important bridge from more conventional Zimbabwean historiography to the international theoretical developments in the field of memory studies.
This remarkable book achieves the difficult goal of being both a rigorous piece of scholarship and a moving testimony about the experience of decolonization. From an analysis of the reconstruction of a national imaginary, it shows the ‘uses and abuses of history,’ while focusing on the art of strategic distortions and omissions, with the usual victims: the women and other expendable heroes.
Imagining A Nation is a very important scholarly work that makes a significant contribution to the historiography of Southern Africa and to post-colonial/cultural studies. Professor Charumbira’s study ‘integrates’ Zimbabwean history exploring European and African cultural representations of the colonial/post colonial encounter. Her discussion of the very similar ways that Cecil Rhodes and Nehanda/Charwa are represented as ‘founding ancestors’ within their respective communities is particularly impressive.
Ruramisai Charumbira is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.