Blog: Narrative Theatre in Kiliba


The effects of years of violence and instability ripple beyond the immediate physical consequences.  Insecurity has broken down trust and social cohesion within the community, which is evidenced in how very ‘everyday’ problems can escalate to violence and long-term enmity, which is locally understood to hamper the cooperation and respect needed for sustainable peace and development.  Recognizing these problems and concerns, a number of community-based NGOs and associations have been developing creative ways of rebuilding trust and peaceful ways to diffuse these everyday disputes before they escalate.  Although we have been introduced to a number of initiatives lately, we recently invited to observe a session of narrative theatre in Kiliba.

Narrative theatre was a concept that was shared by a South African professor with a local organization called CEEDECO (Centre d’encadrement et d’etudes pour le development communautaire).  Narrative theatre relies on a flexible and adaptable improv cast and a very animated session leader.  The local community and their chief are invited to gather at a particular location where some wooden benches and plastic chairs have been arranged in a circle.  The session leader begins by asking people who have gathered to provide examples of problems that have arisen in their community that need to be addressed.  In this particular theatre the issues that were raised included: suspicions (busutwa-often related to gossip), robbery, sexual violence, witchcraft, poisoning and early marriage.  The one that was highlighted by the audience as the most pernicious was suspicions.  Next, the audience was asked to describe stories where this was the central theme, they could be based on real life, but could not include actual names or places.  Three stories were shared and one was chosen focused on a man with three wives whom he treated unequally.  A corrupt official and witchcraft were important aspects of the story as well.  After approximately five minutes of discussion, the actors were ready to perform and they put on quite a show! The audience, a decent percentage of which were children, laughed and were obviously enjoying the drama.

The first skit represented all of the problems that were emphasized in the story.  When it ended the leader returned to discuss the behaviour of the characters.  The audience was happy to participate and point out the poor behaviour and flaws that the characters portrayed in an exaggerated way.  The audience redefined how the skit should be acted to address the problems in a positive way, which it was, in a briefer edition.  A key highlight was the ‘exteriorisation’ that occurred at the end of the second skit.  The husband was covered in a large scarf and the ‘bad behaviour spirit’ was extracted from his writhing form.  The spirit was caught in a bag by the leader and the opportunity was given to the audience to interrogate this bad spirit.  Who are its parents?  Why is it here in Kiliba? What does it enjoy? Can we make it leave Kiliba?  The grand finale was the spirit being chased away from Kiliba because community members have agreed that they would prefer to be supportive of each other than have the spirit present.

As observers, this theatre had two notable strengths. First, it created a space for the local community to define the problems that it found most consequential in that particular context and to discuss ways to address them without pointing fingers. Second, this theatre is created to help de-traumatize people and let go of the negative stories of the past. Third, it also provided some much needed comic relief. This form of entertainment did not cost anything and the smiles on people’s faces suggest that it was a welcome distraction from the difficulties present in a context of high unemployment and poverty in a town that once the site of a thriving sugar factory.

Field Blog: South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo

This is a series of co-authored posts that draws on the knowledge of local populations to discuss the difficulties faced in everyday life in South Kivu, particularly in Uvira Territory. The goal is to move away from a sensationalist accounting of conflict to a grounded narrative based largely on daily life and experiences in a context characterized by ongoing violence and poverty. Posts will explore current events, difficulties and successes from a local perspective, meaning the posts will be primarily informed by ‘everyday’ people’s perceptions, experiences and concerns.

Clarisse Mema is an activist and advocate for peace, justice and development in South Kivu, DRC.
Holly Dunn is a Doctoral student in Political Science at the University of Minnesota.