‘The Beta people’ -Miniature yet dynamic

By Tendai K Saungweme

From the moment I could comprehend words during my childhood, I vividly remember my father always calling my sister and I “the beta people.” I never really thought much about it, I just attributed the name to my sister Tatenda’s chain of academic successes over those in her class. She would scoop first position throughout her primary education. Did my father call us the beta people because of our natural abilities? Was it something he wished to be instilled in us?

Since then, this family doctrine manifested in us coming top and getting recognition in all aspects we were involved in. This identity, of being called beta (also known as Hanzu), made me work extra hard in school, extracurricular activities, and in the society I come from, only because I wanted to dissociate my totem from failure.

Where we come from, that is Africa, we believe in totems. Totems are basically animals to which a certain tribe resorts for identity. Legend has it that the reason why we have totems was so that animals could be preserved and not become extinct. This owing to the reason that one is not allowed to eat his or her totem animal. An unending debate on the plausibility of this explanation still stands. This however does not affect our totem animal, hanzu, the flying ant. When it comes out, it is ubiquitous and populates the whole sky.

Apparently little is said about our totem due to its small stature. It tends to be forgotten and not mentioned, as it should be, at times stimulating the laughing center in people’s brains as they are used to having big animals as totems. That probably makes you wonder, dear reader, why my own father graciously carried himself around as the “beta person,” when in fact he meant a flying ant, very small in stature compared to other animals used as totems, such as the lion, buffalo, and wildebeest. Do the characteristics “small” and “not worth the mention” refer to the Hanzu people?

The Beta-Hanzu people come from the eastern region of Zimbabwe, a place that begins in the ranges of the Inyangani Mountains, reaching to the low lying areas of Bocha. The flying ant itself manifests in many aspects of our personalities and overall being. My sister is an intellectual, fun, and she lights up the room with her presence. Just like the flying ant, which we see only during the rainy season and which is believed to bring the much awaited rains which mark an end to hunger and bring delight to the farmers.

The flying ants appear in the company of termites, signifying delicacy and need for nature to protect the precious creature. I’ve often heard my sister Tatenda’s friends saying, after a long attempt at trying to figure out anything and failing to do so, that all they would need is a pinch of her ideas! She is thus always surrounding herself with a big support system of friends. When the ants come out to fly their wings are easily pluckable and can fall off with a strong wind, which is why the Hanzu people are believed to be very gentle, humble, and peace loving, which is one of my personality traits. The molehill, which is their fortress, is made of clay: a very rich source of iron. This is a challenge I give to myself everyday: wherever I am, people in my proximity should benefit from the association I have with them.

It has become fashionable for people to have their totem animals rendered as huge portraits in their houses, with statues in front of their gates, as well as the name of the creature printed on their car license plates. The women belonging to the shumba (lion) tribe delight in calling themselves Amasibanda. Those of the mhofu (wildebeest) tribe favor Achihera, with a lot of glamorous associations coming with their titles. Have I ever seen a house with a portrait of a flying ant? No. Have I seen the Amadhliwayos (women of the Hanzu tribe ) confidently introduce themselves by their totemic identity? The answer is the same. Because of the stigma emanating from the malice that comes out of people’s mouths whenever they hear of the flying ant as a totem, the beauty of the tribe gets flattened, and the true reality and capability of the beta people is obscured.

In this context, as a family, we defy the odds. Because of my sister’s socializing prowess and extrovertedness, her presence commands every room that she enters. On the other hand, I am very fond of conversations that enrich the mind, and from these enriching experiences I manage to talk my way into the minds of great, influential people who actually sit down to listen when I speak. This has resulted in finding myself having a consultative seat at an international medical students conference (I study medicine) and just enjoying being given the chance to advise at forums which call for people with highly esteemed personalities and achievements. All of this is because we were told that we are the better people.

To my fellow beta people mediocrity is a “mindset problem” which, as a tribe, we should transform from. We are of great value and prowess, made out of the finest raw materials of creation. The evidence of our existence is felt everywhere, hence the sky is the beginning!

24 December, 2022