Lovers and followers of art in Mzuzu, were treated to a rare feast of drama on Sunday, the July 31 2022.
WAZ Arts Theatre presented a grand exit of the cold weather that gripped the city for the past three months. The Grand Palace, the place to be on this Sunday afternoon, was set alight by Bwabwalala, the outfit’s latest production written by Suzgo Chitete and directed by Jeremiah Mwaungulu. The cast is carefully selected to capture the 360 of the spectrum that the play addresses.
Bwabwalala opens with two kinsmen conniving to rob their brother’s widow of her inheritance in a hideous way. They cunningly attempt to smuggle their brother’s body out of the hospital by offering the hospital personnel a huge amount of money in the form of a bribe, which they hope to raise through the proceeds from their deceased brother’s estate.
Actresses Dipo Katimba (L) and Brenda Nselu in action
Thank God the hospital personnel refuse to be part of the scheming and its associated shenanigans. As the scene unfolds, it subtly evokes and invokes memories of the mystery surrounding the popular story of the six Cabinet Ministers who held a press conference at midnight when former president Bingu Wa Mutharika died, that is all too familiar to Malawians.
It is through these experiences that the audience is made aware that the scene does more than mirror the entire play. The audience realises that the scene is a caricature of the play’s storyline.
Beyond that, the scene which is literally a family issue, is actually a microcosm of the macrocosm that is Malawi as a country. Satan’s list, walking in the air and servant leadership are some of the materials that drive the satire.
The rest of the play presents the rot of corruption that has engulfed the country at different levels of our society. While the vice has its viceroy grip on politics, reverberations of its tentacles are rampant in government and in institutions of traditional authority. Even religion is not spared.
And, the saddest part is that it has even entrapped the family unit of society; hence, the entire country is under siege as it were. It is in order, therefore, for the play to be classified as a political satire by its creators. However, it might be more apt to characterise it as a sociopoliticonomic satire.
Satire is a literary technique of using humour, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. The play is an opportunity for Malawians to laugh at themselves and arrest this curse before it is irredeemably too late.
There could not have been a better title for the play than Bwabwalala, a perfect encapsulation of the rot that is corruption in Malawi; a perfect conduit metaphor and a perfect archetype for corruption. Bwabwalala is a Chitumbuka name of a bird that looks and sounds like an owl. It could be a whip-poor-will or a common nightwalk in English. Just like an owl, a bwabwalala is shrouded in myth.
For instance, it is believed that once its eggs are discovered, it moves them to another place of safety and for that reason, it is very rare to see bwabwalalas in their infancy. It is good at camouflaging itself. One can pass it without noticing it. It is extremely difficult to catch.
Even though it flies lazily, it eats away at long distances even as it pretends or it is mistaken to be landing. It is not strange that it is used for charms, including get rich charms. If that does not sound like corruption, … .This is only one example of the employment of metaphor in the play, but the play is generally endowed with very rich employment of literary devices, both sound devices and meaning devices.
One thing that runs throughout the literary devices is the simplicity in their creation as exemplified in the title. The saying “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” is brought alive in a rare and unique way.
*The author is a linguistics lecturer at Mzuzu University