East Africa: Uganda
In East Africa, Kenya and Uganda have been the most active dramatically. Makerere University in Uganda, with its own traveling theater company, has had a tremendous impact. The plays that have come out of this region, despite considerable diversity, have common, identifiable features. For the most part, they are well made. With the exception of Ngugi wa Thiong’o (who wrote as James T. Ngugi until 1970), the dramatists rely on simple, intimate situations, choosing to reveal the larger social setting within the microcosm of a small group. Even when the setting is a traditional village, either in the past or in contemporary times, with one or two exceptions the complicating features of song, dance, and ritual are absent. In addition, a pervasive motif preoccupies dramatists, whether they are speaking of the traditional life of the people or the modern conflict between African and non-African, both European and otherwise: On the most basic level, the motif is self-aggrandizement, an imposition of the self on others. In Ugandan plays, especially, self-aggrandizement frequently leads to self-destruction as well.
Nuwa Sentongo ’s The Invisible Bond (pb. 1975) is a paradigm of this theme. Kibaate murders his wife’s beloved only to have the corpse return to haunt him. While he slowly becomes a slave to this dead master, his wife is killed and joins her lover, Damulira, in death. In the background of the personal conflict, night-walkers (cannibals), acting as a chorus of dancers, stalk the dead, first calling up Damulira, then Kibaate’s wife, as food for their tables. The feeding of one on another attains a level of ritual condemnation. Elvania Namukwaya Zirimu in Family Spear (pr. 1972; radio play) and Tom Omara in The Exodus (pr. 1965) call into question the role of tradition in sanctioning such behavior. In both plays, the ancestral spear, the symbol of authority, signifies the continuing power of tradition to prevent a sensitive response to the human needs of the present.
Several Ugandan and Kenyan dramatists are of Asian (Indian or Pakistani) ancestry. Their special situation within the African setting raises issues of race, belonging, and patriotism. Significantly, however, the theme of self-aggrandizement remains the key concern. Jagjit Singh ’s Sweet Scum of Freedom (pr. 1972; radio play) ennobles the “scum,” or victims, of society (the heroine is a prostitute) and suggests strongly a desire for self-destruction in those who exploit them. Ganesh Bagchi shows, in Of Malice and Men (pb. 1968), the difficulty an Indian,...
(The entire section is 1061 words.)