Sunday, May 28, 2023

Standardization of language describing people’s experiences with disease slammed

The last thing you expect to see in a scholarly work are lyrics of a hit song from yesteryear but sandwiched between 10-centimetre-long words common in academia is an Oliver Mtukudzi song.
Senzeni, What shall we do?

Ooooh todii?
What shall we do? Senzi njani x 3
Verse 2
How painful it is to nurse death in the/your hands!
What shall we do?
What shall we do?

The scholarly work in question is a book on academic research written by Professor Bagele Chilisa of the University of Botswana. She quotes Mtukudzi’s song to make the point about the term ‘HIV/AIDS.’

“In the song the artist resists co-option into the dominant discourse on HIV and AIDS that insists on using a standardised science laboratory language that is constructed on the basis of a cause-effect relationship to describe people’s experiences. The artist does not mention the word HIV/AIDS. He sings about the realities seen through another lens, and we know it is about what has been named by the westerners HIV/AIDS,” Chilisa writes in “Indigenous Research Methodologies.”

Her contention is that the Africans have many labels and names that describe their experiences with HIV/AIDS and she rejects the standardization of language that describes people’s experiences with the disease. Bringing her argument closer to home, Chilisa says that Batswana should not have to use standardised science laboratory language to refer to HIV/AIDS. From what she says, she would have no problem with a song referring to HIV/AIDS as boswagadi, molelo wa badimo or boloi because such characterisation underpins a cause-effect relationship embedded in Batswana’s perception of reality.

She writes in her book: “From the people’s observation those who died from HIV/AIDS had relationships with widows or widowers; thus the name boswagadi. For the young, a distinct observation was the appearance of herpes or molelo wa badimo (fire caused by ancestral spirits) because herpes does look like a burn. Closely connected to this meaning-making is also the people’s perception of health. For the Batswana and people in most African societies, illness is associated with unhealthy relations with the family, the wider community, the land, or the ancestral spirits (Dube, 2001). To us western-trained researchers, these constructions were dismissed as a reflection of illiteracy.

But suppose we pause a little on the assertion that HIV/AIDS is caused by bad social relations. Such an assertion is not radically different from saying that HIV/AIDS is caused by poverty, disempowerment of women and children, and unfaithfulness. Nonetheless, failure to work within the framework and language of the researched means that life and death matters are either not understood or take a long time before they are understood.”


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