If you want to understand Kenya, you must see “Cut Off My Tongue.” The show of poems by Sitawa Namwalie is difficult to categorize, but it is definitely not your average play. It is poetry that is dramatized: the best of what words can do – poetry – is brought to life by the best of what a play can do – dramatize. Add to this music and dance and you have a fusion that creates something startling fresh. You cannot but listen to each word as if you had never heard it before as each one takes human form and breath. No, fire – the poems burn into your psyche and you are forced to feel again the pain and joy and contradictions of this country called Kenya. It is politics that is personal and palatable, as spicy as pilau. “Cut off My Tongue” uses language at its most powerful to explore important questions – especially now in Kenya – such as, what does it mean to be Kenyan? What language among many should I take on as mine? How should I confront the snake of tribalism, lest it swallows me whole? What is my role as a citizen, as each of my actions build or break this country? Even more fundamentally, who am I? We will not forge a national identity until we confront such issues. This show is a huge step in the right direction as we work our way towards answers.
It is not all politics, however, there are also love poems that sear the heart. For me, the most touching is Sitawa Namwalie’s love song to her son. Her dazzling joy at creating a human being and her reach to new heights of feeling are so poignantly expressed. I fell in love with my son all over again as I heard this. I’m sure particular poems resonated in a special way for everyone in the audience; the show had that kind of wide appeal and accessibility.
“Cut off My Tongue” spoke to us; it spoke for us. It must tour and start a dialogue among Kenyans and others across the country beyond.
By Doreen Baingana on 27th April, 2009
Author of Tropical Fish, which won the 2006 Commonwealth Prize for Africa