STORY and plot are key to appreciating any text.
In literary criticism, ‘story’ refers to events in their chronological order. It is about what happens in the short story, novel or play.
Wherever you have movement, you have events which punctuate the concatenation of those events.
They form the milestones.
A re-arrangement of these events gives us the plot.
It is the author’s style or design that determines which event comes before which and for what effect. This re-weaving of the official order of events (story) is what yields stylistic techniques such as foreshadowing, flashback, the stream of consciousness and suspense.
In this article, we focus on unearthing the story. This is important because without the story-line, any further analysis of the play may not be grounded.
The story in Colour of Hope is predicated on the history of colonialism and imperialism in Africa. What you have in the play is like the images of European exploits in the African landscape, psychoscape and socioscape.
To understand where Liyong is coming from; and more so, to understand the moral outrage generated by his deliberate employment of subversive sexual symbolism that you keep wincing at, you need to be conversant with the phases and actions of imperial history in Africa.
At some point of my first reading of the play, I resisted the temptation to throw away the play because of what appeared to me to be the playwright’s preoccupation with sexual perversion inimical to my moral upbringing.
There was a point at which I could not stomach staring the Chief’s defence of his raping of his own ‘daughter’, the Chief’s sister subjecting young boys to sexual abuse in the name of ‘testing’ their sexual potential and the idea of a mother-in-law (the Queen) ‘testing’ a prospective ‘son-in-law’.
All this is immoral gabbage and debris that unhu/ubuntu cannot be excited about for that amounts to gross violation of African moral systems.
So effusive is Liyong’s characterisation of clandestine sexual activities behind the palace scenes that one is momentarily tempted to judge him as celebrating debauchery and immorality.
It is only after realising the import of these sexual images as symbols of subverting the immorality of cultural imperialism that comes with foreign domination that one realises there is no better way of demonstrating the moral revulsion that comes with the predatory culture of aliens than to throw their dirt back at them.
Only at this point do you then realise that Liyong is not over-experimenting with sexual symbology with a desire to undermine the African culture he seeks to protect; rather he is ‘writing back to the empire’.
At this point you realise that the pieces of the storyline begin to fall into place. That is when you become fully conversant with both story and the plot.
In fact, at this point you then begin to reconstruct the story from the maze of flashbacks, foreshadows, symbolism and ironies of the play. The storyline is simple although the literary value of events needs to be excavated from beyond the surface.
Liyong presents a recast of the history of colonialism in Africa (deliberately excluding the race component).
Exclusion of race is deliberate in that the playwright wants Africans to see through the lie that colour had anything to do with the imperial design.
Rather this lie has been nurtured to systematically bushel the evil and immoral economic greed that drove the European imperial agenda.
In truth, the essence of the colonial mission was predicated upon turning values of fellow humans upside down and replacing them with ungodly practices which matched their ungodly deeds.
This is the understanding that must belie your reading of the Chief, his Sister and Isanusi as representatives of the colonial dispensation. They are just as human in form as any other. They do not have to be white or blue.
If anything, what distinguishes them from their saintly subject is the colour of their hearts which is dark and sanguinary.
They are just a group of human beings coming from an alien land which is characterised by predatory instincts.
Driven by a conquistadorian ego, they sweep over a land of peace-loving people somewhere in Africa and vanquish them physically owing to the superiority of weapons. In the process they forcibly annex local people whose cultures they immediately replace with their own evil ways and live assuming that they have buy-in from the otherwise cautious indigenes who are awaiting their day of deliverance from their grossly insensitive oppressor.Meanwhile, the conquered are not docile.
Neither are they blind to the need to preserve their own value systems.
They continue to manipulate and manoeuvre their resistance within the discourse of imperial hypocrisy.
The Queen, who has been sacrificed to the Chief by the subjects in return for peace, takes advantage of the tactical withdrawal of her people to take the lead in denying the Chief procreation.
She is impregnated by her people twice and persuades the Chief into believing that the two children are his. Symbolically, the Queen represents the conquered land of Africa which skilfully and subtly refuses to yield its fruits to the foreign usurper.
However, as the story unfolds, we realise that the handshake with Europe is not without its negatives. Alienation cannot be denied.
Local cultures have not remained innocent, but have been impacted upon in a negative way with the African youth hardest-hit.
This is demonstrated by the literal and symbolic raping of the Princess Royal by her ‘father’ the Chief.
Incestuous immorality is projected and defended as the cornerstone of colonial culture for its own perpetuation.
Without shame the Chief defends his misdeed as a “royal duty; to plant the next seed”.(20).The story continues with the exposure of the Chief’s immoral act by his ‘son’ at his moment of weakness, in the process igniting and inviting royal anger which then pits the Prince and the Queen against the wounded Chief. Wisdom guides the Prince to flee to his Uncle (motherland) and the Queen to attempt to poison the Chief in vain. Following her death sentencing by the imperial court presided over by the Queen Royal she is delivered into the Chief Guard who cunningly arranges for her flight.
Meanwhile, Auntie Makhadzie, disappointed by her brother’s spinelessness (manifested in being successfully cuckolded twice), arranges for his re-marriage to two virgins; insisting that he has to be tested before he enjoys another lease of Africa’s bounty.And it is during the testing (disgustingly by his sister) that she kills him before she is killed by the Isanusi thereby completing the adage that he who lives by the sword dies by his own sword. In other words, every oppressive system bears seeds of its own destruction.This brings the play to an end with Africa restoring itself through its guided youths. They are the ‘colour of hope’.
They are the future reasserting itself.
STORY and plot are key to appreciating any text.