Title: The Burdens
Author: John Ruganda
Reviewer: Moses Mubezi
John Ruganda was born on May 30, 1941, and is Uganda’s most renowned playwright and also one of East Africa’s greatest dramatists. He was greatly engaged in promoting drama in many higher institutions of learning. The Burdens was published in 1972.
The play is set in a post-independent Uganda and the language is in some instances Africanised.
The play is about Wamala, a simple teacher whose job was ‘thumbing pieces of chalk’, who on the eve of independence, miraculously finds himself as a minister with all the associated luxuries befitting the office.
Unfortunately for Wamala, his over-riding ambition to climb an extra rank up and a ready audience to cheer him on brings about his downfall.
Wamala is left with nothing apart from a nagging wife, Tinka, a highly sensitive son, Kaija, and a daughter, Nyakake. Wamala’s past becomes an irritation and he fails to come to terms with this reality.
He relives his past through reminiscences, day dreams and reveries. He fails to grasp the realities in the world head-on and resorts to heavy drinking and adultery.
He frequently insults and beats up his wife when she accuses him of adultery and coming home late. Consequently, he fails in his marital and family obligations.
In bid to extricate himself from the biting poverty, Wamala comes up with a slogan syndicate scheme to get quick money from politicians. He also comes up with the idea of the safety matches with two heads as a way of saving money by the common poor man. This scheme is never bought due to the negative social and economic implications.
Tinka comes to terms with reality and to make ends meet, she is preoccupied with weaving mats, brewing enguli (crude gin) and providing for the family. She turns the children against their father by making them aware of her role as ‘husband and father’ in the home and the sole bread winner.
Tinka and Kaija convey the abject poverty looming over their household. Kaija is the one who lacks many things such as a bed of his own. Ironically, Wamala prefers a bottle of alcohol to taking his daughter to hospital. These children lack the basic needs and they turn out to be burdens to their parents. Their parents turn out to be the burdens to each other when they no longer can bear and dare each other’s guts.
The play among other things diagnoses the effect of politics on an individual and his family, plus empty-headed ambition. It also shows how destructive failure to come to terms with reality can do to an individual. The result is family disintegration. Whatever happens to Wamala’s family happens to a good number of families in Africa where children like Kaija and Nyakake end up in the orphanage.
In such a marriage, both Wamala and Tinka had to guard one’s own life as they both became insecure with each other.
The reviewer is an educationist and publisher