Trauma of World War II plays out on Kenya Cultural Centre stage
Friday May 12 2023
Drums of War is a historical play, scripted and directed by Mavin Kibicho, that reflects on the deep psychological damage done, not just to the soldiers traumatised by their close encounter with the physical and most brutal, inhumane features of war.
It also does heavy damage to the families, friends, and communities from which these soldiers come.
It’s a heart-wrenching story, told by Son of Man Productions last weekend at Kenya Cultural Centre. One of those damaged by war is Christine, (Michelle Tayars) a woman who has turned her back on day-to-day news coverage because she has already learned the pain of news.
Specifically, the news that broke her heart was the knowledge that both her husband and her brother died in the war.
Initially, we don’t know in which war they died, but it’s easy to deduce after learning the two men first went to war with Kings African Rifles (KAR), then, came back after years and finally, volunteered for KAR again to go and serve the British.
So, the story is set sometime in post-World War II East Africa. It is when Christine’s militant daughter arrives home and declares she too is a fighter. But she’s fighting with the Mau Mau.
Then, when the Colonial Governor announces that an Emergency has been declared, we now know it’s 1952 and Christine is crushed that her Nyambura (Naomi Wairimu) is also going to war.
Nyambura refuses to speak to her mother, she is so angry and anti-colonial that anyone who isn’t with the Mau Mau (the Land and Freedom Army) is an enemy.
That makes her mum one. And her dad since he is no better than a lousy Home Guard since the KAR were also proud servants of the colonial land grabbers and prime targets for attack in her mind.
Christine’s friend Diana (Leila Kare) had tried to prepare her friend for the coming tides of radical change. She could hear the drum of war long before Chris could. But Christine is still unprepared for what’s about to happen.
It’s her ‘dead’ spouse Peter who suddenly shows up after all these years. It shocks her so badly that her reaction is over the top.
She refuses to accept him and one can see her mental state is deranged. Ultimately, she accepts him, but her emotional reaction is so overwrought that we can’t feel much sympathy for her.
We never quite hear where Peter had been during those seven years after the war’s end. What we do learn is that he actually had been writing to Christine all along.
It is now Nyambura who admits she waylaid every letter and kept them all from her mum. Why she did that is also a loose end we don’t find out about. Chalk it off as one more cruel ripple of war.
Nyambura’s was a cruel game to play with her mother’s emotions, and Christine now has to recalibrate her mind to cope with this news.
It was her daughter who cheated her, not her husband. But why? Perhaps it is also because she has situated her mother among the enemies of the revolution, the colonial sympathisers, which was not the case.
The mom apparently adjusts to that news. But now, it is Peter who still hears the drums of war in his head.
His alienating behaviour mystifies Christine, but it’s explained to her as PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, a term that didn’t come into use until after the Vietnam War’s end in 1975.
Nonetheless, Peter is haunted by memories of his life under a colonial master. He also frequently hears the words of Christine’s brother whose death is never explained.
In fact, there’s a suggestion that Peter, under the spell of those voices in his head, might have killed his brother-in-law, and possibly even his own baby, the one who died right after the first world war.
We see how Peter had been brainwashed to such an extent that he actually shot and nearly killed Christine. He also nearly killed Nyambura, but she had her own gun, ever-prepared to fight fire with fire.
Fortunately, the voice of his brother-in-law came to him like an angel and told him he did not kill him as Peter had feared he had.
The angel (Derek Omondi) told him essentially to give up the guilt and go back to his loved ones, which he ultimately does.
And love is the healing power which finally draws the threesome, mother, father, and child, back together as one.