Learning To Be A Shepherd In Zimbabwe

By Father Ariel Tampus SVD

Father Ariel, from Cebu, was one of 14 ordained to the priesthood on 9 March in Divine Word Seminary, Tagaytay City, and is hoping to return soon to Zimbabwe. Ten of his group have been assigned on mission overseas. http://svdbotswana.home.pl/ , the website of the province of the Society of the Divine Word that includes Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, has a longer version of his article. Father Ariel did his high school studies in Marigondon High School, Mactan, Cebu, and is a graduate of Cebu Normal University. He taught for three years in Michael Learning School, Talisay City, Cebu, before entering the seminary.

‘I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’ (Jn10:11).Jesus’ parable of the Good Shepherd is one I can really relate to. Maybe it’s because shepherding is an everyday experience in Zimbabwe, a goat, sheep and cattle-raising country. Abelusi, shepherds, are everywhere, taking good care of the animals.

Student once again

I smile every time I remember my one-month stay in a village to practice the Ndebele language and to experience the life and culture of the people. I stayed with a very religious, simple family who treated me as a kin and made me feel at home. Every morning I joined the children in school. I spent a week with grade one pupils and a week with grade two. Then I went to grade four for two weeks, the first time ever I was ‘instantly promoted.’ This helped me to experience once again how a small child learns to speak. Learning a new language, in this case Ndebele, is fun but very humbling. Like a small child, I was very dependent on my elders and teachers. Even my grade one classmates were also my ‘elders’ and teachers.

Warmth of family

In the evening, after supper, our family usually gathered around the fire telling and listening to stories. We lived in a round hut where everything was arranged beautifully on the sides. African families are usually large and extended and have close ties. The fireplace in the middle warmed us during those windy and cold evenings, but the laughter around it made us even warmer. I loved it when we exchanged tales from our grandmother's story book down to the present happenings of the children in school. Our mother always led us in prayer before eating and before we slept. Our evening family activities seemed ordinary but were truly expressions of love and care.

Shepherding in the village

A new and interesting experience while with the family was learning how to shepherd the goats and cattle. Every afternoon I volunteered to join the boys in looking for the goats and leading them back to the kraal. (This word can mean either a rural village of round huts, surrounded by a stockade, or an enclosure for livestock). Like any ten-year-old boys, they teased one another and had fights on the way. But I learned how well they knew their goats. The village’s wide range of bush belonged to all, so the livestock of the entire neighborhood roamed everywhere. Looking for our twenty goats among hundreds wasn’t easy. But for the boys there was no problem. ‘Is that our goat?’ was my question every time I saw one. They always answered with a smile, ‘Asiyo!’ ‘It's not the one!’ Even from afar, they could recognize them easily and the goats recognized their voices as well. I didn't know if I’d ever learn this trade, maybe after long experience.

OTP in Zimbabwe

This was all part of the two-year Overseas Training Program (OTP) of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) that enables seminarians to experience missionary life outside their country of origin. Through OTP I realized my dream, in which my vocation was deeply rooted, of being among our African brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe, in southern Africa. A central aspect of OTP was orientation to the Ndebele culture. Others were training in various fields of missionary work and pastoral work in a bush mission of Ndolwane.

Orientation to the Ndebele Culture

Living in the village, I experienced the beauty of Ndebele culture. I found the people to be simple, shown in the way they lived, for example in their eating habits. We had only tea and bread for breakfast. For lunch and supper we ateisitshwala, made from maize, with a relish, usually a stew.

The people’s mode of dressing is also unique. They’re more concerned about practicality than style. I loved the colorful designs of the clothing that women bring when they visit other places, to cover themselves from dust when sitting on the ground.

Singing and dancing can never be separated from African culture. One characteristic of the Ndebele language is its repetitive patterns. By repeating one sentence the people can make a good tune accompanied by the magnificent beating of drums. Dancing follows automatically when they’re singing. The movement of hands and feet makes any gathering truly alive.

Proud with their culture

The parish church is the place where the message of inculturation sounds so clearly. In terms of liturgy: weddings, baptisms and funerals are unique. They made me think how far behind we Filipinos still are in terms of inculturation compared to the Ndebele people. They take pride in their culture, which made me ask myself, ‘Do I really know my culture? Do I take pride in it?’ I realized that I can’t fully understand and love another culture if I don't know and love my own.

OTP, living with an Ndebele family, rounding up their goats, was for me an experience of the Good Shepherd making me feel that He was really taking good care of me, knowing me very well, always calling and looking for me whenever I'm lost and leading me back to his sheepfold.

You may contact Father Ariel at ayheesvd@yahoo.com


Inculturation, according to Father Aylward Shorter MAfr means ‘the presentation and re-expression of the Gospel in forms and terms proper to a culture. This process results in the reinterpretation of both, without being unfaithful to either.’ He also defines it as ‘the creative and dynamic relationship between the Christian message and a culture or cultures (Shorter, 11).

You can find an interesting paper on inculturation by Father Shorter athttp://www.afrikaworld.net/afrel/shorter.htm . He’s a member of the Missionaries of Africa,http://www.africamission-mafr.org/ , sometimes known in thePhilippines as ‘Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa.’ They are popularly known as ‘The White Fathers’ from their habit, based on the dress of Arab men in Algeria, where they were founded in 1868. This habit is an example of inculturation, though the name ‘White Fathers’ is sometimes mistakenly believed to refer to the skin of its European members.

The Lord’s Prayer in Ndebele

(as spoken in Zimbabwe)

Baba wethu osezulwini,
kalidunyiswe ibizo lakho,
umbuso wakho kawuze,
intando yakho kayenziwe,
emhlabeni njengasezulwini.
Siphe lamhla ukudla kwethu kwensuku ngensuku.
Usithethelele izono zethu,
njengalokhu lathi sibathethelela abasonayo.
Ungasingenisi ekulingweni,
kodwa usikhulule ebubini.

Source: http://www.christusrex.org/www1/pater/JPN-ndebele.html