Monday, June 14, 2010

Ngugi wa Mirii

I got a copy of the latest edition of African Theatre, and saw an obituary for Ngugi wa Mirii. I hadn't heard - but he died in a road accident in 2008, aged only 56. The obituary, by his more famous namesake Ngugi wa Thiong'o, is very elegantly written. They worked together in the early years of African community theatre, especially the famous Kamairiithu theatre. The Moi dictatorship drove them both into exile. Ngugi was Thiong'o went to the US, and Ngugi wa Mirii to Zimbabwe - like many African intellectuals and idealists (among them Ama Ata Aidoo), who believed that the newly independent nation could become a model for the continent.

It was in Zimbabwe that I met Ngugi wa Mirii in 1997. He had been there 15 years, and had established ZACT (Zimbabwe Association of Community Theatres): an extraordinary organisation which facilitated Theatre for Development on a grand scale throughout the region. The methodology was similar to Boal in Brazil - he showed me a framed photograph of himself shaking hands with Paolo Freire, mounted proudly on his wall. He also gave me a T-shirt, which I still have. It lists the many types of theatre which ZACT presented on the back, and on the front it says "Theatre for Conscientization and Development". I don't wear it often - just when I want to make a point. It usually works.

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