Musaemura Zimunya was born in Southern Rhodesia, known today as Zimbabwe, and was educated in the UK at Kent University. ‘A Long Journey’ explores the two worlds with which he was very familiar and the history of his home. He compares his village’s journey to a winding, endless river in the first lines.
Explore A Long Journey
‘A Long Journey’ by Musaemura Zimunya explores how an African village transformed because of British colonialism.
In the first part of this poem, the speaker begins by describing the long journey that his town has been on. Their long history of tradition was interrupted by British colonialism. The speaker represents this through the image of the motor car, bicycle, and boss. The city was “brought into the village,” and people began looking to the future and to other places.
The speaker bounces between feelings of acceptance about the New World in which their living and feelings of regret regarding what’s been lost in the past. They do not ignore the benefits that have come to their village but are well aware of the dark hand of the past, reminding everyone of what’s been lost.
You can read the full poem here.
The main theme of this poem is post-colonialism. It refers to the influence of colonialism on society and how that society dealt with the changes it experienced. In this case, the speaker explores life in a small village in Rhodesia and how it changed, for both the negative and the positive, after British Colonial rule.
Structure and Form
‘A Long Journey’ by Musaemura Zimunya is a seven-stanza poem divided into uneven sets of lines. The first and second stanzas have four lines, making them quatrains, while the third stanza has three (a tercet), the fourth stanza has two lines (a couplet), and the fifth stanza has nine lines. The poem concludes with a five-line stanza and another two-line stanza.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Allusion: a reference to something not defined within the text of the poem. In this case, the poet is alluding to the history of Rhodesia in Africa and British Colonial rule that changed the country forever.
- Simile: a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “Through decades that ran like rivers.”
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between line four of the first stanza and line one of the second stanza.
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “ran” and “rivers” in line one.
Through decades that ran like rivers
endless rivers of endless woes
through pick and shovel sjambok and jail
O such a long long journey
In the first stanza of ‘A Long Journey,’ the poet begins by describing the history of his town, like running rivers. His town’s history is long and seemingly endless. The town/rivers also experienced “endless woes.” Their history continued on and on, and they suffered repetitively.
The image of a pick and a shovel comes into the poem in the third line, suggesting labor (perhaps forced labor) or work that no one willingly engages in. The word “jail” in this line suggests that people were physically imprisoned in jail or that their lives in this particular town felt like they were prisoners. The people in the speaker’s town are on a long and hard journey through history.
A word that most readers won’t be familiar with, “sjambok,” is used in this stanza as well. It’s a cattle prod or riding crop, likely used in this context to suggest that people were beaten into compliance and forced to engage in physical labor.
When the motor-car came
was the dream of every village boy
In the second stanza, the poet introduces the “motor-car.” This symbolizes the introduction of technology and the beginnings of industrialization. The way of life they’d previously lived was replaced by the car and the “ox-cart,” and its usefulness “began to die.”
Things change dramatically in the town, so much so that the boys who would never once have thought about it all of a sudden are dreaming of “the bicycle made in Britain.” One world’s culture is influencing another and changing the way that people think and the ways that everyday life plays out.
With the arrival of the bus
and we began to yearn for the place behind the horizons
In the third stanza, which is a tercet, the speaker describes how eventually, bus routes began running from the bigger city into the village where he lived. This meant that “we began to yearn for the place beyond the horizons.” Suddenly, people were looking toward the future, dreaming about travel, and imagining worlds in which they could live different lives.
Such a long travail it was
a long journey from bush to concrete
The fourth stanza is only two lines long. In it, the speaker says that it was a long process, the transformation from “bush” or nature to “concrete” or city structures. It didn’t come easy, this journey, but when it started, it was unstoppable.
And now I am haunted by the cave dwelling
in this the capital city of my mother country
threatened by wind and rain and cold
The fifth stanza is the longest at nine lines. The speaker describes how colonial rule in the speaker’s country was not a given. People there felt threatened by industrialization in the introduction of a culture other than their own. They thought, as the speaker dead, in vain. But, no matter what they did, it was impossible to outrun the future and truly fight back against British Colonial rule, which was so completely overpowering.
The road, an image similar to the river at the poem’s beginning, runs through history and alongside “foot tracks,” plastic huts, and “mud-grass dwellings.” Here, the speaker walks readers through images from the past and how the road is leading away from them into a future of greater industrialism.
In this stanza, the speaker also alludes to the year during which Rhodesia came under British Colonial rule—“eighteen ninety” or 1890.
We have fled from witches and wizards
and wicked bones rattling around me
“We have fled,” the speaker continues in the sixth stanza, from the past beliefs, those that the invading British colonialists would only refer to as wicked magic. It’s a past looked at negatively and positively throughout this poem. There are elements to escape from, but also, the town left its past behind unwillingly. It wasn’t their choice to move away from it.
We moved into the lights
an almighty hand reaches for our shirts.
Now, after the town/village has moved into the lights (symbolizing the city and what the western world would deem as “light” or good), they still feel the “almighty hand” of the past reaching for their shirts, hoping to pull them back into the past.
This poem is filled with contradictions and juxtaposed feelings regarding colonialism. There were positives, in that their resources improved and people could achieve more, but there were also negatives. They lost much of their cultural independence and became removed from their traditions.
The purpose is to explore how British Colonialism influenced a small village in Rhodesia in the late 1800s when it was first invaded. The speaker provides suggestions of both the positives that came from this change and the great deal of cultural history that was lost because of it.
The message is that all development has a price. In this case, the village in Rhodesia lost its cultural history, but it traded some suffering from the past for new technologies (represented through the bicycle, bus, and car).
The main theme of this poem is post-colonialism. The speaker explores how life changed in a village due to British influence (for the worse and for the better). He also examines the different attitudes people have towards the new technologies and what they bring with them.
Musaemura Zimunya is an African author who was born in 1949 in what is today Zimbabwe. He is now one of the country’s most important contemporary writers. He studied in the UK after being expelled from the University of Rhodesia and received his master’s degree in 1979. Today, he is the Director of Black Studies at Virginia Tech.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘We Are Going’ by Oodgeroo Noonuccal – is a powerful poem about the struggles of Aboriginal Australians in the face of British colonialism. The poem is delivered from the duel, contrasting perspectives highlighting the loss of culture, land, and history.
- ‘Africa’ by Maya Angelou – uses an extended metaphor to describe the continent of Africa. She draws attention to the complex social-political climate.
- ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’ by Langston Hughes – is told from the perspective of a man who has seen the great ages of the world alongside the banks of the most important rivers.