Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu, Matabeleland South Bureau Chief
THERE are more than 7 000 living languages in the world, but Unesco predicts more than half will be extinct by the end of the century.
IsiJahunda might be one of the tongues as the language is now only spoken by the diminishing elderly in Gwanda District.
Zimbabwe was home to thousands of proud native Jahunda speaking people before white settlers arrived in the 1800s. To this Jahunda ethnic group, language meant much to them, it was a heritage, an identity and a source of pride. Today their language is in danger of going extinct and the Jahunda identity and heritage is vanishing from the face of the earth as only a few people who speak the language remain in Gwanda District.
Residents of Gwanda District are known as amaJahunda because of a community of isiJahunda speaking people who settled in Gwanda and surrounding resettlements.
IsiJahunda, a language that has similarities with Shona, Kalanga and Venda languages, was the popular language in areas such as Nsimbi, Dobhoda, Mtandawenema, Nkulangugwe, Gwalanyemba, Switja, Mawana, Makobana, Zhukwi, Shabenyama, Paye and Bedza. The demise of isiJahunda can be traced back to the 1800s when the tribe merged with other ethnic groups, resulting in the dilution of the language. The coming of the whites made things worse.
Saturday Chronicle visited some of the communities in Gwanda where it caught up with isiJahunda speaking elders who can be found in Garanyemba, Ntephe, Ntalale, Silonga, Halisupi, Zhokwe and Samloti.
Ephraim Ncube (77) from Nsimbi Village said he was born in Makungubo, a resettlement area. In 1951 they were relocated to Nsimbi Village when he was six. Before they were resettled, his family used to mainly speak isiJahunda.
“Our parents and grandparents were still speaking isiJahunda even after we had relocated to the Nsimbi area. Whenever they would speak among themselves, they would speak in isiJahunda.
“When our grandparents died, the speaking of isiJahunda within the homestead became less although our parents still do but with a mixture of isiNdebele.
“When our parents died, isiNdebele became our main language although we knew isiJahunda. Before they were relocated, the isiJahunda speaking people were under Chief Senondo, who is today known as Chief Nhlamba,” he said.
Ephraim is convinced the displacement of the Jahunda community is the major reason for the death of isiJahunda.
“We have mountains and rivers that had isiJahunda names but they have been altered. For example, the Garanyemba area was originally known as Shibwenyemba which means a stone which looks like a soya bean. Sengezane area was originally knowns as Shangezi, Tuli River was known as Tukwi, Shashe area was known as Shayashe, Lubolahuto Mountain was known Lukonahuto which means the hill which overpowered the baboon,” said Ephraim.
Phineas Matshaya (68) from Garanyemba area said the death of their elders has caused the Jahunda language to dwindle. He said only elderly people could speak the language and the more they continued to die the more the language was dwindling.
Matshaya said his age mates were young when the Jahunda community was resettled and they never got to use the language as their main language. He said most of them got married to Suthu or Ndebele speaking women which further crushed isiJahunda.
Nsimbi village head Misheck Ncube (72) said he sometimes meets other isiJahunda speaking people during ward meetings. He said whenever they come together, they immediately start speaking isiJahunda. Misheck said had there been books written in isiJahunda then it would have helped preserve the language.
“The reason why as the isiJahunda speaking elders we can’t pass on the language to our children is because it is also slipping from our lips. We have been exposed to other languages for a very long time which have overcome isiJahunda. In my case whenever I speak isiJahunda I end up mixing it with Shona because I stayed in Harare for a long time. The two languages are similar which causes me to mix them,” he said.
Misheck said they felt that they were losing their identity seeing their language dwindle. He said some people did not know the history of the Jahunda community and that they even existed. Misheck said today everyone staying in Gwanda Town was being referred to as a Jahunda yet they did not know the language.
He said had the language been taught in schools then it could have been preserved and even passed onto future generations.
“It’s important to preserve culture and heritage but unfortunately our identity as the Jahunda community is diminishing. In the next 20 years there might only be a handful of people who speak isiJahunda and in the next 30 years our language will be non-existent. By then the people who will be referred to as AmaJahunda will just be people who stay in Gwanda without knowing the language or its history,” he said.
Oliver Ncube (68) said it was difficult for them to uphold their language as they were being taught isiNdebele in school. She said their children were also taught isiNdebele which made it even more difficult.
David Moyo (83) from Ntephe area said the name Jahunda was once used to refer to a place where the Jahunda community used to meet for meetings near a rock in what is now known as a Timber Farm. He said the name later spread and was used to refer to the entire community and their language was named after their meeting place.
Moyo said the white people later came and changed the name of the place from Jahunda to Gwanda. He said while isiJahunda seemed similar to other languages, there is a distinct difference.
“When I recall, there was never a day when I heard my grandparents and great grandparents speaking in any language besides isiJahunda when they were speaking among themselves. They would shift to isiNdebele when someone else would join the conversation,” he said.
Renowned historian and author, Pathisa Nyathi said he traced the Jahunda community back to 1825. He said they were settled in what is known today as Gwanda Town and surrounding areas and in 1825 the Babirwa people joined them.
He said the Ndebele speaking community later migrated and also settled in Gwanda.
Nyathi, who is from the Babirwa clan, said isiJahunda has a dialect similar to Kalanga, Venda, Shona, Lilima, Talawundi and Nyayi. He said the mixture of Babirwa and the Jahunda community resulted in inter marriages and the beginning of the death of the language.
“isiJahunda language is becoming extinct as it has been overpowered by other languages. The Babirwa settled in Gwanda in 1825 and found the Jahunda community there meaning that they had settled before that time. The arrival of Babirwa during the time of migration affected the isiJahunda language.
Their community became diluted and other languages dominated theirs. If you look at the names of places in Gwanda you will realise that some have isiJahunda names others indicate isiBirwa and others isiNdebele.
“In schools the language which was taught is isiNdebele which further weakened isiJahunda. When the white people took over the land and these ethnic groups were moved further, other languages remained strong but isiJahunda continued to fade,” he said.