“Home,” Scene One

An African market: colorful kitenge, people bartering, and lots of noise, animals, and pandemonium. Two Americans, LISA and KAYLEE, are walking through the stalls.

MERCHANT: Sister, welcome to Rwanda! I will make you a kitenge dress! Only four thousand francs!

LISA: No, thank you.

MERCHANT: Cheaper than anywhere else in the market!

LISA: Maybe we’ll be back later.

KAYLEE: The market stresses me out. Will you stay with me to help me say no to people? If I go on my own, I’ll buy everything.

LISA: No problem. I just need to pick up some skirts from Josephine.

KAYLEE: I hope they’re ready. It’s our last day in Kigali before going to our new homes. We’ll be official PeaceCorp members!

LISA: Where are you going again?

KAYLEE: Muhanga, teaching at a preschool. What about you?

LISA: I’m going to be living in Kibuye, by Lake Kivu, and teaching English at Kiziba Refugee Camp.

KAYLEE: It sounds like a big responsibility. You must be nervous.

LISA: I am. I’m terrified that I won’t be good at teaching it because I don’t speak Kinyarwanda.

KAYLEE: You speak French, right? A lot of people here speak French.

LISA: Yes, but imagine learning a third language through your second language.

KAYLEE: I don’t even have a second language.

LISA: It’s kind of ironic how we come from halfway around the world to teach our only language to people who already speak two or three.

KAYLEE: I understand why, though. English is more useful.

LISA: Hopefully it will help them get better jobs.

KAYLEE: It sounds like a challenge. I guess you aren’t one for comfort zones.

LISA: If I wanted my comfort zone, I would have stayed in the U.S. There’s Josephine!

JOSEPHINE is in her market stall, which is covered in fabric and has a small elevated platform.

JOSEPHINE: Amakuru?

LISA and KAYLEE: Nimeza.

JOSEPHINE: You are leaving so soon, it makes me so sad. Come, try on your clothes!

JOSEPHINE hands KAYLEE a dress and LISA several skirts. KAYLEE climbs onto the stall’s platform and JOSEPHINE holds up a large piece of fabric so she can change. LISA wraps a skirt around her waist.

JOSEPHINE: It is a little long.

LISA: It will fit my sister. She’s taller than I am. Kaylee, how does the dress look?

KAYLEE: (comes out from behind fabric piece) Ta-da!

LISA: Oh, I love it!

KAYLEE: (Hands money to JOSEPHINE) Murakoze Cyane, Josephine!

JOSEPHINE: Yego. When do you leave?

LISA: (Hands money to JOSEPHINE) Tomorrow morning.

JOSEPHINE: I will miss you so much. Be sure to come back and visit next time you are in Kigali.

LISA and KAYLEE begin to walk away.

LISA: We will! See you soon!

Colonial Subjectivism in Death and the King’s Horseman

In his play, Death and the King’s Horseman, Wole Soyinka explores the clash of modern Western and traditional African cultures and values through a real-life incident that happened among the Yoruba people of Nigeria in 1946. The village king has recently died, and in the tradition of Yoruba customs, his horseman, Elesin Oba, is expected to commit a ritual suicide. Simon Pilkings, a colonial administrator, is horrified and attempts to prevent the ritual by imprisoning Elesin. Many post-colonial readings of the play focus on the ethics and Eurocentrism of Pilkings preventing the ritual. However, post-colonial theory can be applied to a myriad of aspects of the play, not only the primary plot point. For example, Joseph, a native African who serves as Pilkings’s steward boy, can be interpreted as an example of, or even a symbol for, a colonial subject. Colonial subjects are, according to Critical Theory Today, “colonized persons who did not resist colonial subjugation because they were taught to believe in British superiority and, therefore, in indigenous inferiority.” This is demonstrated through Joseph’s cultural and religious conversion, his relationship with Pilkings as the colonizer and colonized, and his identity as the “other.” Soyinka, in his post-colonial narrative Death and the King’s Horseman, uses the character Joseph as an example of a colonial subject to cultural imperialism.

As a colonial subject, Joseph is “converted” from his indigenous African heritage to the Western culture that colonized his nation, resulting in a double-consciousness. Joseph’s

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Wole Soyinka is Africa’s first Nobel laureate in literature

cultural conversion is demonstrated by his mimicry of Western culture; he imitates his colonizers in dress, speech, behavior, and lifestyle. As Pilkings’s steward boy, he speaks in broken English, saying what Pilkings wants to hear. He is also a religious convert to Christianity. When Joseph tells Pilkings that he is a Christian and that seeing him in a Nigerian uniform of death has no power, Pilkings declares, “Thank God for some sanity at last. Now Joseph, answer me on the honour of a Christian…” (27). Pilkings views Joseph’s conversion as something that brings him sanity and honour. This causes Joseph to have a double-consciousness, a struggle between two cultural identities. However, he lacks double-hybridity, the ability to see both cultures as positive aspects of identity. Joseph says to Pilkings, “Master is white man. And good Christian. Black man juju can’t touch master” (29). Here, Joseph demonstrates Eurocentric thinking, the idea that European culture and values are the standard, and anything else is “other.” Although both Western and African cultures are part of Joseph’s identity, he views his own indigenous roots as inferior to the colonizing culture, as depicted in his relationship with Pilkings.

 

The character of Pilkings represents the cultural imperialism that infiltrates Joseph’s indigenous identity. Colonizers, such as Pilkings, convert native people to their way of life because they believe this is the correct way to live. Jane chides Pilkings for his disrespectful speech regarding Joseph’s baptism: “It isn’t my preaching you have to worry about, it’s the preaching of the missionaries who preceded you here. When they make converts they really convert them” (30). Joseph has not only been fully converted to Christianity, but to the same Eurocentric mindset that Pilkings brought with him to Africa. Jane also says to Pilkings, “He’s going to hand in his notice tomorrow you mark my word” (30), insinuating that her concern is not for Joseph’s security in his faith, but how she and Pilkings can benefit from his conversion. Despite being of a lower social and economic status, colonial subjects are often exploited by colonizers. Although Joseph converted to Pilkings way of life, he is not seen as equal to Pilkings due to his identity as a colonial subject.

Joseph, as a colonial subject, will never be fully accepted as a member of the colonizing culture. As a colonizer, Pilkings does not view Joseph as a full member of the dominant culture nor of Christianity. While trying to learn more about the upcoming ritual, Pilkings says to Joseph, “Don’t tell me all that holy water nonsense also wiped out your tribal memory” (24), insinuating that he expects Joseph’s faith to consist of syncretism, infiltrated by the inferior beliefs of tribal animism. An “other” is seen as “less than” compared to those of the dominant culture. It’s not another “right” way of thinking, but something strange and distant. Due to Joseph’s indigenous roots, he will never be fully accepted as a full member of Western culture by his colonizers. Despite his efforts to mimic colonial culture as a cultural and religious convert, he will always be considered an “other,” inferior to those who are not colonial subjects. It is not only Pilkings (the colonizer) who sees Joseph (the colonized) as inferior; Joseph has been taught to believe in British superiority and even sees himself as inferior to his colonizers.

In Death and The King’s Horseman, Soyinka focuses on the struggle between a Colonial member of the intellectual elite and the horseman of the late Yoruba king. Through the primary plot, the reader considers the ethics of one culture intervening in another, and to what extent the characters should accept differences in culture and morality. However, examining the minor characters, such as Joseph, provides a unique post-colonial reading that depicts the effect of colonialism on the average colonial subject. Joseph is influential in neither his indigenous or colonial identity. As a colonial subject, he is used as a pawn in colonialization. By attempting to understand the character of Joseph, the reader can gain greater empathy for the colonial subjects who have been stripped of their indigenous identity by colonialism, which sees them not as full members of their converted culture, but as a less-than “savage other,” neither fully African nor Western.

Death and the King’s Horseman

The play Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka examines colonialism by depicting the clashing of cultures and exposing the dangers of ethnocentrism. The story takes place in Nigeria, following several main characters: an Englishman named Pilkings and his wife, Jane, and Elesin Oba. As the late King’s horseman, Elesin Oba must commit suicide on the thirtieth night of the community’s mourning for the King. Pilkins is horrified by this tradition and attempts to prevent it by any means possible. The play exposes the reader to daily life in Africa, as depicted by the social hub of the market, as well as the various aspects of culture (cognitive, affective, behavioral).

datkhAs the day of Elesin Oba’s ritual suicide approaches, all the characters are forced to reassess their cultural norms and values. Jane is the best example of this. She confronts Olunde, Elesin’s son, asking why he is so nonchalant in regards to the death of his father. In doing so, she accuses their custom of being barbaric and feudalistic, proceeding to call Olunde a savage. In response, Olunde asks her to consider her own culture’s customs of self-destruction, such as the mass suicide of young men sent by generals to war. Jane says that she wants she wants to understand all that she can. Although Jane supports her husband in his efforts to prevent the death of Elesin, she is more aware of the delicate cultural circumstances than he is and even contemplates her own ethnocentrism.

One distinguishable quality of this play is that there are no simply “good” or “bad” characters. Even Pilkins, depicted as the “villain” of the story, is striving to do the right thing by saving Elesin’s life. Pilkins’ flaw was attempting to change the culture’s behaviors without fully understanding them. He did not stop to consider the significance of the ritual or how it influenced the emotional state of the culture. His intervention hindered the mourning process of an entire community. Pilkings could have learned something from his wife; Jane did not agree with the suicidal custom, but at least she attempted to understand it by seeing it through Olunde’s perspective. Had Pilkins approached this issue from a different perspective, perhaps the result would have been an opportunity for cross-cultural communication rather than the disruptive interference of a sacred custom.

What is immoral in one culture is sacred in the other. Sometimes it is necessary for people to intervene in another culture for the sake of human life and dignity, but discerning the necessity is difficult, especially when the culture is not disturbed by a custom that appears inhumane to foreigners. The death of Olunde could be interpreted to represent a post-colonial society in which indigenous cultures must go to extreme lengths to maintain their roots. Iyaloja’s words to Pilkings challenge the concept of colonialism:

“It is what you brought to be, you who play with strangers’ lives, who even usurp the vestments of our dead, yet believe that the stain of death will not cling to you. The gods demanded only the old expired plantain but you cut down the sap-laden shoot to feed your pride. There is your board, filled to overflowing. Feast on it.”

Through a disturbing yet enthralling plot, Soyinka begs one to question what defines culture and what defines humanity, and where to draw the line between the two.

Catholic Charities, Baltimore

Cherishing the divine within all

Being home in America is a change after my African journey, but my sense of adventure is as active as ever. Last weekend I traveled to Baltimore, MD with the Messiah College Agape Center. We served with Catholic Charities, an organization that provides services to people with disabilities, the elderly, and those suffering from homelessness and hunger. We stayed in the Project Serve house, living with recent college graduates taking a year to serve in Baltimore.

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The Baltimore Basilica

Most of our service involved volunteering at soup kitchens. The Weinberg Housing and Resource Center offers a myriad of services from meals to employment skills courses, with the goal of helping participants attain permanent housing. My Sister’s Place shares a similar goal, but focuses primarily on women suffering homelessness. The biggest place we visited was Our Daily Bread, which has served a meal every day without fail since 1981. Its success has even been celebrated by Pope John Paul II.

In addition to service, I also got to experience the lovely city of Baltimore. The Project Serve house is located right next to the Enoch Pratt Free Library and Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Both are wonderful libraries that deserve a thorough walk through. The Enoch Pratt Free Library even has a giant chess set. My friends and I enjoyed a lovely dinner at Tabor Ethiopian Restaurant. If you enjoy injera, coffee ceremonies, and eating with your hands, it’s worth a check out. One of my favorite places in Baltimore is the Basilica, America’s First Cathedral. It’s a gorgeous building with a beautiful history, visited by Pope John Paul II and Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

If you live near the Baltimore area, I recommend volunteering for Our Daily Bread. They rely heavily on volunteers and donations. My favorite part of Catholic Charities is their motto: Cherishing the diving with all. They serve guests in a manner that respects the dignity of each individual person. I hope to carry this motto with me long after I leave the city.

Akagera Safari

During the final week of my stay in Rwanda, my friends and I enjoyed a safari in Akagera Game Park. Akagera is in the east of Rwanda, bordering Tanzania. Most of Rwanda is mountainous, and is either rain-forest or jungle, but some of my favorite memories occurred in the small savanna of the east.

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Sunrise in Akagera

Within our first hour of the safari, we managed to drive up close to giraffes, zebras, buffalo, impalas, baboons, and warthogs. Then we drove down to a lake, where we could see hippopotamuses and crocodiles emerging from the water. I was surprised they lived so close together peacefully.

We spent the night at a campsite overlooking a lake on the border of Rwanda and Tanzania. My friends and I cooked dinner over a fire. I woke up early to see the sunrise and was not disappointed – the pink and orange sky reflected exquisitely over the crystal lake.

When I found out I was accepted to study abroad in Africa, elephants became an ob

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Elephants and a zebra

session. I purchased clothing from The Elephant Pants and Ivory Ella, two companies that donate profits to the preservation of African elephants. Visitors in Akagera have about a fifty percent chance of seeing elephants. We saw no elephants on our first day, and began the next day trying not to get our hopes up. Much to our delight, we were fortunate enough to stumble upon a herd of elephants, and even saw some babies!

After our experience with the elephants, it began to rain so we headed toward the exit to drive home to Kigali. On our way, we caught a glimpse of a beautiful (and fast!) leopard. Seeing predators during the daytime is a rare sighting in Akagera, so we were lucky to finish our safari with this experience.

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A giraffe in the land of a thousand hills

Volcanoes National Park

In my final weeks staying in Rwanda, I traveled to Volcanoes National Park in the northern province of Rwanda. My camping site had a brilliant view of the volcanoes, which mark the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

jungleThe best part of camping was the view at night. The stars in VNP are the most beautiful stars I’ve seen in Rwanda thus far, maybe in the entire world. Lightning flashed from behind the volcanoes, accentuated the dark night sky. If the ground was drier and the mosquitos weren’t lurking, I would have slept under the stars rather than in my tent.

On Sunday, all the gorilla trekkers meet at the Rwanda Development Board for a welcome ceremony. Local people performed traditional dancing and drumming, and there was complimentary tea and coffee. Our guides then separated us into our trekking groups. Mine included myself, three of my traveling companions, two missionary doctors, and a Spanish couple. The couple only spoke Spanish and were traveling East Africa to see the gorillas. I was impressed that they managed to travel in Africa without speaking English or French. Although most Rwandans aren’t exactly English experts, it is helpful to have some means of communication. Fortunately, one of the doctors was fluent in Spanish and was able to translate.p1000419

Although our goal of trekking was to see the gorillas, the walk there was half the fun. In order to reach the gorillas, we hiked through a village, farmland, and the jungle. The views of the volcanoes and the sights of the jungle were glorious. There was a waterfall there even more gorgeous than the one in Nyungwe Rainforest, and through the thickets of jungle trees I caught a glimpse of a buffalo – my first sighting of one of the Big Five in the wild.

mommyEach family of gorillas has a name. I visited the Mafunzo group, which means something cool in Kinyarwanda. Their family consisted of mother gorillas, their babies (one was pair of twins), and, of course, the silverback. Gorillas often only have one infant at a given time, so seeing twins is rare. These babies were only three months old, but they were big enough to roll around in the grass and play. Watching the mother carry her babies on her back was absolutely adorable. The silverback was the boss and observed his family from a nearby tree.

The journey was remarkable, and one of my favorite memories in Rwanda. However, my favorite part is that by participating in gorilla trekking, I contributed to the conservation of a critically endangered species and its environment. These are truly majestic creatures, and only 900 remain in their natural habitat. I strongly encourage anyone to visit the gorillas themselves, or make a donation to this rly cool place that will help them.

Cultural Arts

As my time in Rwanda is coming to a close, I am now more than ever appreciating the cultural arts of this country. The past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to visit various art centers, cooperatives, and businesses to learn to dance, sing, and create as the Rwandans do. Throughout my experiences, you will notice a common motif: cows. Rwandans love cows, and this is expressed throughout their art.

  • Intore Dance

Through a dance steeped in tradition, one can get a glimpse at what Rwanda values as a

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My friends demonstrated intore

culture. For example, when they lift their arms during dance, they imitate the valuable horned cows. Also, they dance to the traditional drum, an instrument which is pertinent to understanding African cultural arts. Their dance is strongly tried to their East African identities. Here, dance is not an ability unique to the experts; everyone dances, and no one is told that they “can’t dance.” Dance is a custom of celebration at weddings, a form of worship at church, a community-building activity. In a country such as Rwanda that is becoming more and more westernized due to globalization, dance preserves an integral aspect of their culture. When I learned the dance, I felt that I was participating in their culture more so than I was before.

 

  • Imigongo
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My imigongo

Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers claims in order to create, the maker must serve his creation, and in order to serve it, he must love it. In order to “serve” my artwork in Rwanda, I had to learn to love cow poop. That’s right, imigongo, the paintings that decorate the walls of any beautifully furnished house in Rwanda, is sculpted from the feces of cows. When I had the opportunity to create my own imigongo, I was naturally hesitant to get my hands dirty. Once I fully embraced the worth of the work, I enjoyed the sculpting and painting. The idea of using feces to make art is resourceful, and the fact that it comes from the cow is representative of Rwandan values. Creating imigongo is a messy process: mixing the feces with ash, sculpting the ridges, coating the primer, using sand paper, and painting. Through this process, one can choose one of two views: the first, striving to forget that the source of their material; the alternate, choosing to embrace everything about the art, no matter how messy. The latter, according to the philosophy of Sayers, is superior because it allows the artist to truly love imigongo, inevitably resulting in a more beautiful product. Imigongo is a physical manifestation of something seemingly useless can be transformed into a masterpiece. In this respect, art imitates life.

 

  • Cow Singing

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    My roommate Alex playing the inanga

The Rwandan art of cow singing includes dancing, singing, instrumental music, and poetry. Americans are not able to fully comprehend this art form because no one in the West appreciates cows to this extent. Rwandans love to sing about the strength, beauty, and value of their cows. The traditional stringed instrument used in cow singing is the inanga, which accompanies singing and dancing. The goal of cow singing is to make the cow happy, but cow singing can also make people happy by bringing together families at weddings and communities at ceremonies. One of the traditions of cow singing is naming the cow. This demonstrates that the cows are more than valuable assets to be milked of their resources. Naming the cow identifies it as an individual with characteristics worth singing about.

  • Jewelry Making

earringsMy friends and I took a trip to downtown Kigali where we learned how to make earrings from local artisan Abraham Konga. He taught us how to twist the wire to make decorative spirals, hooks, and clasps for beads. If you think that I finally found an art form free from the Rwandan adoration of cows, you’d be surprised at the material of the beads: cow bones. Although I am passionate about animal rights, I love my cow bone earrings because it utilizes every part of the cow rather than discarding the spare parts other than meat, as well as the fact that it allows to further understand how Rwandans appreciate every aspect of their beloved cows, from their feces to their bones.