Lynn Nottage's play Ruined is set during the bloody Congolese Civil Wars that started during the year 1996 and progressed until 2003 in the Central African country called the Democratic Republic of the Congo, previously called Zaire. The play captures a small fraction of the violence experienced during the war, a war that took 5.4 million lives. It especially captures how the war "ruined" the lives of millions.
One important theme in the play concerns the destruction of African tribal life due to the civil wars. The theme is particularly expressed through the recurring motif of a gray parrot that belonged to Old Papa Batunga before he died. Though the play is set in a very rural area, the parrot is the only direct connection the play has to nature. The absence of nature helps to underscore the theme of the destruction of tribal life. More importantly, as Mama informs us early on in the play, the parrot "speaks pygmy," and "Old Papa was the last of his tribe. That stupid bird was the only thing he had left to talk to." (p. 7) Hence, the bird only speaks pygmy because pygmy was the only language Old Papa could speak; plus, Old Papa was the last remaining member of his tribe, the only remaining person who actually could speak pygmy. Therefore, we see that both the pygmy-speaking parrot and the death of Old Papa underscore the theme of the destruction of tribal life since Old Papa's tribe was destroyed by the wars.