The indigenous elements of theatre in Bunyoro and Tooro (Uganda)

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University of Dar es Salaam
In the available literature about Banyoro and Batooro, the social, religious, political, economic and historical aspects have had the greatest emphasis; the cultural heritage of these people has hitherto remained in the background. Consequently, indigenous rituals, ceremonies and forms of entertainment have received little or no attention as developments towards theatre. This study sets out to examine some cultural aspects of present-day Bunyoro and Tooro in order to demonstrate the existence of those elements which are forms of theatre or which possess recognizable characteristics of theatre. The necessity for this demonstration rises from the rigorous measures taken by some colonial governments in Uganda and some missionary activities not only to discredit these elements as part of kinyoro-Kitooro culture but also to exterminate them as undesirably primitive and merely pagan practices. This attitude seems to have hinged on a failure to understand that these rituals, ceremonies and forms of entertainment expressed a distinctive way of life, exhibited basic interrelationships within a specific feudalistic system and represented an attitude towards art and an effort by the people to understand and influence their environment and transform nature ages before the advent of colonialists and missionaries. The Introduction conteins a discussion of some basic concepts of theatre following the theme that theatre is an act by a performer to entertain an audience while communicating some ideas or interpretations of reality to that audience. In Part I, Chapter One surveys the present-day scene and brings out existing indigenous elements of theatre in Bunyoro and Tooro; and Chapter Two discusses significant historical factors influencing these elements, and portrays the attitude of some early missionaries and colonial administrators who have regarded indigenous rituals, ceremonies and forms of entertainment as primitive and pagan practices indiscriminately worthy of suppression. In each of the subsequent parts, there is a description and assessment of the theatrical content of each of the relevant elements. Part II embodies elements using theatrical techniques; here Folk stories and Marriage Ceremonies contribute readily to the evolution of some type characters. Part III concerns elements which are incipient forms of theatre including improvised plays; here an evolution from ritual to theatre is discernible and the best example is the gradual separation of an actor's role from that of a spirit medium. Part IV is restricted to professional and non-professional performers. A development from song to drama is emerging; one sees, for instance, love-stories acted by Runyege Troupe Dancers accompanied by song and drum rhythms. The Conclusion provides some suggestions for the development of these elements towards contemporary popular theatre; a legitimate and theatrically convincing development of these elements would require plays based on them to have an early point of attack and a quick introduction of characters and situations. There is also room for further investigation in some rituals, such as those connected with the Spirit Medium Cult, which have been found partly secret and therefore less accessible. The Appendices provide some useful and self-explanatory information regarding theatre elements in this thesis. This study covers only Bunyoro and Tooro, and the evidence about some rituals or their components is partly from the writer's personal observation and partly from reports of persons who have directly participated. However, it is hoped that the overall contribution of this study will not only throw more light on the individual theatre elements examined but will also underline the need of a justifiable development of a post-colonial theatre which will be valid for Uganda, not in terms of tribal distribution but more in terms of synthetic progress towards a profound national culture.
Available in print form, EAF collection, Dr. Wilbert Chagula Library (THS EAF PN2990.U2M8)
Theatre, Bunyoro and Tooro, Uganda
Balikuddembe, Joseph M (1973) The indigenous elements of theatre in Bunyoro and Tooro (Uganda), Masters dissertation, University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam