Too Early For Birds (TEFB) starts with a woman in sweat pants, a sweater, and a beanie waking the length of the Kenya National Theatre hawking mandazis. She explains why she has resorted to this trade; she’s fending for her young daughter who in fact has a poem to demonstrate where all that fees goes to. The young girl’s poem, which was meant to be a stand-alone performance from the rest of the show, is a poem about the absurdity of the human condition and why we keep naming ourselves after animals. And although the audience cannot realize it then, the young girl has set the theme for the whole show. This second show will be about names, naming and the absurd nature of the human.
The young girl’s poem, which was meant to be a stand-alone performance from the rest of the show, is a poem about the absurdity of the human condition and why we keep naming ourselves after animals. And although the audience does realize it then, the young girl has set the theme for the whole show. This second show will be about names, naming and the absurd nature of the human.
For those totally unaware, TEFB is a story telling session. Not a play or a musical or anything the conventional theatre goer is used to, it is just these guys who tell you stories of heroes passed. It follows the narrative of one main story then smaller ones that feed to the main theme, and then as always they introduce a story that shall be completed in the next installation. This format first pays homage to the circular almost eternal nature of stories that we could always move seamlessly from one tale to the other until we arrive at the present day.
Immediately after the poem a Brian Ogolla who is about to have an exceptional night steps on to stage to get things going. In a section that shall have more Game of Thrones allusions than breathing pauses, he will transport us to 1800 Western Kenya to the land of the Bukusu where over 1000 men stand outside their gates preparing an attack like no other in that region. Later we learn that this is the spine of the session, the story that will start and end the show. In there we will learn of the story and the spirit of Dr. Rev. Timothy Njoya who in the face of sure death and suffering maintained a sure bearing of right and wrong plus a razor sharp wit. It is apparent even as they re-enact his story the story tellers realize that we stand on shoulders far greater than we ever imagined.
We are told in immersive detail how in direct opposition to the church and the government he organizes and presides over a massive crusade in Nyeri denouncing the present government. More than 10,000 people of all religions and tribes attend and cry out less to their personal deities and more to a just, fair god who more than anything loves unconditionally. It is also important to note that on such a day there weren’t any moving speeches of great emotion it was just important (as it always is) that people showed up. When the nation needed it’s people to be there, they were there.
Then through the minor branch of the major story of Mohamed Hassan (google him) we learn that not all heroes wear capes, sometimes not all heroes are known as heroes. We learn that people have given their lives and their livelihood and gotten nothing in return and we learn that we as a nation have failed some of our best and brightest men.
The Bukusu War at the Chetambe Fort all through the session had been touted as a Game of Thrones parallel. So every time you’d hear that familiar open sequence tune you knew we were about to go back to the Bukusu people and live through an immense amount of bravery. This link between the Bukusu and the popular culture (GoT) immediately brought their story to the familiar and the revered. By telling us that we built walls and fought against white-walkers before it was cool to do so, affirms the idea that we are a people carved from courage. And although we know that in the end they did fall, there wasn’t a soul in the room that wasn’t proud to be associated with the Bukusu. They were us and we were them their pain was our and our victory was their victory. We are because they were.
While we could nit-pick at the performances and correct nuanced mistakes, we won’t. Because much like Rev. Njoya we are in awe of the mere fact that the showed up. And maybe it is important that we learn of our history in this direct way not as plays or poems or points or prose. Not in immaculate works of fiction and metaphors but rather as direct stories who’s only message seems to be ‘This is who you are, do with it as you may.’
This article was written by Capital Campus Correspondent Munene Mwarania.