Week 5: Hybridity and (not) Nervous Conditions

Last week we discussed mimicry and its relation to Tsitsi Dangarembga’s book “Nervous Conditions.” This week we will take notice how Hybridity comes into play in the few remaining chapters. I wish I could have been exposed to Derek Walcott’s essay “The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry” last week as well, simply because I am fascinated with how he describes mimicry; “Mimicry is an act of imagination, and, in some animals and insects, endemic cunning. Lizards, chameleons, most butterflies, and certain insects adapt the immediate subtleties of color and even of texture both as defense and as lure. Camouflage” (Walcott 262). Walcott describes mimicry as something that happens almost organically, and in some cases, happens out of self-preservation. But what about hybridity? Let’s define it first; Hybridity is when two (or more) cultures come together and create a “third way or option” living within the intermingled two cultures to create one. Hybridity has many face: cultural, political, linguistic, religious, etc.

I can’t say I was surprised with Tambu or the course of the book. I mean, for the majority of the story we all see firsthand that she fears assimilation, change, but most of all, she fears being left behind. There was a quote from chapter 5 that really resonated with the struggle I believe Tambu is going through “What it is”, she sighed, “to have to choose between self and security” (Dangarembga). Which would you choose?

On page 118 Tambu says…

“If I had been more independent in my thinking then, I would have though the matter though to a conclusion. But in those days it was easy for me to leave tangled thoughts knotted, in their loose ends hanging. I didn’t want to explore the treacherous mazes that such thoughts led into. I didn’t want to reach the end of those mazes, because there, I knew, I would myself and I was afraid I would not recognize myself after having taken so many confusing directions” (Dangarembga 118).

This passage is what I believe defines hybridity for Tambu. The moment she left with her uncle she seized being Tambu the poor girl fighting for an education, but rather, she morphs into another woman. One with possibilities and direction. We see firsthand how two cultures come together to become one; Tambu’s old life, her life living in her uncle’s home, and the new Tambu. There’s a passage, which I can’t remember where exactly, but Tambu had just arrived to her uncle’s home and while having tea she laughs at the tea strainer. She laughs because it’s foreign to her. She thinks about taking it back to her home…Hybridity, no?


…and what is Tambu’s life if not contradictions? She doesn’t mourn her brother’s death in the beginning of that book because she wanted to mimic a life she wasn’t privy to. She “scavenged from the best.”


1 Comment

  1. Jinn,
    I agree that by the end of “Nervous Conditions” Tambu came closer and closer to embodying hybridity, despite previously possessing ambiguity over the introduction of white culture in Zimbabwe. I found it exceptionally troubling (this, coming from someone who you could also say is a hybrid form of her ancestors). I so dearly wanted Tambu to reflect upon Nyasha’s condition by the end of the novel and recognize the loss of an ideal of her people and culture. But I feel like Dangarembga attempted to morph Tambu into the character that she did to exemplify the detriment of hybidity in African culture. Tambu’s obsession with the acquisition of knowledge, then of wealth (a world initially introduced to her by her cousin’s family), ultimately renders her superfluously obsessed with returning to Sacred Heart, unconcerned for the well-being of Nyasha, or anyone else for that matter.


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