Monday, June 29, 2015

Francis Imbuga’s The Return of Mgofu

Replaying Societal Ills on Stage
Image courtesy of Google
Writing within a context of a geographical region troubled by social, political and economic problems, Francis Imbuga chooses to dramatize the society’s malaise in his last play: The Return of Mgofu. Perhaps prophesying about his death, seeing the close proximity between the spiritual world and the physical one we inhabit, Imbuga, partly, invokes on ethereal characters to warn the living that human life is precious and it should thus be unreservedly protected. In particular, Thori and Thoriwa, both husband and wife, adorned in their spiritual bodies have come back as messengers from the land of those who died a long time ago to sensitise the people on the need for good neighbourliness.
As a matter of fact, Thori recalls that: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”. Reminiscing about an incident in which clashes broke out; therefore, people getting displaced, maimed and others killed, Thori decries that it is because the good people did not take any action that innocent blood was shed. Contrasting the state of things in the past and the present, the play appears to suggest that human beings have become increasingly intolerant of each other owing to heightened greed for power and the need to control resources for selfish gains.
It is possible to deduce from the play that in the past people lived harmoniously, were friendlier, and loving; thus, in a spirit of communalism they cared for one another selflessly. Although this appears to be a romanticised state of affairs, Thori and Thoriwa affirm the humaneness of their times by declaring that they were keepers of other people’s children although they did not have their own. Perhaps we can surmise that with an increasingly populous society bedecked with suspicion, mistrust, dwindling resources, insecurity, incurable diseases and economically insatiable leaders amongst other calamities, human beings have no choice but to be mean to one another.
However, Imbuga highlights the fact that there have always been good people in our midst, that if they took action against evil deeds we would have a peaceful society to live in. Indeed, Imbuga appears to insinuate that things go wrong in the society because the morally upright are afraid to speak out or to take a stand against those who break the law. Drawing from the ancestral lineage of Mgofu Ngoda, the playwright demonstrates that troubled African nations can revisit their roots, borrow a leaf from traditional values of peaceful co-existence in a bid to tame an otherwise antagonistic trend that spells doom for humankind.
Mgofu Ngoda is a son of the Great half blind Seer who has to make a comeback to his ancestors’ land from which they were alienated by clashes. While others chose to hide in a shrine to escape the mayhem of animosity, the Great Seer argued that: “The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that is compelled to struggle for existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.” This symbolically suggests that African countries experiencing upheavals of varied nature can weather the storm; they can learn from their mistakes in order to lay the foundation of a better future for their people. Ironically, the people who hid at the shrine ended up being burned from the very place they had imagined was the safest – a holy ground. Paralleled to the 2007/2008 violence in Kenya in which some people were burned in a church, the events reveal the disturbing dehumanisation of people and the play’s conclusion that: “If they can burn a place of worship, they are beyond redemption.” 
Image of Imbuga courtesy of Google
The play also conveys political undertones by creatively castigating activities that sugar-coat human misdeed. For example one character decries that “Charity sees the need, not the cause” in a way making fun of countries and individuals who thrive on giving hand-outs/donations instead of addressing the source of the problems. Other issues at the centre of the play’s concern include land clashes and how even priests – individuals placed on the highest moral pedestal – connive to shed the blood of fellow beings. Specifically, the play underscores how technology is sometimes exploited to fuel animosity as local radio stations adopt mother tongue to spread ethnic hatred. This is suggestive of how emerging modes of communication such as social media can negatively be adopted in maligning others, organising terror attacks, syphoning public resources.

In Mgofu Ngoda, we are invited to see the return of good and the possibility of the triumph of good over evil. The reader visualises a new world order in which human beings take charge of their actions. Imbuga’s play envisions a society that is devoid of genocides, one that thrives on political tolerance; a community of people who are selfless in serving and caring for others. In essence, The Return of Mgofu is a call for humankind to return to good practices by shunning ethnic, racial or any other form of discrimination against fellow human beings. It is both Imbuga’s farewell and clarion call to humanity to embrace the triple values of peace, love and harmony irrespective of our gender, cultural, ethnic, racial, political, social or otherwise economic disparities.


  1. I can’t imagine focusing long enough to research; much less write this kind of article. You’ve outdone yourself with this material. This is great content.

  2. Dear Asim,
    I am humbled to hear your words regarding this piece. Continue enjoying your reading and also share your thoughts on the text and others. Cheers

  3. Dear Said,
    I sure am glad that you found the review useful. Enjoy reading some more and keep sharing your comments.


Popular Posts