Words on Austin Lwanga Bukenya’s The Bride.
by Joan M Kivanda.
Austin Lwanga Bukenya, or as most people call him Mwalimu Bukenya is best known as a Kenyan writer, though he was born in Masala, Southern Uganda on February 10, 1944. One of 10 siblings, Bukenya spent most of his childhood in Kitukutwe village, just outside of Kampala where he attended his primary school. Later, he moved to Entebbe for secondary school and Kampala for his college diploma. 1965, he joined the University of Dar- es-salaam, Tanzania, for Education, Literature, Linguistic and French studies. Later he attended University of Madagascar and York (England). He received his postgraduate studies at Makerere University in Uganda, focusing on Literature and Kiganda Oral traditions. A lecturer by profession, Bukenya has taught in many universities including University of Dar-es-salaam, Makerere University and Stirling University in Scotland. From1978, Bukenya has been teaching at Kenyatta University in Kenya.
Also a poet, a novelist and a keen actor, Bukenya was introduced to theatre and inspired to become a writer by his parents who were strong believers of Kiganda traditions. (Imbuga 2). Chesaina and Mwangi write in A history of African theatre, that “a traditional [Kenyan child] was introduced to drama at birth … As children grew up, they learnt that drama was a part of and a parcel of life” (Banham 209). This immersion of theatre in everyday life was also a part of Bukenya’s education who grew up in a Ugandan village where he “witnessed numerous performances of children’s traditional songs and dances, games and rhythms” (Imbuga 2), that inspired and influenced his writing career. Bukenya wrote his first prizewinning play in 1964, based on stories told to him by his mother. He has since written numerous plays and radio dramas, but only managed to publish two of his plays: The secret and The Bride.
The Bride was written in 1984 and “borrows from oral literature” (The Daily Monitor interview with Bukenya). It is based on a short story, “Two Husbands One Night” by a Kenyan writer, L.M. Kimaro published in Darlite vol.1 no. 1 in 1966. Darlite, short for “Dar-es-salaam Literature” is a literary journal formerly published by the literature department of the University of Dar-es-salaam. This journal was launched as an “experiment to see what can be done towards fulfilling some of the country’s cultural, linguistic and literally responsibility” (Gerard 956). It was one of the early literary movements that finally brought an end to the reign of Shakespeare studies that dominated the education system and literary talks of the time. Two Husbands one night, also sometimes referred as “Two Husband a night” (Gerard 953) was a short story in one of the series of “somewhat romantic concerned stories that appeared on this first [Darlite] journal” (Gerard 956), which was distributed in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, landing itself on the hands of Bukenya who was about to graduate from the University of Dar-es-salaam that year.
Bukenya created his own version of the story in a play on “African folks and accompanying traditions” (Universitat Bayreuth) as a ‘broad experiment in creativity’. The bride was first presented as a public performance by the Ngoma Players, under the direction of Nuwa Sentango, at the Nile Hotel, Kampala, in January 1973. (Abraham 2010) It is divided into four movements. Each movement has the capacity to stand on its own as a short play, with a beginning, middle and an end. Though there is no explicit mention of the passage of time between movements, it is clear to a reader that time has passed between each movement. For example, it is evident that only a few hours have passed between the first movement and the second; while a few days have certainly passed between the second movement and the third as well as between the third and the fourth. Moreover, of the four movements, each movement is structured to be shorter than the one before, which gives an impression that there is a rush to get to the end of the play; or perhaps we are to read that there is a suggestion to let go of the past quickly and focus on the future and the future events. With the quick wrapping of the play in movement four, leaving the situation unexplained with no indication of the consequences of this culture, Bukenya seems to suggest that the handing of power from generation to generation might be too rushed, although everything seems to be working out for everyone.
In an interview with the Daily Monitor, Bukenya says that with African literature “older texts tended to be slower paced and more reflective… [While] with the contemporary writers the adrenalin flows faster, the stories are faster paced” (Lamwaka). However, when one analyze his play, The Bride, it is clear that this observation about older writers vs. young writers is not befitting of his work, because, although Bukenya, an older writer, writes metered, slow paced poetry language in his dialogues, he seems to be very fast paced and full of adrenalin in the flow of the story from movement to movement.
In the same interview with the Daily Monitor, Bukenya says “ I have been fascinated by language all my life”, it’s not surprising then, that in the publication of The Bride, Bukenya included a long introduction about language and writings of African plays and literature. In his introduction, he addresses two main things:
1) The issue of anthropological writings.
– Bukenya writes in his introduction that “African writing in the 1960’s was characterized among other things by a profusion of perfectly researched anthropological pieces” (The Bride vi). These anthropological pieces are cultural snippet-like stories that one might still be able to find in East African cinema today, in films such as Origin of Sin, Sekyaya (2010). The same kind of stories can also be seen in theatre for development pieces in East Africa. In 1960’s these anthropological pieces were written more for the exotic details than for its creative merits; today some are still written for the same purpose, but most anthropological pieces seems to be written with a strong message for educational purposes.
– Though Bukenya strives to move away from such type of work, reading his play in today’s context, one can argue that he falls in “the same traps which he accuses his fellow writers of having fallen into” (Imbuga 28). Bukenya appeals for his readers not to try and locate The Bride to a specific East African ethnic community; but when one places the story into the view of a larger African community, it appears that the play is indeed an anthropological piece exploring an African culture which has and to some extent still is dealing with themes of generational gaps and respect for the elders; while grossing over gender issues such as the issue of women marrying without choice and female circumcision. Though Bukenya is defeated in his quest to avoid anthropological pieces, he succeeds in making The Bride a very creative, poetic and a moving piece that has enough drama, music, dance and improvisations to captivate the audience’s attention.
2) The issue with language:
– According to his introduction, by writing The Bride, Bukenya was hoping to stride away from simplistic language that has defined many renowned African writers of his generation. Bukenya yearned to make The Bride employ a rich and poetic language that reflects the African idioms found in the oral tradition of the African culture. Bukenya “succeeds in creating a unique environment where the young and the old use more or less the same mode of expression” (Imbulga 27). He utilizes some direct translations from local idioms, especially when he assigns dialogue to the elders: “ I have never known a dog that protects meat between its teeth”, says Tatu to her daughter Namvua. Bukenya marries this direct transition with rich poetic language of his own, which he assigned mostly to the dialogues of the young generation: “Now that we have flexed our elbows and knees, let us dance to the skies”, says Lekindo to his team. When it comes to the issue of language therefore, I believe that Bukenya was able to achieve his goal without losing the reader, or distracting the reader from the story. Any reader, African or otherwise should be able to understand and appreciate The Bride for its stories, themes and use of language.
After getting to know Bukenya and The Bride, it is becoming clear that Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are artistically linked. It is important therefore to start examining East African history as a whole instead of focusing only on each individual country and its practices. Having lived, worked and studies in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, Bukenya can be considered to be a true East African artist.
1. Abraham, Sarah. “Tanzanian Literature” The Bride by Austin Bukenya. 28 December 2010. 18 March 2011. http://susanabraham-booksblog.typepad.com/susan_abraham/tanzanian-literature/
2. Abraham Susan. “Voyage on a Page”. The Bride by Austin Bukenya. 27 December 2010. 18 March 2011. <http://susanabraham3.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/the-bride-by-austin-bukenya/>
3. Bukenya, Austin Lwanga. The Bride. Kenya: East African Educational publishers, 1987.
4. Imbuga, Austin. Notes on Austin Bukenya’s The Bride. Kenya: Heinemann limited.1987. [Google Books] 18 March 2011. <http://books.google.ca/books?id=BthKnbJS6jYC&pg=PP5&lpg=PP5&dq=notes+on+the+bride+bukenya&source=bl&ots=xLplJ_F2nz&sig=faYQwUaKTu_0ksP-7_diaCLndVU&hl=en&ei=ZOOKTb7LKfO-0QGL-7HuDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CCIQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=notes%20on%20the%20bride%20bukenya&f=false>
5. In2EastAfrica. Books they read: Mwalimu Austin Bukenya by Beatrice Lamwaka, Daily Monitor. 29 January 2011. 18 March 2011 http://in2eastafrica.net/books-they-read-mwalimu-austin-bukenya/
6. Open Library. The bride: a play in four movements. March 18, 2011. <http://openlibrary.org/works/OL5254595W/The_bride>