The Survival and Revival of Indigenous Theatre Art Forms in Uganda

Report from Richard Kagolobya, Master Programme in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø
Project 200601873-20

Financial support to the project: The Survival and Revival of Indigenous Theatre Art Forms in Uganda: A Case Study of Kampala District”

The ball of colonialism and imperialism that was set rolling by Christopher Columbus’ first voyage in 1492 into the Americas which was legitimatised by the doctrine of discovery, led to the influx of European explorers, administrators and later on settlers in to indigenous peoples lands. With colonialism in high gear, indigenous states faced pressure from all corners and aspects of life that was about to erode their physical, cultural and spiritual existence in some parts of the world.  Economic imperialism was accompanied by cultural imperialism , which included the imperative to convert the natives to christianity. Indigenous people were considered to be pagans lacking both Christianity and ‘civilisation’ and the Colonisers saw the civilisation of such peoples, as their burden. With the civilization concept deeply ingrained in the colonizers’ minds, the first social policies initiated by the European missionaries and administrators were aimed at erasing from the indigenous peoples’ midst everything that the colonizers regarded as idolatrous and evil. And yet, the so called devilish and idolatrous objects were the physical and expressive cultural symbols of indigenous populations.

Given the above scenario of colonial thought and intrusion, Uganda was no exception. And indeed, one may wonder about the ability of indigenous communities to withstand such challenges to their way of life. Taking indigenous theatre as one important cultural component, which was impacted on in serious ways, the baseline of this study was in the following problem statement: ‘The stifling of indigenous peoples’ aspirations and inspiration did not only follow economic and political lines, but also the indigenous peoples’ way of expressing their culture through the performing arts was interfered with. In short, political domination came with aesthetic domination to stand in the way of indigenous theatrical mode of expression through the performance of culture by indigenous people in Uganda. But despite that external pressure, some indigenous art forms survived and presently they are being revived.’  Even though many a time writers have iterated the political and economic effects of colonization, the Ugandan scenario seems to show that as far as the performing arts sphere is concerned, little has been researched on. The aim of this study was to analyse both the survival and revival mechanisms of indigenous art forms in Uganda with reference to Kampala district.

During my fieldwork (26th May to 5th September 2006), I had to rent an apartment in Kampala.  I interviewed several theatre scholars at Makerere University, indigenous theatre group leaders and artists were also interviewed for example the founder of Ndere Centre, the Director of the National Cultural centre, which houses the Uganda National theatre was also interviewed. I had a focus group discussion with some students of the Makerere Music dance and drama department. I visited the Rubaga Archdiocese Archives, The Library of The Uganda Society at the National Museum and The Makerere University main library in order to get relevant data for discourse analysis. In order to get first hand information about the current indigenous theatre milieu in Kampala, I watched performances at Ndere Centre and the Uganda National Theatre, watched performances by the Makerere Music Dance and Drama Department students and performances at Pride Theatre. All the above activities would not have been possible without the generous and candid financial support from the Sami Centre. Tusen Takk.

Thesis on BIBSYS

About Siri Johnsen

Hovedtillitsvalgt for Akademikerne UiT, Norges arktiske universitet, januar 2006-januar 2017
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