Christopher Okemwa’s journey through the epic monologue
Published : Thursday, 11 February, 2021 at 12:00 AM Count : 371
Raila Odinga, who is still living, has won Kenyan elections twice, in 2013 & 2017, but has been denied the presidency. Like Sheikh Mujib who won the first democratic election in 1970, Raila won presidential election in 2013 and 2017, but in both cases was denied to form the government, just as Sheikh Mujib could not form a government when he won the first democratic election of Pakistan in 1970. In Kenya protests were held as Raila declared himself the "People's President", while in Pakistan civil disobedience erupted as Sheikh Mujib announced independence of Bangladesh. True, as Mujib gained the name of Bangabandhu, after his 6-point plan in 1966, so did Raila gain the name "People's President" in 2017.
Both the Bengali and the Kenyan people have had similar suffering in the past. The Bengalis although they are the majority, have been poorly represented in Pakistan's civil services, in the police and in the military, as well as in revenue allocation. In Kenya the two BIG tribes --The Kikuyus and the Kalenjins -- who have owned power since independence, are awarded prime jobs in the country, and therefore huge resources, while the rest of the 40 small tribes are left with almost no top jobs, and therefore little resources. While Sheikh Mujib declared Charter of Survival, a plan that saw East Pakistan self-govern itself and attain defence automnomy, Raila, on the other hand, initiated a new Kenyan constitution in 2010, in which services, revenue and resources were decentralized, hence having units of governance called the COUNTIES which now receives a 30 per cent-40 per cent of the national revenues. Thanks to this Sheikh Mujib of Kenya, at least now small tribes are able to get a fair share of the national cake.
We see a lot of similarity here between the Kenyan Raila and the Bangladesh Sheikh Mujib. While Mujib worked hard to liberate the ethnically-discriminated Bengali people in Pakistan, who comprised the majority of the state's population, Raila in Kenya has worked hard to liberate the 40 small tribes against two big ones, the Kikuyus and the Kalenjins, who have clang to power since 1963 when Kenya attained independence. Like Sheikh Mujib in Pakistan, Raila's opposition leadership in Kenya led to the new constitution in Kenya in 2010 which resulted into decentralized governance that brought in small units of governance called Counties, which gets a portion of the national revenues.
The campaign against the "prestigious" languages, in favour of the indigenous and Kenyan less-popular languages is something we share with Bangladesh. The Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o has been on a campaign trail against the use of "colonial" or "imperialist" language: English. Many people including scholars in Kenya are against the dominance of English that creates a sense of neo-colonialism. This happened in Bangladesh when Mujib, leading the Bengali Language Movement, protested against the adoption of Urdu as a national language. Becaue of this Bangladesh have 21st of February as the day of recognition for state language.
Epic monologue is totally a new form of writing? What is the challenge and prospect of it to make a theatre production as well as teach it? How are you conducting necessary research on it?
Monologues are not new. They were in operation in early dramas done in Greek. Infact stage works were all about monologues and no dialogue, until later when the latter was incorporated into theatre.
I am Sheikh Mujib: an Epic Monologue ca be referred to as an interior monologue, in which this father of the nation's thoughts and feelings unfold before the reader or the audience.
A good monologue to a performer or speaker should be one that they have a know-how upon. One challenge is that Bangladesh is foreign and rarely heard of in Kenya. This challenge is surmounted by the fact that the issues imbedded in the monologue - social-political issues, colonialism, oppression, politics of language, refugees, etc,--are relevant to the students of Kisii University and they can relate to them.
One can argue that age-appropriate is an important consideration in a monologue. That is very true. We can believe you when what comes out of your mouth is suitable to your age. The age of Sheikh Mujib could have been advanced and somebody with big experience at the time most of these words in this monologue must have come out of him. Although our students are younger compared to Mujib at the time he experienced all that Anisur talks on in the monologue, we can make up the age difference through costume and acting out the monologue as opposed to reading it from the text.
A long monologue like this one is likely to be boring and falling flat on the face of the audience. We plan to add humour in sections that can be tailored for humour. As the director of the monologue, I intend to create variety in the performance of the monologue and add all necessary theatrical techniques, such as pitch, pace of words and voice variety. In my direction I intend to cause surprise in some sections of the monologue so as to create variety. If the surprise cannot be created through words, we can innovate one through acting. With my directing, I intend to create entertainment in the 50-page monologue. To do so, I plan to read the monologue and understand it fully and get myself into the character. From fully understanding the monologue, I will see how to create variety in the text. With eleven students on stage playing one character, we can present variety of colours in their costumes, a powerful backdrop bearing colours of the flag of Bangladesh, and a picture of Sheikh Mujib. I will create different voices from the eleven students. Small actions will be done alongside the words. Songs and backstage effects will be employed to cause surprise and create variety to the performance. African songs and drums will be infused to the monologue where appropriate.
I am conducting some necessary research on monologues by looking at different variety of monologues, such as theatre film, radio plays and television shows. By preforming I am Sheikh Mujib: an Epic Monologue, the excitement and motivation on the genre will be created and our students , both undergraduate and postgraduate, will study variety of monologues and write thesis on them. Anisur Rahman's works have brought in a new unique study at kisii University.
The writer is an art critic
and cultural curator