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01 November 2010

Of Elusive Shona Words: Kudada

Is your use of Shona vocabulary myopic?
Then take the following free advice!
I have grown to hate that word: Kudada. I used to understand it way back when it used to mean what it’s supposed to mean: arrogant, pompous, proudcontemptuous, bigheaded...etc. But somehow, the uses of the word seem to have glided to mean some other things too: things like forgetful, rich, misunderstood, shy…etc.

Shona (my mother tongue. Also my father’s tongue) is a beautifully diverse language. Nothing is quite as beautiful as hearing someone skillfully bring rich words together to form a well expressed statement. Leonard Zhakata used to do that. Most people these days don’t. They have lost the art of the language; they just compromise it.

I won’t delve into the details of how the language has been compromised (that would need a website the size of Wikipedia and a pride of professionals manning it). I’ll just focus on one word: Kudada (also known as kuvhaira in other parts of the country).


I grew up with the word: thanks to my being myopic (literally). Before I started wearing glasses, the whole word was one huge colorful blur. People didn’t have faces: I’d try to distinguish them through voices, posture and the clothes they wore. Sometimes through smell.

Now imagine one blur coming over to you and saying something like: ‘We met 5 years ago at Mai Nga’s wedding and we talked for like 10 whole minutes, remember me?’ Of course I don’t, you were a blur then, you are still a blur now. The disappointed stranger shakes his head: ‘Inga waa Kudada.’

This experience also frequently happens to those with a short memory. It is a crime not to remember some one who remembers you. All those people with a good memory take it for granted so much that they assume everybody has a photographic mind. Forget someone, and you are immediately branded as some one ariKudada. Simple.

And suppose you are shy, you know, a particularly bashful person. Most people dread having to stand up on a stage and address a crowd. Now, for this type of shy person, his or her whole life is a stage. The simple social etiquette of, say, entering a room full of relatives and greeting each and every person with the correct titles (such as tete, sekuru, mainini) is a torturous experience. People don’t know such introverts exist, so if you are one and you stumble in, or try to avoid, such a situation, they simply dismiss you with 'ariKudada'.

Another scenario: suppose you get lucky and become rich. Now, there is nothing wrong with having money in itself: but rest assured, that also means you are going to come across this word in reference to you quite a lot.

For instance, when you are driving around in your brand new wheels, you are supposed to spot each and every person you have ever known on the road, and depending on the situation, do at least one of the following: hoot and wave; stop the car for a chat; kusiya mari yedrink or; offer the person a ride. Failure to do so: uriKudada.

I used to have this friend of mine who was not too familiar with the Shona culture. He came across a friend of a friend, a lady. Now, they had never seen each other before, just a casual chat on the phone, so he didn’t give her the warm greeting she must have expected. She carelessly commented: Indava Kudada? As soon as she turned a corner, he totally flipped. He thought he statement was the Shona equivalent of someone saying to your face: ‘You are freaking arrogant!’ Poor guy, especially considering the extreme lengths he would go to exercise great humility.

My free advice: fix any mental myopia you might have and stop throwing this word, and other equivalents, all over the place. You’re only traumatizing individuals who might already be battling to fit in into this crazy world. Instead, reserve it for the arrogant, pompous, proud, contemptuous and bigheaded bastards who truly deserve it!

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