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A Brief History of African

Theatre:
An Overview

April 13, & 18, 2016


What do you know about
Africa and its people?
Did you know
this?

Population:
1,166,239,306
Africa: An Overview
Known to be the place from which the very first humans
originated;
Great diversity of geography, climate, politics, and languages
(more than 800 spoken languages);
Interactions with other cultures:
Northern coasts with European and Middle Eastern cultures
for millennia;
Eastern coasts long history of trading relations with of the
Indian Ocean, including India and Saudi Arabia;
Western, Central, and Southern coasts few contacts with
European maritime travelers Establishment of small colonies;
1885: Official start of colonialism;
Reorganization of colonies after WWI and WWII;
Independence movement in late 1950s and early 1960s;
Religious Africa
Some Basic Issues and Problems
Non-written languages
Oral historic records (Importance of the Griot in West Africa);
Colonial powers dismissal of these histories and traditions;
Many of the histories were lost by the time writing symbols were
adopted;
Contradictions between the imposed European history and the
Natives oral histories
Double Consciousness Assimilation Matriculation
Civil wars following independence Apartheid
Slavery and Slave Trade and the loss of part of the population
and memory of the past But also, impacts on World music and
arts
Western and Eastern religions vs Ancestral belief systems
In Africa, performance is a primary site for the production
of knowledge, where philosophy is enacted, and where
multiple and often simultaneous discourses are employed.
Not only that, but performance is a means by which people
reflect on their current conditions, define and/or re-invent
themselves and their social world, and either re-enforce,
resist, or subvert prevailing social orders. Indeed both
subversion and legitimation can emerge in the same
utterance or act. (3)
[Margaret Drewal, The Sate of Research on Performance in
Africa, African Studies Review, 34, 3 (Dec., 1991): 1-64]
Defining Theatre and Performance in Africa

Pre-colonial African performance: Still a lot of research


needed

Complexity of forms, languages, and symbolisms

Drumming

Dances

Masks and Masquerades (Pende Masks, Yoruba Egungun)

Puppets (Bamana or Bambara)

Rites and Social Drama

Religions
Pende Masks & Bamana Puppets
Minganji
Rituals and Ritualistic Performances
Initiation ceremonies for boys and girls (Rites of
Passage)

Preparation for hunting sessions

Preparation for wars

Power functions

Honoring the dead

Daily Social Functions


Ritual

Main structure from Arnold Van Genneps ideas


Contribution of Victor Turners Social Drama
Four stages:

1. BREACH

2. CRISIS

3. REDRESSIVE PROCESS: Ancestral transactions or


sentences Political Processes Legal-Judicial Process

4. REINTEGRATION (or RECOGNITION OF


IRREPARABLE SCHISM)
Mukanda Initiates
Egungun Costume & Mask
Preliminary Concepts/Performance Functions
Richard Schechners Dyad:
- Entertainment
- Efficacy

Victor Turners ideas:


- Social Drama
- Aesthetic Performance

Bakary Traor and the Social Functions of African Theatre:


- Political Functions Criticisms Presentation of Models

- Galvanizing Functions Collective Actions


- Didactic Functions Education and Change of Mentalities
- Recollection of Major Events and Past Heroes
Colonial and Post-colonial Situations

The Negritude Movement


- Aim Csaire, Lopold Sdar Senghor, Lon
Gontran-Damas Black literature in Paris (1932 to
1966)

- Coined by Aim Csaire, who deliberately and


proudly incorporated this derogatory word into the
name of his ideological movement 1932
Colonial and Post-colonial Situations

Panafricanism
- The Independence Movement Edward Blyden,
W.E.B. Dubois, Haile Selassie, Kwame Nkrumah &
Skou Tour

- The belief that people of African descent


throughout the Diaspora (meaning spread
throughout the world) share a common history,
culture, and experience and should stick together.
Modern and Westernized Theatre and
Performance
The Role of Western Schools:
> The William Ponty School for Native Teachers and Colonial
Administrators (1913)

In Gore Island (later transferred to Sebikotane)

Audio-Visual Media
The BBC Drama Competition (1957 and onward)
Radio France Internationale Competitions (1968 1990)

The Role of Festivals such as the 1st Black World Festival (Dakar
1966)

Fight Against Apartheid


Mau-Mau Uprising and Post-Colonial Africa
Types of Theatre Companies

National Theatres and National Ballets

Traveling Theatre Companies (the case of


Nigeria)
> Duro Ladipo
> Hubert Ogunde
Non-Commercial Companies
Radio and Television Groups
The Advent of Nollywood
Hubert Ogunde (1916-1990)
Duro Ladipo (1931-1978)
Major Themes and Characteristics of Modern
African Theatre

A Committed Theatre No art for arts sake:


Ritualistic Theatre
Memory Theatre Historical figures (Sundiata,
Shaka, Kimpa Mvita, Lumumba, Samory
Tour)
Surrealistic Theatre
Political Criticism
Social Issues
Few Names
Francophone Africa:
> Bernard Dadi (Batrice du Congo)

> Cheik Aliou Ndao (LExil dAlbouri)

> Seydou Badian Kouyat (La mort de Chaka)

> Guillaume Oyono (Trois prtendants, un mari)


> Tchikaya U Tamsi (Le Zulu)

> Sony Labou Tansi (Parenthses de sang)


> Pierre Ndedi-Penda (Le fusil)

> Guy Menga (La marmitte de Koka-Mbala)


> Norbert Mobyem Mikanza (Procs Makala)
Anglophone Africa:
> J.P. Clark (Song of a goat)
> Wole Soyinka (Death and the kings horseman)
> Ngugi Wa Thiongo, with Micere Mugo** (The
Trial of Dedan Kimathi)
> Femi Osofisan (Whos Afraid of Solarin?)
> Efua Sutherland** (Edufa)
> Ama Ata Aidoo** (Dilemma of the Ghost)
> Zakes Mda (We Shall Sing for the Fatherland)
> Athol Fugard (Sizwe Banzi is Dead)
> Hussein Ebrahim (Kinjeketile)
The Case of South Africa
The history of theatre in South Africa is bound up in the
complexities of its colonial and recent past.

Because of its strategic location and resources, South Africa began


early to be coveted by Europeans. Beginning around 1652 the
Netherlands encouraged Dutch immigrants to settle there.

British occupation starting around 1814

Resistance against the European occupation Death of Shaka


(1828)

Independence of Union of South Africa (reconciliation of the


Boers/Afrikaners and British settlers) from Britain in 1931

Apartheid System (1948-1994) Black people moved to townships


(shantytowns) Separate homelands in the least desirable lands
As in other African countries, indigenous performances were
numerous and of long standing before the arrival of
Europeans.

The first performance of a European play in South Africa


came in the 1780s, and after 1801 theatrical performances
were available occasionally through visiting companies from
England and elsewhere.

Because of government restrictions, many white English-


language and virtually all black playwrights worked outside
the subsidized theatre.
Black interest in theatre, other than traditional performance,
can be traced back to at least the 1920s. In 1927, G.B. Sinxos
Debezas Baboons became the first play in Xhosa language to
be performed

H.I.E. Dhlomo (1903-1956) The Girl Who Killed to Save:


Nongquase the Liberator (1935) first drama in English by a
black person to be published.
June 16, 1976: Soweto Uprising
Black Political Theatre

Political theatre grew out in the 1970s out of the Black Consciousness Movement (in
universities) Not being able to act politically, this movement chose theatre as means
of uniting blacks, reminding them of their history and lost culture, and building
resistance

Mbongeni Ngema, Percy Mtwa, and Barney Simon Woza Albert!

Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, Statements
after an Arrest under the Immorality Act, The Island

Style of Performance:

Improvisations from basic storyline grounded on everyday struggles

Combinations of spoken words, songs, dance steps (gumboot dance)

Musicals such as Asinamali! (1983) -


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNmXT1Q_ECw

Sarafina (1986) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpYaGfnnnYI &


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrtAAhZeVBc

Township Fever (1990)


Woza Albert!

Sizwe Bansi Is Dead


Wole Soyinka Guillaume Oyono
Mbia
Wole Soyinka (1934)

Nigerian playwright, poet, author, teacher and


political activist
Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature in 1986.
Some of his 29 or so plays:
The Swamp Dwellers (1958), The Lion and the Jewel (1959), The
Trials of Brother Jero (1959), A Dance of the Forests (1960), The
Strong Breed (1964), Kongi's Harvest (1964), The Road (1965),
Madmen and Specialists (1970), The Bacchae of Euripides
(1973), Death and the King's Horseman (1975), Opera Wonyosi
(1977), A Play of Giants (1984), King Baabu (2001)
Guillaume Oyono Mbia (1939)
African dramatist and short-story writer, one of bilingual
Cameroons few writers to achieve success both in French
and in English.
Compared Molire created comedies that play well both
on stage and on radio.
Among them are Trois prtendants . . . un mari (1962; Three
Suitors . . . One Husband), Until Further Notice (1967), Notre
fille ne se mariera pas! (1969; Our Daughter Will Not
Marry!), and His Excellencys Train (1969)
Favorite theme: youth versus adult, modernity versus
tradition.
Three satire volumes of amusing tales of life in his native
village, Chroniques de Mvoutessi (197172; Chronicles of
Mvoutessi).