The Colour of Hope: Part Four …typification and symbolism


TYPIFICATION and symbolism play a critical role in The Colour of Hope.
As indicated before, any literal reading of the play gives one a superficial understanding of the play.
One needs to delve deeper under the skin of the obvious to get to the serious message the playwright renders.
The whole play is constructed on the metaphor of sex and marriage and the symbolism of sexual acts of varying hues.
The play opens with the chief expressing apprehension over the sex of the prospective child from the Queen’s promising womb.
The stage is here set for a symbolic reading of the trinity pitting the chief, the queen and the child.
As hinted earlier, the alien Chief symbolises foreign domination or the colonial enterprise in Africa. His expectations, too, symbolises the parasitic tendencies of the colonial enterprise.
Oppression, domination and destruction or suppression of local cultures is the modus operandi.
The Queen, on the other hand, represents Africa.
She has been given to the predator Chief by her people in return for peace.
She symbolises an unwilling sacrifice.
She has no inkling of feeling towards the Chief whom she despises or treats with revulsion.
In fact by now you know that she has been impregnated by one of her own (the palace guard) to signify her loyalty and allegiance to her people.
Denying the Chief a child of his royal blood is itself a symbolic act of rejecting imposition and foreign domination.
As it turns out, the child is a baby girl, again confirming the Chief’s expectation.
An interesting point that arises here is that Liyong presents gender politics as a phenomenon of the West (represented by the Chief and his proteges).
It is not African to weigh sons above daughters as later confirmed by the valorisation of African heroines such as Queen Sheba, Queen Nsinga Mbande and Asantewa.
You could add Mbuya Nehanda to the list.
Liyong is also aware of the cold fact that Africa’s handshake with Europe did not leave Africa unscathed.
Indeed the rape of Princess Royal confirms the rape not only of the Africa’s precious resources, but also the defilement of its culture resulting in alienation. The rape is symbolic and so is the resultant pregnancy.
Although the author artistically avoids the mention of the result, it is only artistic determination to resist (at the psychical level) the possibility of an Africa of mixed races, but the point has been driven home that colonisation did not leave Africa the same. Indeed the African culture has been turned upside down.
Perverse sexual practices are the means by which culture is assaulted.
And this is done by characters who both symbolise the Western tradition, the Chief himself and his sister, Auntie Makhadzie.
So much has been revealed about the Chief’s incestuous iniquities; his sister refuses to be outdone. She is the ‘official tester’ who operates in disguise. As her brother violates Virgin Africa (Princess Royal), so does she scandalises the young men by sexually ‘sampling’ them before they can marry their beloved ones.
The neighbouring Prince who should be the official husband to Princess Royal is about to be sexually abused by this iniquitous woman.
The symbolic significance of this act would be the same as that of the Chief on Princess Royal.
However, Liyong crafts an intervention that appears morally outrageous on the surface – bringing in the Princess Royal’s mother, the Queen as the ‘new tester’, but its symbolic significance is not in doubt. The Queen, being indigenous, insists that Africa should be responsible for its own continuity.
We are, however, spared of the moral revulsion of a mother-in-law sleeping with a son-in-law when, “the neighbouring prince meets with obstacles where he imagined none would be found,” before he swears and flees.
Liyong also places the responsibility of subverting the iniquitous sexual practices of the palace in the hands of the questioning youths.
First it is the Prince, who pushes the Chief off the Princess Royal, then it is the Princess Royal who confronts the Chief for what he has done and finally the Niece at Court and the Princess Royal share notes on the foul secrets of the state.
The Niece at Court is the daughter of Auntie Makhadzie who disapproves in strong terms the role of her mother as the ‘matron tester of all grooms’. They vow to, “expose puppies to these matters in order to bring about change” (p.40).
The young generation typifies change. Their idealism is a good starting point for researching the truth.
Through questioning, the two come to the realisation that after all, the Chief is not father to the Prince and the Princess Royal.
The altercation between Auntie Makhadzie and her brother confirms that the Chief has been cuckolded twice (by his own local palace guard).
This altercation too is symbolic: ‘every evil system creates seeds for its own destruction’.
When Auntie Makhadzie leaves the Chief’s apartment, she leaves with something up her sleeve, and this sees fruition in her subsequent murder of her own brother before she too is struck dead by Isanusi.
This is the story of a revolution that eats itself.
Those who live by the sword die by the sword.
The death of the Chief and his sister symbolises the end of colonial enterprise in Africa.
It is then followed by restoration and at the centre of the process of returning to the way are the youths. They are the ‘colour of hope’.
Yes, green is the ‘colour of hope’.
Through them, the positive cultural transformation can be realised.


  1. yes I think that Taban was very clear but indeed the book needs to looked at deeper level not literally.good notes there.thank you


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