by Gitonga Marete, Mombasa.
Saturday June 23rd, 2007
Mombasa theatre lovers were last weekend treated to a rare performance
- the spoken-word show.
Shailja Patel who was born and brought up in Kenya before she went to
the US, is back in the country with Migritude, which is a one-woman,
spoken-word poetry-based show at the Little Theatre Club.
Accompanied by music, stylised movement and visual projections, it is a radical journey through Kenya's history, with an Indian family.
Her poetry does not only enlighten Kenyans politically, but also seeks
to give women a voice. Some three years ago, her mother gave up on her
getting married and gave her a suitcase full of saris.
The mother had been collecting them in line with the Indian tradition
to hand them over to Shailja on marriage.
Today, she uses them in her spoken-word presentations. During her full
performance she carries on the stage a suitcase full of the clothes.
The few artists who have ventured into the spoken-word theatre in the
past have specialised in social poetry to get their messages across.
Shailja's pieces cut through a spectrum of themes ranging from
social-economic to political issues.
When she starts her piece about the history of the Mau Mau by pointing
out that the history we learnt in school was all lies, she sets her
audience on a collision course with what they know and how they learnt
it. This, according to her, is the epitome of the power of the spoken
The Mau Mau
The piece on the Mau Mau is inspired by her research on the subject.
She read widely, including Caroline Elkins' Imperial Legacy in which
detainees give accounts of the atrocities perpetrated by the British
during the colonial rule in Kenya.
Presenting the show on the day the Mungiki were purported to have
claimed their "official arrival in Mombasa," she commented that the
terror group was the creation of the rulers.
"They are not aliens," she said.
Bi Kidude, a poem she wrote in praise of the Zanzibari taarab music
legend, must be her favourite. She expressively describes how Bi
Kidude planted the drum between her legs and went on to deliver a
thrilling show during a Zanzibar film festival.
This week, she has been performing excerpts of her full show at
various venues at the coast to popularise her maiden show at the Aga
Khan Academy that started yesterday and continues from 7pm at the same
Shailja's is a stunning and politically charged theatre that will
leave you moved, awakened, angry and even inspired. At the end of the
show, she gives you the chance to express these emotions in a charged
This year's Kenya tour of Migritude is funded by the Ford Foundation
through the Institute of International Education, and produced by The
It is directed by Kim Cook and choreographed by Parijat Desai.