The Convert Glossary
in order of appearance in the play
Salisbury: Salisbury began as Fort Salisbury, established in 1890 and named for Britain’s prime minister. In 1980, Rhodesia became the independent Republic of Zimbabwe, and two years later, in 1982, Salisbury was renamed Harare.
nhembe: goat skin skirt
Mai: In Shona, women are addressed by their relationship to a male family member. Mai is the term for "mother of" so Mai Tamba is being called "mother of Tamba."
Muzezuru/Shona: The Shona language is part of the family of Bantu languages and is spoken in Zimbabwe and southern Zambia. The term Shona also refers to people who speak the Shona language. There are five dialects of Shona including Zezuru, which is spoken in northern Zimbabwe where Salisbury is located. Speakers of Zezuru are also known as Muzezuru, Mazezuru or Mazizuru. Approximately 14.2 million people speak Shona.
mutsvairo: African broom
Mai Kuda's "brown powder"/snuff: Tobacco as a crop was introduced to Zimbabwe in the early 17th century and quickly became incorporated into African society. Snuff is a form of tobacco that has been finely ground and is meant for inhaling.
catechist: trained layperson who evangelizes using a question and answer format to teach Christian doctrine
Commissioner of Native Affairs: Minor civil servant appointed to each district or subdistrict of Mashonaland and Matabeleland to help regulate that area: keep the peace; report crimes, epidemics or unrest; even assign land and regulate the creation of new buildings and gardens. The native commissioner was often responsible for collecting the hated hut tax. Effectively, they filled the role a chief would normally have held, but answering to the colonial government.
hut tax: A tax of ten shillings per hut collected in Mashonaland by the British South African Company on behalf of the colonial government beginning in 1894. Because in Shona society wealth was calculated by heads of cattle and not currency, the hut tax often forced Africans to abandon traditional practices and work in British mines and infrastructure to earn the money with which to pay the tax.
biblical story of Ester: Esther is a Jewish orphan raised by her uncle, Mordechai, and chosen to be the new bride of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes). The King honors one of the realm’s princes, Haman, and Haman, feeling his new status, forces everyone to bow to him. But Mordechai won’t, because as a devout Jew, he will only bow to God. This angers Haman, and he hatches a plan to have Mordechai executed and to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. Esther is the only one who can save them, by talking to the King, but there’s a catch: upon pain of death, she cannot enter the King’s presence unless she has been called for, and he hasn’t called for her in a long time. But she gathers her courage and goes to his court unsummoned ("If I perish, I perish"). By reminding the King of his debt to Mordechai and revealing Haman’s plan, Haman is punished and all the Jews of the land are given the right to defend themselves and take revenge. Esther’s story is celebrated on the Jewish holiday of Purim.
brideprice: Also known as the roora, a form of dowry paid to the bride’s family. Livestock was almost always the payment: cattle if the family could afford it, and sheep or goats if they couldn’t. Often the brideprice for a daughter would pay for the marriage of a son, and thus enforce close bonds between those siblings, whose matrimonial fates were closely linked. Because of the brideprice if a girl found herself in a terrible marriage, it was hard for her to leave; her family would be forced to repay the brideprice, which often they had already spent.
gonzo: Shona word for a rat
maize meal (mealie meal): A coarse flour made from maize. Also known as mielie-meal (from the Portuguese word for maize), it is a staple food in southern and sub-Saharan Africa.
Jesuit missionaries: A Roman Catholic religious order founded in 1534 by St. Ignatius of Loyola. They conduct missionary work all over the world with a strong emphasis on education, earning them the title "schoolmasters of the world." The first Jesuit mission in Zimbabwe was established in 1879. Jesuits were chaplains and interpreters for the Pioneer Column in 1890 when the British South Africa Company moved north to establish Salisbury in Mashonaland. As reward for their services, they were given Chishawasha, 12,000 acres outside of Salisbury, which became a mission farm.
kaffirs: Now, a derogatory term to refer to black people, mostly used in southern African countries. In colonial times, it was the common European term for an African, and was used neutrally. From the Arabic word for "non-believer," it is thought to have been picked up by the Portuguese and applied to the Africans they met when they first colonized southern Africa.
bafu: a traitor, or someone "not on our side"
kraal: an Afrikaans and Dutch word similar to the word corral, it can refer to a village (a collection of huts) surrounded by a stockade, the huts themselves, or a circular enclosure for cattle and other livestock (often located within the village itself)
Baba: Shona term for father; also used as a term of respect for an elder (for example, Baba Chiamba, the Chiltern’s gardener)
"white man with no knees": This epithet comes from the military manner in which the colonial soldiers marched: stiff-legged, without an obvious bending at the knee.
duties of priesthood: In Catholicism a priest works under the Bishop in the Church’s hierarchy. Aside from Holy Orders which must be done by a Bishop, he can conduct any of the other Seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing the Sick, and Matrimony. Priests must be celibate.
Kurova Guva: Ceremony that typically occurs 6 months to a year after death. When a Shona person is buried, a stick is put into the grave while the dirt is being poured and packed in; later it is removed and a hole is left behind. The Shona believe that a dead person has two shadows: a black one (the flesh) and a white one (the soul). When the white shadow emerges from the grave (often in the form of a white worm) that means it is time for the kurova guva. The worm goes into the woods and grows into an animal, a physical manifestation of the soul. In the kurova guva, the family is calling home the spirit of their dead ancestor from the forest and establishing its place as a vadzimu, one of the spirits that will guide the lives of the living family. In preparation, beer is brewed and an animal is selected for sacrifice. On the day of the ceremony, the beer is poured over the grave and the animal killed and roasted at the spot. After the formal ceremony, the drinking and eating go on through the night, sometimes with drums and singing. Kurova guva is also the time when the inheritance is divided and passed on.
kaffir corn: Another name for the grain sorghum. Because it is highly drought-resistant, and has enough protein to sustain a population in times of famine, it is an important crop in many tropical and sub-tropical regions.
giving one's testimony: a way of evangelizing by sharing one’s own personal conversion story as a means to convince someone else to join the faith
Mwari: The Shona have one God, Mwari: a remote, impersonal "creator." As Mwari is remote, they also have other important spirits that play essential roles in their rituals and everyday lives. There are tribal spirits or royal ancestors (mhondoro) who are responsible for the welfare of the tribe and are appealed to on matters such as weather or battle outcomes. Then there are the vadzimu, the spirits of one's ancestors who must be honored and appeased through many rituals, and who are appealed to in matters of daily life. The spirits of these ancestors must be carefully placated and tended to; not only are they the medium through which prayers can go to Mwari, they can also take revenge upon the living if badly treated.
Beatrice Mine: This gold mine, about 35 miles outside of Salisbury, was established in 1895, and named for the sister of one of men in the Pioneer Column. A miner’s life was difficult: the mine owners were constantly testing how little they could pay their African workers, the hours were long, and the work was dangerous. In some of the mines, the workers were confined to closed labor compounds, locked in for three to six months at a time.
Matabele/Ndebele language/people: Ndebele is also a Bantu language, like Shona, but descended from and influenced by Zulu. The Ndebele people were Zulus who split off in the 1820s. They established themselves in Zimbabwe is the late 1830s and subdued the Shona people in the west and south to establish Matabeleland.
mbange: smokable cannabis
“We must tend to it as Chuma and Susi with Livingstone”: David Livingstone was a Scottish explorer who traversed Africa in the 19th century. Chuma and Susi were his African companions on his final exploration. When Livingstone died, Chuma and Susi carried his body and journal thousands of miles to the coast so that his body could be brought back to England. He was interred at Westminster Abbey. (Chuma’s story has some resonance with Childford’s: Livingstone freed him from slave traders when he was only a boy, and after that, he never left his company and regarded Livingstone as his only family.)
Bernie Mizeki: Bernard Mizeki was an African catechist for the Anglican church. When the 1896 uprising began, he was urged to evacuate his mission, but chose to stay. On June 18, 1896 he was murdered outside his home during the Ndebele/Shona uprising.
n'anga: Traditional healer (sometimes called a witchdoctor) responsible for the spiritual as well as physical health of the village. She or he can be an expert herbalist, possess powers for making charms and remedies, or "cast bones" to divine answers. In this century, the n'anga has become incorporated into a Christian lifestyle.
knobkerries: These large, club-like sticks are common in Southern and Eastern Africa; they have a knob at the end and are variously used to hunt animals (by throwing it at them), against an enemy, or as a walking stick.
kachasu: Popular beverage especially for the poorer populations of Zimbabwe and Zambia, because it can be brewed at home and cheaply. It is brewed from fermenting rotten sadzu (millet or maize meal). Like moonshine, the alcohol content is high and can vary widely: anywhere from 20–30% to 70% pure ethanol.
“rindapest”: Rinderpest, also known as cattle plague or steppe murrain, is an infectious virus that was notorious for decimating cattle populations. Most animals died within 6-12 days of showing symptoms. In the 1890s, rinderpest wiped out 80–90 percent of all the cattle in southern Africa, leaving many Africans impoverished. Attempting to curb the spread of the disease, the colonists slaughtered huge numbers of African cattle they feared had been exposed, and then forbade the starving Shona and Ndebele to eat the meat. Many believe that this was the final spark that led to the 1896–7 uprisings. Rinderpest was officially declared eradicated in 2011.
bhudi: a informal term used colloquially like "buddy" or "man" implying familiarity
dofo: dull, as in dim-witted, or not smart; often applied to schoolchildren
zambia: African scarf
absolution: Sins are washed away in the sacrament of baptism. However, after baptism, a person can still sin, and a priest must absolve those sins for the sinner to go to heaven. This is done through the sacrament of penance or confession. This sacrament requires the sinner to have a contrite heart, confess his/her sins to a priest who absolves him/her in the name of Christ, and then carry out the act of penance. Only a priest can absolve sins.
Originally published by McCarter Theatre accompanying the world premiere production of The Convert in January 2012. Used with permission.