The Reception of African Theatre in Cuba

Drama is the least represented genre among the African texts that were translated in Cuba in the second half of the twentieth century, where the narrative occupies a prominent place. Thus, in this research, only three references focused exclusively on the dramatic genre were found. However, all three are anthologies, so that the reduced volume of publications is compensated by the inclusion of several works in a single book:

  • Teatro africano (1975) includes the Spanish translations of six dramatic works: Moremi by Duro Ladipo; Abraha Pokú by Charles Nokan; La olla de Koka Mbala by Guy Menga; Kondo el tiburón by Jean Pliya; El presidente by Máxime N’Debeka; and Tres pretendientes ... un marido by Guillaume Oyono-Mbia.
  • • The second anthology, Teatro de la revolución argelina (1977), includes translations of four French works, namely El cadáver cercado by Yacine Kateb, Serkaji by Hocine Bouzaher, Alba roja by Assia Djebar and Walid Carn, and La casualidad no existe by Djamal Amrani.
  • • The third anthology, Teatro (1987), includes five translations of works by Wole Soyinka, namely Las pruebas del hermano Jero, La metamorfosis de Jero, El camino, La raza fuerte, and Los habitantes del pantano.

This amounts to fifteen texts, which shows the importance of anthologies in the dissemination of peripheral literature. Moreover, as Gallego Roca (1996) states, these compilations play an essential role in consolidating the canon by presenting texts worthy of imitation, and also contribute to renewing it by importing novel materials which break with the usual forms of behaviour or conventional perspectives. Both the didactic and innovative aspects are present in the compilations published in the 1970s. Thus, in the selection of texts, three selection criteria are evidenced.

First, a genre criterion prevails, since the two anthologies exclusively include dramatic texts. Second, a geographical criterion is also taken into account, as the territories from which the texts originate are clearly specified in the titles. Third, an ideological criterion is applied, as the title of Teatro de la revolución argelina (1977) includes the fact that it deals with literature of the Algerian revolution. Ideology is also reflected in the subject matter of the texts included in Teatro africano. In this sense, the representative character conferred on the texts by the book’s title is striking, since their inclusion implies a careful selection within the rich theatrical production of a continent characterised by huge cultural diversity and by the complexity of societies marked by slavery, colonisation, struggles for independence and neo-colonialism (Traoré 2008). In this context, it is important to note that these works were not translated for the stage but for the page, which entails more attention to the text itself and to the culture in which it originated, and a greater dissemination in both space and time, increasing the possibilities of using these texts for didactic purposes.

With regard to the choice of source texts, the six plays in Teatro africano were all written in the years following the independence of most of the countries on the continent, a period in which modern African dramaturgy was developed, the foundations of which were laid in the 1950s, coinciding with demands for independence and the rise of anti-colonial discourse. These circumstances favoured the emergence of a committed, even militant, theatre that delved into the cultural roots and ancestral rites of the indigenous peoples in order to find a form of expression of its own. Thus this compilation focuses on the dramatic production of a key period in African history, characterised by the desire for change and the need to break ties not only with the colonial heritage, but also with those tribal customs that hindered the building of new societies. This drive for renewal is reflected in theatrical conception. Theatre thus acquires a clear didactic vocation and a highly political nature, playing an important role both in shaping national identity and in transmitting values and behavioural patterns, as Cruz-Luis (1975:11) emphasises in the prologue (here and elsewhere, my English translations follow the Spanish):

En efecto, entre los objetivos priorizados por el quehacer teatral africano de nuestros días está el de contribuir al esclarecimiento de las masas. (Y no podía ser de otra forma: este teatro es corolario de la madurez política y revolucionaria del Continente.) Así lo ha entendido la abrumadora mayoría de los dramaturgos, quienes han asumido una parte en la educación ideológica de sus pueblos; el carácter didáctico es santo y seña de estas obras.

[In fact, the objectives prioritised by the African theatre of our times include that of contributing to the enlightenment of the masses. (And it could not be otherwise: this theatre is a corollary of the political and revolutionary maturity of the continent.) This is how the

Women as Protagonists in West African Plays Translated in Cuba 213 overwhelming majority of playwrights have understood it, as they have assumed a role in the ideological education of their peoples; the hallmark of these works is their didactic nature].

As mooted by Cruz-Luis (1975:14), “ideological education” constituted the determining factor in text selection:

Las obras que se recogen en este volumen ilustran lo que hasta aquí hemos señalado. En la selección de las mismas ha prevalecido, más que un espíritu rigurosamente antológico, el criterio de ofrecer una muestra en la que no dejen de estar presentes los niveles de desarrollo de la actual dramaturgia africana. Formal y temáticamente estas piezas comparten las inquietudes de la literatura teatral del Continente y se insertan además en la labor de esclarecimiento ideológico común a casi todo el teatro africano.

[In selecting these works, the prevailing criterion extends beyond a rigorously anthological spirit, to that of offering a demonstration of the levels of development of current African dramaturgy that are constantly present. Formally and thematically, these pieces share the concerns of the continent’s theatrical creations and also form part of the work of ideological clarification common to almost all African theatre].

In short, despite the title, Teatro africano does not intend to take a journey through the dramaturgy of the different countries of Africa, but rather to show the principles and ideals that underpin African theatrical texts. This explains, on the one hand, the limited geographical scope of the book as a whole, which essentially focuses on countries located around the Gulf of Guinea, and, on the other hand, the broad chronological framework of these plays set in different periods of African history:

  • Moremi (the translation bears the same title as the original) was written in 1960 in Yoruba by the Nigerian dramatist Duro Ladipo, was translated into English in 1967 by Ulli Beier, and from English to Spanish by Roberto Blanco. The play tells the story of the legendary Nigerian queen Moremi.
  • Abraha Pokú o una gran africana is the Spanish translation by Pedro de Arce of the Ivorian novelist Charles Nokan’s French drama Abraha Pokou (1970). The main theme of this historical and political drama, inspired by the African legend of the origin of the Baoulés, is the struggle against the Western powers to preserve the territory and indigenous cultures.
  • La olla de Koka Mbala is the Spanish translation by Pedro de Arce of the Congolese playwright Guy Menga’s French drama La marmite de Koka Mbala (1966). Set in precolonial times, the play presentsa woman’s struggle against a fictional closed society, in which the elderly act as judges and censors in order to preserve traditions and, with them, their privileges.
  • Kondo el tiburón is the Spanish translation by Pedro de Arce of the French drama Kondo le requin (1966) by the Beninese writer Jean Pliya. It tells the story of the struggle of the King of Dahomey to defend the territory of his ancestors against French colonisation.
  • El presidente is the Spanish translation by Virgilio Piñera of the Congolese Máxime N’Debeka’s drama Le président (1970). The play depicts the struggle for power of the new African bourgeoisie and denounces the repression and irrationality of the new dictatorships.
  • Tres pretendientes ... un marido is the Spanish translation by Pedro de Arce of the French drama Trois prétendants ... un mari (1964), by the Cameroonian Guillaume Oyono-Mbia. Influenced by Moliére’s comedy of intrigue, Tres pretendientes is a satire of postcolonial society, verging on buffoonery, dealing with the African dowry system.

The presentation of different stages of the history of the African continent contributes to the diversity of issues addressed in this anthology. However, the text on the back cover of the book states that these plays represent themes fundamental to the theatrical conception of the 1960s, notably the confrontation between the old and the new:

Uno de los temas más frecuentado en el teatro africano es la problemática de los jóvenes que, desde una visión actual y con actitud crítica, se enfrentan a las tradiciones que aún perduran en sus mayores, a las costumbres nocivas al desarrollo social y, en fin, a los vicios engendrados por la dominación económica y cultural colonialista. Representar este mundo y contribuir con ello a la construcción del África nueva es el objetivo de estos autores de teatro.

(Cruz-Luis 1975:14)

[One of the most frequently used themes in African theatre is the problem of the youth who, from a current viewpoint and with a critical attitude, confront the traditions that their elders still want to follow, the customs that are harmful to social development and, finally, the vices engendered by colonial economic and cultural domination. The goal of these playwrights is to represent this world and thus contribute to the building of a new Africa].

This is the message that the patronage wants to send to the Cuban people, and, in particular, to the youth, in order to encourage them to be the drivers of the new society that emerged from the 1959 Revolution. Moreover, in the source texts, these young people are represented mainly by women, who speak out to claim their rights and fight to build a better world and

Women as Protagonists in West African Plays Translated in Cuba 215 a fairer society. These works therefore break with the traditional image of submissive women to depict female characters characterised by courage, strength, wisdom and cunning, and who through their actions morally surpass the male characters.

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