By margaretta wa gacheru (posted 15 march 2017
Mumbi Kaigwa created quite a firestorm in 2003 when she first staged the all-female production of Eve Ensler’s ‘Vagina Monologues’ in Nairobi at ISK.
At the same time, Mumbi raised heaps of cash which she then gave away to a Women’s Shelter, a safe haven for battered and bruised women who’d run away from domestic violence. This year, the proceeds from the same production (with a somewhat different cast) which was staged this past Wednesday night at Kenya National Theatre will go to an NGO assisting some of the most destitute and dispossessed of Kenya’s female population, widows and orphans. It’s called ‘Come together widows and orphans’ (cometogether.org).
Back in 2003, Mumbi had been reviled by some, but regaled by others who’d seen her as upholding several central aspects of freedom for women. The first was women’s daring determination to speak openly about the tabooed topic of sex, including the ‘never-to-be-named’ woman’s private part!
The brilliance of Ensler’s play of course is that it’s based not solely on her personal perspective as a feminist whose script, first staged in New York City in 1996, has subsequently been picked, performed and seen by countless numbers of women, girls and men all over the world.
The show is primarily based on hundreds of interviews with all types of women coming from a myriad of ethnic, class, religious, racial, age and gender backgrounds. For instance, one 72 year old woman confessed in her interview that she had never in her whole life experienced an orgasm. In her touching testimony, sensitively shared by Lorna Irungu, the woman revealed that her abstinence was due to a disastrous encounter she’d had with a guy while still in her teens. She’d never been ‘turned on’ before, but when it happened, his ridicule and public abuse was so traumatizing that she never got close to a man again.
Like so many women interviewed, she was terribly ill-informed about her sexuality. Others, on the other hand, were wildly experienced and included delicate details in their interviews; while others shared stories of abuse and discrimination. But the show as a whole ran the gamut of emotional agony and sexual ecstasy, pain and pleasure, all the while being extremely informative, enlightening and wonderfully entertaining.
Some of the most delicious and amusing moments in the show were shared through the testimonies of sexually well-informed women and delightfully dramatized in monologues given by Nini Wacera and Aleya Kassam.
The play itself is filled with women’s personal testimonies, which explains why the script is shared as a series of monologues. These were dutifully and dramatically read on Wednesday night by a splendidly gifted group of women, including June Gachui, Lorna Irungu, Patricia Kihoro, Silvia Cassini, Patricia Amira, Aleya Kassam, Cathi Ngugi, Mo Pearson, Hana Kefela, Bea Imathiu, Nini Wacera, Kaz, Nana Wanjau, Shazz Nderitu, Savane Kemoli, Wacango Kimani, Seroun Wang’ombe, Malini Morzaria and Mumbi Kaigwa.
Performed to a full-house crowd whose seats had been booked solid more than 24 hours before Wednesday’s dazzling performance, the monologues were staged as less of a formal production and more like an intimate conversation among women about their personal experiences, including their own sexuality. Speaking sometimes as soloists, or as trios or quartets in the front row of high chairs, the women otherwise sat comfortably behind the speakers on colorful sofas provided by The White Elephant Trading Company.
Now the topic of women’s sexuality is still a tabooed topic in many local communities. At the same time, there has definitely been a seismic shift in attitudes among women and girls (and some men) who now feel freer to discuss issues related to female sexuality than ever before. The monologues (which Mumbi has staged several times since 2003) themselves have played a transformative role in demystifying the topic which for centuries has been shrouded in ignorance and cultural superstitions, ensuring women and girls have been left in the dark about their own anatomy.
So the other aspect of women’s freedom that comes to light in the Monologues relates to women’s ability to no longer be passive recipients of everything from domestic violence, FMG to sex. The show itself is a resounding confirmation of women’s freedom to explore and discover their limitless capacities not simply for sexual pleasures (as well as the pains of child birth), but also as human beings with the confidence to rise up and claim their agency, identity and enlightenment.