Equestria Uncovered: Seeking Guidance from Zecora

Zecora pic 1

Of course we get to the Zebra of rhyme!  I’m sure all of you are saying that it’s about time!  I’ll finally discuss her place in the show.  I only hope that this article doesn’t blow.

Alright!  I swear I won't do anymore rhymes.

Alright! I swear I won’t do anymore rhymes.

Zecora is one of the more interesting characters to come out of MLP, which once again is mostly due to what they haven’t shown us (whether intentionally or not).  Every aspect of her design and personality has the potential to be a very interesting story that can be further explored in the show, yet they’ve decided not to pursue these plot threads so far.  Despite her being one of the most often seen secondary characters, we don’t know a whole lot about her besides what we see on the surface.  Hopefully the studio will eventually realize the massive potential that this character has for not only teaching kids about different cultures, but also developing the world of Equestria and the lands beyond it.

So what do we know from canon?  Zecora was one of the characters that was in Lauren Faust’s original pitch bible and was originally called Shaman.  In her original interpretation of the character, she would be more of an advisor in the quests that the ponies would go on.  The name was changed to Zecora for legal reasons (thankfully, because Shaman is Just a wee bit on the nose), and her role in the show ended up getting scaled back a bit.  She wasn’t originally going to speak in rhyme, but Hasbro wanted a defining feature for the character so Amy Keaton Rogers came up with the idea.

Original sketch by Lauren Faust

Original sketch by Lauren Faust

Now let’s talk about her design and characteristics as seen in the show.  Let me just be upfront and say that my knowledge on ANY of this doesn’t go further than skimming Wikipedia.  I’m no doubt gonna get some of this wrong, so if anyone reading this can point out my mistakes, please let them be known in the comments.  I’m looking forward to seeing what people have to say.

Almost every aspect of her character reflects African traditions, which lead us to believe that zebras are the Equestrian equivalent of Black, just like how the Buffalo are the equivalent of Native Americans.

Still not sure what the donkeys are supposed to be.  Jewish maybe?

Still not sure what the donkeys are supposed to be. Jewish maybe?

Aside from her being a Zebra (which is a species that only lives in Africa), the first thing we tend to notice is her choice in jewelry.   The neck and leg rings she wears (known as dzilla rings) are traditionally worn by the Ndebele people of South Africa and it’s interesting to note that they are only worn by married women.  I feel this is more likely to be a design oversight than potential foreshadowing, but it’s a very interesting angle that the show should really explore.

Zecora pic 5

Her accent isn’t any specific dialect, but her chants are supposed to be an approximation of Eastern African Swahili.  Since the show creators were unable to get a proper translator, the voice actress was asked to improvise, which is why it’s only an approximation.

Zecora pic 6

As for her occupation as a shaman, it’s somewhat of a western shorthand for a subject that has a lot more depth to it.  When looking at what the word means in African culture, it’s sort of a blanket term for various types of healers in African traditions, such as Sangomas, who cure illness caused by witchcraft, pollution, or bad spirits, and Inyangas who are more or less herbalists.  What she resembles most (or at least more accurately than the rest) is an N’anga.

I like his Popeye pipe. (Yes I’m aware Popeye smoke a corn cob pipe.)

I like his Popeye pipe. (Yes I’m aware Popeye smoke a corn cob pipe.)

To quote Wikipedia: “Among the Shona people of Zimbabwe, an N’anga is a traditional healer who uses a combination of herbs, medical/religious advice and spiritual guidance to heal people.”  When looking at how Zecora has been portrayed in episodes like Bridle Gossip, Cutie Pox, and Magic Duel, it seems clear that this is the kind of role the creators wish to give her.  While mostly focusing on African traditions, there are indications that she practices spiritualism from other cultures as well.  She hangs a dream catcher on her front door which is a Native American practice, and her pole balancing skills reflect training used by the Shaolin Monastery, which is a Chán Buddhist temple.

Zecora pic 8

In China, Chán is a form of Mahāyāna Buddhism which primarily focuses on meditation and concentration.  In the West we tend to be more familiar with its Japanese variant known as Zen, and popular culture has given us many examples of its use.

Zecora pic 9

While the practice of using herbs and natural resources to make medicines and elixirs is seen throughout many cultures around the world, the use of a cauldron specifically is mostly rooted in European folklore about witchcraft.  Considering where they wanted to go with the first episode, and the fact that they do live in a world of magic, it makes sense to have that in there as it provides another form of spirituality for her to practice.  Considering she practices traditions from Africa, Asia, and North America, why not throw in Wiccan practices which originated in Europe?

“Fire burn and cauldron bubble; I’ll teach you fillies to stay out of trouble.”

“Fire burn and cauldron bubble; I’ll teach you fillies to stay out of trouble.”

So it seems that truly summarizing Zecora is a bit of tricky considering how many different sources they’re pulling from in order to create this character.  It’s what I like to call “the Kitchen Sink” approach to characterization which is something that happens when a single theme is pushed very heavily in a character by showcasing many characteristics.  We see it pretty often in cartoons where the medium makes subtly harder to pull off, so many just go straight to caricature.

You already know everything about these characters just by these pictures.

You already know everything about these characters just by these pictures.

I think it works better for Zecora though because, despite having multiple characteristics to push the single theme about her being a spiritual person, it’s a theme that we almost never see in cartoons and the sources they are pulling from are very diverse.

One more thing worth discussing is her ability to use magic without a horn.  Many people in the fandom have suggested that Earth ponies contain a form of magic that isn’t as obvious like pegasi’s ability to move clouds and unicorns’ ability to use their horns.  The same can probably be said of the magic that we’ve seen Zecora  perform which seem to be more focused on illusions and subtle changes rather than the more practical and direct magic used by unicorns.  I like the idea that there are aspects of magic that unicorns can’t or are untrained in using which somewhat balances the scales in terms of power.  The Canterlot elite have mostly been represented by unicorns such as Fancy Pants, Prince Blue Blood, Jet Set and Upper Crust.  In fact, the ones who aren’t unicorns, such as Photo Finish, Hoity Toity, and Sapphire Shores, are the ones whose occupations we know which makes it easier for us to see why they are considered elite.  The cloud walking and wing growing spells have also taken steps to close the gap between what Pegasi can do over unicorns.  At this point, we haven’t had a proper explanation for the magic that Zecora can perform, so it keeps a bit of mystery about it that shows us that, like the Pinkie Sense, there are forces out there that the ponies (and particularly unicorns) have yet to fully understand, making them seem like only a small part of a much bigger and more interesting world.

“Fail or succeed.  There is no in between.”

“Fail or succeed. There is no in between.”

Fan canon for her is almost nonexistent. I think the reason for this is that her character only speaks in rhyme, which it makes it harder for people to accurately portray her in any sort of fan made content outside of art.

“Ah! The pony whose fur is orange.” … “Can I get you… a bowl of… porridge? “

“Ah! The pony whose fur is orange.” … “Can I get you… a bowl of… porridge? “

The little I have seen deals with certain aspects of her past, but I have yet to find a widely accepted theory on who she was before arriving to Ponyville, and her reasons for leaving her home country.  Honestly, from the fan made content I’ve seen and read, zebras are very underrepresented when compared to other species that have made appearances in the show such as dragons and griffons.  I feel it’s kind of a shame given what we can deduce and extrapolate about her and, by extension, other zebras.

So given all that went into making this character, how has the show treated her?  As far as secondary characters go, she’s fared better than most.  Even after her initial episode, she’s had several speaking roles in various episodes, some of which she was a key figure in resolving the problem that the ponies were facing.  The problem is that, despite her being a big part of the show, we don’t know anything about her.  She creates potions, gives advice, and is from a faraway land.  What were the circumstances for her leaving her home?  Why does she live in the Everfree Forest instead of Ponyville?  What does her cutie mark represent, and why do Zebras get them, but Donkey’s don’t?  They all part of genus Equus!!  We see a lot of things that they CAN explore about her character, but they have yet to take the time to show us why she follows all of these practices.  Here’s what they should do.

We’ll return to our regularly scheduled article after this brief episode pitch.

We’ll return to our regularly scheduled article after this brief episode pitch.

Have an episode similar to The Cutie Mark Chronicles where the CMC ask Zecora about her cutie mark and eventually the discussion goes into her past.  It’d give the animators a chance to create a whole new environment that’s distinctive from the land of Equestria, and will make the world much more diverse and interesting.  It’d also give the writers a chance to explore the several aspects of African culture that are part of the character.  The biggest hurdle with this is going to be the fact that you have an ENTIRE episode of characters rhyming.  A way to get around that to an extent would be to either have the adults be the only ones who rhyme (maybe getting a cutie mark has something to do with it), or have the rhyming be specific to her training as a shaman.  They can also explore how she came across the other forms of spirituality that she practices.  On her travels, she met with the Buffalos who taught her about dream catchers and Equestrian herbalism.  We’ve seen in the show that martial arts exist in this universe, so why not explore that further by having Zecora visit a monastery?  It would truly open up the world of Equestria by showing that people outside of the Mane 6 lead interesting and fulfilling lives.

So what are the chances of any of that happening?  Honestly, it depends on how long the show stays on the air, and how story focused (as opposed to episodic) the show gets in the fourth season.  It doesn’t take too long for a show to start branching out to other characters to tell stories about their lives as well (The Simpsons being a great example), and I believe that the show has enough legs to stay on the air for at least a few more seasons.  Considering how prominently she’s been a part of the show’s supporting cast, I’d wager that she’ll have a backstory episode in season 5. Until then, let’s all hope that she remains a prominent citizen of Ponyville, and continues to be an important guide for ponies looking for help in their lives.

So here’s to Zecora, the zebra who is truly one of a kind.  Let’s hope the writers are skilled enough to one day get into her amazing mind.

I just had to sneak in one more rhyme. FORGIVE ME!!!

I just had to sneak in one more rhyme. FORGIVE ME!!!

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Fan Favorites

Fan Fiction

For Want of a Mask by LDSocrates

It’s still pretty new with only four chapters so far, but I’m very interested to see where this one goes.  The story takes place in a slightly alternate timeline (assuming that the first arc of the comic book is considered canon) where Chrysalis landed in the Everfree forest after getting blasted out of Canterlot.  She’s found by Zecora, and the story is essentially about her taking care of Chrysalis out of her own sense of morality and unending generosity.  Chrysalis is written very well so far, and the story gives us a lot of background on her activities in the past and how much of a menace she’s truly been to the other species on the planet.  Zecora as the unflappable caretaker of someone that everyone else has a grudge against fits perfectly into the way she’s been portrayed in the show.  While it may have only just started, I have greatly enjoyed what I’ve read and gladly recommend it to everyone.

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Tumblr

Ask Young Zecora by Ziminite (writer) and SuperRobotRainbowPig (artist)

This is what I’ve been looking for when it comes to Zecora fan content.  It’s all about her life growing up in Zebrica and exploring the world she came from, her friends and her training as a shaman.  The art style, the unique location, and the use of creatures we haven’t seen in the show before makes this place truly separate from anything we’ve seen in Equestria without making it feel like it doesn’t belong in the same world.  It’s still somewhat new, but it’s one to definitely keep an eye on.

Zecora pic 16

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Video

[EPRBoE #3] Iron Will VS Zecora by EPRBoE

I’m not really a fan of the first two, but this is the one where they really brought everything together and got it all right.  The voice actors are great in this and the music does a great job of reflecting these two characters.  They haven’t made another one since this, and it’s been eight months since this one was posted, so I’m not really holding out hope for a future episode.  If you haven’t seen it already, give it a shot.

Zecora pic 17

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Well I think this one went pretty well!  Bet you all learned something didn’t ya?  Think my facts are crap?  I’m pretty sure that’s true.  Let me know in the comments below!

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Research Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neck_rings

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamanism#Africa

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%27anga#Shona_N.27anga

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cauldron

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaolin_Monastery

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaolin_Kung_Fu

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Ch%C3%A1n

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Image Sources

Sunset by PPonyOO

Pinkie Pie Disapproving by Background Pony

Zecora Sketch by fyre-flye

That Wicked Enchantress Zecora by ShelltoonTV

Evil Enchantress by BlacksWhites

Jet Set and Upper Crust by Silentmatten

Trust issues based on racial differences by GlancoJusticar

Peacefull Zecora by romus91

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One thought on “Equestria Uncovered: Seeking Guidance from Zecora

  1. Rukeyazu

    Honestly one thing that I always found viable is that the rhyming thing isn’t so much something commonly done by zebras, but as a sign of respect to those of other cultures or something. The precedence for having different speech patters and the like in various situations is set with many many different languages.

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