Sunday, February 17, 2013

Francis Imbuga’s The Burning of Rags: A Synopsis

At the beginning of The Burning of Rags we are thrown straight into the heart of the play, a situation which reveals the death of Maltilda, Denis’ former wife as she remains, even in the afterlife, unhappy because her son, Yona, has not been circumcised. Her apparition appears to Agala, Denis’ father, displaying her displeasure at his and Denis’s failure to circumcise her son; she claims to have carried out the act herself.  She says, “When you and your son failed me, I circumcised him myself.”

In the next scene, Bandi is presented as a defiant child partly because of his refusal to respond immediately (as expected of a good child) when his father, Agala calls him. He reads a letter sent by his brother, Denis from the city aloud to his illiterate parents. In the letter Denis promises to visit the village in two weeks’ time for his son’s circumcision; he has previously written a letter in which he disagreed of the plan to circumcise, rather informing them of his own plan to have him circumcised at the hospital in the city. This, therefore, strikes up the conflict in the play.

In the city Denis, a professor in the Department of Culture is in a state of romantic phantasmagoria with Hilda, a colleague of his in the same university. Denis thinks Hilda’s education could practically render her unmatched for his choice of wife since chances are that she might question his authority as the head of the family. Unknown to Denis, Hilda already has a child for Henrics Fisher, a friend to Denis. Henrics had met Hilda when he came to Kenya for research for his thesis and they had fallen in love, an escapade that later resulted in pregnancy. At the revelation of the pregnancy, Henrics had to return to the U.S. to complete his research work; so Hilda was abandoned. Unsatisfied with the ways his child would have to be brought up, Henrics tries to reclaim Hilda. But the former would not yield, for she believes she has found her heart desire in Denis. 

Denis goes home to perform his traditional duty as a father, to circumcise his son. He gets home only to be confronted by his father about his delay for the traditional rite and his refusal to take a new wife after the demise of his first one. Angered by his father’s attitude towards him, he performs the circumcision rite but postpones the concluding aspect, which is the burning of rags, a rite he must perform as the father of Yona – because he has a lecture to deliver at an important conference.

Back to the city Denis celebrates his child’s sound health with the whiskey drink he returns from the village when his father and his friend, Badu has refused to accept it as a gift. Thereafter, the lecture has been organised and, as usual, Denis does not perform below expectation. Hilda is proud of him. However, this state of pride of the lovers is soon short-lived when suddenly Agala, Denis’ father and Babu, his friend, appear. Yona is very ill and in a state of coma. Agbaye, Denis’ friend has been of tremendous help in their bid to take the child to a hospital in the city and to locate his (Denis’) home. After much plea for his father and his friend to stay, relax and eat before they return to the hospital, they insist on leaving, the father swearing never to pass the night under the roof of his son whom, to him, is accursed. In spite of his effort at making them stay, the two old men leave. Having overheard the conversation between Denis and his father, Hilda sees him distress and demands to know what has happened. Reluctantly, Denis opens up to Hilda of his past relationship which was the result of Yona, his son. Surprisingly to Denis, Hilda is unperturbed by this revelation. On his request for why she does not feel hurt, she tells him of her own past too, believing that by doing so he probably would accept her. Instead of accepting her, especially now that both have a similar past. Just a few minutes before Denis leaves for the hospital, Henrics enters and meets both in a state of commotion. On getting to the hospital, Denis is very shocked to discover that instead of finding his ill son on the bed he finds his father, dead. Exploiting the situation, Henrics convinces Hilda of his love for her, requests that she follow him to the U.S. and live there together happily with their child. Confused and beaten, she helplessly accepts to be his wife again and so their first love rekindled.