I am Also Blue

Someone tell Donald Molosi, he needs a Ugandan name. Perhaps Musisi, like an earthquake -a bold shaker of things. And perhaps this is not too far from the ideals he passes on in the two plays in “We Are All Blue”. He is African, yet he is not just African, he is a citizen of the world.

There is a deliberately Pan-African focus to the two plays, yet there is a grounded respect for home, Botswana, a dwelling in it.

“We Are All Blue” is a book that features two plays by Donald Molosi : “Blue, Black and White” and “Motswana: Africa, Dream Again”. Both have inspiration from the history of Botswana’s first president – Sir Seretse Khama especially the first play which is a telling of his life particularly his relationship with his British wife, Ruth, and his role in the nation’s formation.

History. The study of the past.

When you know your history, you put a smile on the face of our ancestors. I say we must read. We must revise.

That is something that Teacher tells her children as they get on with the day’s lesson.

A very fitting method is the use of the classroom and flashbacks to “teach”. When the first play “Blue, Black and White” starts it is the enacting of a folktale that involves a son bringing his father back from the dead. It hints at learning the past, reclaiming heritage, making alive identities hitherto proved dead.

The way the play is set up, is that it is the students in Teacher’s class who shift between the different characters in the play, which are the villagers, Sir Seretse Khama’s and Ruth’s  colleagues in England and the royals of the Bangwato. They are literally re-living history during their lesson which is celebrating the first President of Botswana on Sir Seretse Khama day.

You almost get the feeling that the class is the kind of class you’d find at Kampala International School Uganda or Rainbow Academy, a multiracial group, only difference being all the students identify as Batswana – citizens of Botswana. The students are; Tuelo, Lefika, Aishwarya, Francis, Jung-Hwa, Ajani and Mildred.

Perhaps the employment of children at the cusp of adolescence brings forward the idea of curiosity, inquisitiveness and willingness to learn. While they are ready to learn about their past, and even question it, as Frank openly does asking why the Bangwato are preferred over the Kalangas who are a minority but contributed to nation-building, the villagers are initially conservative especially when it comes to the idea that their Prince is marrying an outsider, moreover a white woman.

I love how Molosi uses different languages as scene titles showing how the plot progresses. There’s Urdu, Spanish, Setswana, French, Russian, Swahili, Chinese, isiXhosa, Danish, Japanese, Malay, Ikalanga, Arabic, Kinyarwanda, Dutch, Yeyi and even my beloved Luganda. If you’re reading this book from anywhere these languages are spoken, immediately you identify with the story. For the Luganda, it was “Osobolotya Otya?” A question demanding to know how a challenge will be met as regards Sir Seretse taking a white wife.

In the scenes of Daniel Malan and Ian Smith I was particularly taken aback by the boldness of the oppressor. Something Molosi picks up on in the second play where he mentions three Africans who are humiliated by their white captors – Ota Benga, Saartjie Baartman (displayed for her large buttocks) and El Negro Banyoles (stuffed and displayed like a wild animal). I cannot help but imagine the impunity those before had to endure.

There is a focus on the relationship between Sir Seretse Khama and Ruth, it’s funny, but their conversation about Pula (rain), the flag of the yet to be born nation informs an outsider about the meaning behind the nation’s symbols.

“The color of prosperity in my mind is blue. Water. Rain. Good harvest.”

“Well, spirits have no color. Or maybe just blue.”

“…though we may appear black or white, we are all blue.”

It’s a short narrative but well packed! Themes of identity and race are heavy in the first play but I believe the most important is Molosi’s tribute to the founding father of the nation of Botswana.

The second play “Motswana: Africa, Dream Again” has a good fill of humour (and Ugandanness :)) That being said, it is not a light narrative. It comes after a quote by Taiye Selasi:

“How can I come from a nation? How can a human being come from a concept?”

The play is mostly conversation between Papa and Mama, and the soliloquies of Boemo their son who is constantly defining his identity and its being shared between Botswana and Africa. There’s an exchange between Sir Seretse Khama and his Uncle Shekedi, a voicing by two spirits – Chaminuka and Nehanda, and a speech from Philly Bongole Lutaaya.

The initial tension is this tribal-post-tribal narrative that has bound Boemo’s mind. While Papa seems to be against it, Mama understands it and as the story grows, it is made clearer as the actions of the colonialist are questioned. The African’s identity is looked at as being borderless, and that whatever borders exists were imposed by those who treated Africa as cake on a plate.

Molosi’s portrayal of Batswana is that of a people that can reason, who are not obstinate about their ways. While the first play addresses very tribal matters, the second goes beyond.

I have to comment about the shared history between Botswana and Uganda. Of course my stomach warms up whenever I read my own language in a foreign book. There’s a lot of Luganda in Molosi’s book and even a scene by one of our heroes – Philly Bongole Lutaaya. I appreciate the knowledge that this man was at a time a shared beacon of strength and hope not only at home but outside home in Botswana whose HIV rates have been problematic as ours were. It stresses the title of the book – “We Are All Blue”, and as Ruth states, “though we may appear black and white, we are all blue.” We have shared histories, shared emotions, shared visions and obstacles.

Molosi is that young man at the beginning of “Blue, Black and White” who brings his father back from the dead. Perhaps we are not different and should not struggle that much to be different, perhaps, especially in Africa, we have the same heritage and should struggle to strengthen it rather than destroy it!

If there’s one thing I desire after reading this book, is to see its plays being performed here. After all, I am also blue!

I am coming to quite love the themes of the books by The Mantle. Identity is perhaps one of the most important things for humanity and they seem to share thoughts on this from everywhere. I first saw this in “Gambit:Newer African Writing” and now in Donald Molosi’s play.

This book review was first published on nevender.com.  Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa is one of the select official book bloggers.