What a privilege it was to be confronted afresh by the power of story-telling. That it came from the beating heart of Africa and was mediated to us through a young Kenyan actor of consummate skill, gave a surprising and even uncomfortable immediacy to the event. Stories provide a pathway to understanding some of the joys, intricacies and deceits of the human spirit, evoking sudden disclosures of new truth for us.
Ogutu Joshua Muraya as an actor and storyteller has the gift of so enlivening the imagination as to make the principal subjects of his stories be present in the room…be it an air-headed teenager bewitched by her own beauty and in search for an ideal lover, or a cruel, masochistic white police sergeant of the 1920’s, lacking both understanding of and respect for the indigenous African population.
Ogutu gave two performances of story-telling in Durham, the first, ‘Living Memories’ at St John’s College with which he has special links and the other ‘African Stories’ at the World Heritage Site Visitor Centre. The former proved to be a gruelling evening, comprising –‘Toilet Training’, ‘Wairia’ and ‘Spitting on Liz’ all from an original book by Al Kags. Some of us came away with hearts made heavy by reminder of the sins of our forefathers and by being made aware afresh of the continuing perversity and broken-ness of the human spirit – one story from early last century depicting the land-grab of the Kenyan Highlands by white settlers, eventually leading to the predictable and violent response of the Mau-Mau in the 1950s. Another story, one of African inter-tribal warfare and unbelievable cruelty, balanced the books and affirmed that such evil was ubiquitous. So it was not a cheering evening – but it taught us history that we needed to know, even if we might rather have been left in sublime ignorance of our human stain contributing to it as it did!
The second evening event ‘African Stories’ was of altogether different nature – basically it was of amusing entertainment. The delight of African humour in all of its directness and simplicity was made fully alive for all within the walls of the newly-opened Visitor Centre – itself a pleasurable mixture of contemporary style sitting amidst historic tradition. Within the humour lay the resilience of the human spirit with its potential for engaging with healing and redemption. At both events the atmosphere was deeply enriched by the intermittent drumming and singing of Peter Okeno – a Kenyan Ethno-Musicologist whose PhD thesis is on the use of ethnic music in conflict resolution inRwanda.
Ogutu and Peter made an excellent team, both top-performers who between them provided us with two truly memorable evenings inDurham. We thank them both.
Ian Zass-Ogilvie: Research Fellow St Chad’s College Durham