In the Continuum and other plays: Part Two

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‘Belonging’ is the first play in the anthology, In the Continuum and other plays. It is written for radio medium, hence its heavy reliance on auditory imagery. The exposition, the stage directions, authorial intrusions, the dialogues and the soliloquies are designed in such a way as to direct the broadcaster to show us the action and to allow us to feel the moves from each player through his voice and the sounds from the background.
Because the target audience are not meant to see the play, sound becomes key.
This play is a philosophical expose seeking to interrogate the possibility of transcending the limitations and possibilities of identity beyond what is oft regarded as species-specific standard.
Through the protagonist, ‘Kuku’, the young chicken, the playwright teases the reader’s/listener’s imagination on limits and possibilities of identity.
The central questions that run throughout the play are: can we ever be other than who/what we are?
How far can imagination transcend reality?
Or better still, can nature be changed?
In trying to confront these philosophical moorings, the playwright employs imagination and experimentation in a special way.
To begin with the play is structured in a unique way.
It is a one-act play with 16 scenes.
Here the question of deviation from the norm or convention is successfully experimented with.
Secondly, the playwright also experiments with folkloric elements.
The characters are not only personified animals but animals of different species, the hyenas and wild fowls, an unusual pairing deliberately done to push the authorial agenda that anything is possible and that there are so many things in common even among those things cultures have deemed diametrically different.
The style employed is meant to suspend belief in order to explore alternative possibilities.
The setting, the plot, characterisation and motif are all blended in the escapades of a single protagonist, Kuku, around which the rest of the character appear as shadow/foil characters.
This approach is typical of a short story genre, now experimented with in the production of a play, again underscoring the transferability of generic elements in pursuit of alternative ways of being.
The rest of the conventional dramatic elements are infused in the life of Kuku the protagonist, in particular in Kuku’s journey to self-discovery which ironically fails to lead to discovery of ideal self but succeeds in realisation of the inexorable ways of nature.
In tracing Kuku’s movements, choices, chances and consequences of all her efforts one can also see elements of classical tragedy.
Her restless instincts are her Achilles heel.
It is the source of the conflict which drives the play.
Her dissatisfaction with the status quo leads her to search for an ideal alternative way of existence.
This inner-conflict is mirrored in Kuku’s relationship with the rest of the pack of fowls.
She particularly challenges the patriarchal order and the resultant pecking order which privileges the Rooster on one hand and age in general at the expense of those at the end of the pecking order.
She adopts a radical feminist stance when she asks: “And what is so special about being a rooster?”(p.9).
Mama Kuku who has internalised the patriarchal values wonders why Kuku should “seek knowledge that is beyond even the oldest fowl” (p.9).
But Kuku is undeterred.
Besides deploring having the Jobo (the Rooster) leaping over all of them (chickens), she ponders over higher questions of existence, demanding to comprehend higher purposes of life beyond the mundane routine of eating, sleeping, mating, laying eggs and “waiting to be eaten.” (p.9)
Kuku believes that, “there must be more to life than this.” (p.9)
The rising action of the play complicates when Kuku sees an alternative possibility in her new found friend, ‘Bere’.
Both are immediately united by their common interest in democratic imagination and freedom of thought and feeling.
Kuku seizes the opportunity of their friendship to introduce a new frontier of possibility to her family.
She introduces Bere (who is conventionally regarded as a predator) as a friend to her family quite to their awe.
Their first impression is that the adventurous Kuku is speaking from inside the belly of the carnivore only to discover that Kuku is sitting comfortably on Bere’s back.
Yet even then, they are too frightened to entertain the possibility of what they regard as an ‘unnatural relationship’.
On the contrary, Kuku is more than pleased to follow her instincts.
She is so entranced by the attractiveness of her new friend Bere that she even imitates the way Bere speaks to the consternation of her disapproving mother.
Complication of conflict comes with Jobo’s attempt to mate with Kuku who then takes to her flight to seek refuge from her friend which relief comes early enough to avert the impending rape.
This complexion of events allows Kuku to experience a new lease of life away from the chicken world.
She shares several moments of bliss (with her friend) which is punctuated by threats from the jealous and unaccommodating Bere community.
Disaster then strikes when Bere is fatally wounded by a dog during one of their night-hunts, leaving Kuku alienated and vulnerable.
The crisis point, the tragic point, comes when Bere succumbs to the wound and dies.
This leaves Kuku with no choice but to rejoin the fowl community once again to face the wrath of Jobo and to eat the same food as before.
This sudden turn of events brings with it an epiphany which is evident in the denouement.
The anticlimax leads to restoration of the much hated status quo.
Once again the chickens have come home to roost for Kuku the chicken.
Three statements by Kuku underline the cathartic epiphany.
At the end of the play she asks: “Mama, in the whole of creation, does there not exist a kind that is free from narrow-mindedness?”
This question is like a boomerang.
It is answered by her earlier foresight: “None can run from their destiny” (p10).
Later she admits: “I found that a journey to self-discovery does not necessarily lead to the discovery of self”(p23).
The essence of the last observation offers critical insight into the nature of self. Kuku should have realised that individuation of self leads to lack of proper self-knowledge.
Her initial quest was as misleading as western worldview which separates self from community.
Identity based on “I think therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum) leads to tragic auto destruction.
Africans what triumphs is the African truism: muntu ngumuntu ngavantu (I am because we are).
An African unhuist/ubuntuist worldview teaches that identity derives from the family, the clan, the community, the nation and the continent at large.
The moral of the play is therefore unmistakable: your allegiance is to your family, to your community and to your nation.
Put simply you have duties and responsibilities to these first before you serve your id and ego.
You belong to your family, nation and race before you are a global citizen. Belonging means allegiance to species-specific group identity.
Even the Bible says “ida wokwako sokuda kwaunozviita.”
You are defined by your community, its ethos and its culture.
That essence can only be wished away by fools.
Africa, know thyself.

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