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Zimbabwe Seeks Its Own Culture

A decade after independence, nation moves uneasily to define and adopt postcolonial tastes. ETHNIC AND NATIONAL IDENTITY

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IN this southern African country of roughly 10 million people, Western culture has all but usurped the place of an African one. ``This isn't Africa,'' author Chenjerai Hove says of Harare, the capital city. ``This is Europe.'' Indeed, after a few days here, tourists expecting an adventure in mysterious bushland are apt to grumble that the city is not ``African'' enough.

Zimbabweans themselves are starting to question the slant of their culture. Ten years after independence, many are asking how liberated are people who slavishly follow the tastes and trends of their former colonizers' culture. Reflecting a continental trend, a movement for cultural liberation has arisen. Intellectuals, artists, and government officials, decrying what they term ``neo-colonialism,'' are calling for Zimbabweans to develop their own culture.

The movement sometimes takes on a moral tone. American movies come under particular attack, criticized for their perceived emphasis on sex, violence, and materialism - all of which sum up the foundation of Western values in many eyes here.

Nonetheless, it is obvious that the drive for a distinct Zimbabwean culture is not grounded in moral indignation, but in a profound identity crisis. As Americans used to talk about ``finding themselves,'' Zimbabweans now speak about ``creating cultural identities.'' In the country's multiracial society, the crisis takes different forms but cuts across racial lines. Black, white, and Asian Zimbabweans are searching for a culture that reflects both their ethnic and national identities.

Colonialism forever changed African culture. It exposed Africans to a new culture - hailed by its importers as the only civilized one - and stymied development of local art. Colonialism is now gone, but its culture remains.

The idea of picking up African culture where it left off seems naive, if not patronizing. It also leaves white and Asian Africans out in the cold. Many Africans, left without a culture that expresses their postcolonial identities, are concluding that they must create a new one.


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