"The Book of Life"
June 16, 2021
Co-sponsored by the Black Cultural Center
Rwandan writer and activist Gakire Katese Odile “Kiki” takes to the stage with Ingoma Nshya, the Women Drummers of Rwanda, for new theatre project The Book of Life, a deeply moving perspective on life, loss, and recovery. The performance is filled with personal letters, stirring shadow puppetry, and joyous live drumming from eight professional percussionists. At a time when the world is racked with disharmonies, hatred, and struggle, The Book of Life offers hope.
What makes humans go to the edge of the abyss, and then step in? In Rwanda in April of 1994, one million people were murdered in 100 days. The country devoured itself. As has happened far too many times in human history, something terrible turned in the collective unconscious of a people, and the unthinkable became commonplace.
But then what? What happened next — after the worst thing?
In this new theatre project, The Book of Life, you are led through a remarkable journey. As Katese writes, “We still have the possibility of undoing the genocide in some small way, to bridge the hole that’s been left, not with bones or the clothes they wore when they died — but with their lives. The dinners. The lovers. The dates. The joy. How do we undo the un-undoable? We let them live again.”
The Book of Life is based on Katese’s years-long project of accumulating letters written by survivors and perpetrators of Rwanda’s genocide: ordinary people. These letters are addressed to those who are gone — and the sense of who they were, the lives they lived, is powerful. Unlocking life after trauma and finding a humane way forward, The Book of Life looks to the future.
About Kiki Katese
Former deputy director of the University Centre for Arts and Drama of the National University of Rwanda, Gakire Katese Odile “Kiki” is a self-described professional dreamer and a woman of firsts. She is a Rwandan actor, playwright, director, and cultural entrepreneur whose work has been honored around the world. She has a vision of how art will heal and inspire her country. She is the first recipient of the League of Professional Theatre Women’s Rosamond Gilder/Martha Coigney International Award. She is a fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar and is also one of the recipients of the 2012 Carnegie Common Ground Awards, which honor outstanding accomplishments in conflict resolution, negotiation, community building, and peacebuilding around the world.
Ingoma Nshya: “New Drum/New Power”
For centuries in Rwanda, drumming was an activity reserved exclusively for men. Women were not permitted to touch the drums or even approach the drummers.
In 2004 Kiki Katese created the first-ever Rwandan female drumming ensemble, Ingoma Nshya — which is Kinyarwanda for "New Drum" or "New Power." After the near-collapse of Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, many Rwandan men were either dead or in prison. A group of women decided it was time for a change, for the sake of the country, and, in particular, for the sake of its girls and women.
"I never like to describe ourselves as Hutus and Tutsis, and we never came together as Tutsi and Hutu,” Katese said. “We came as women. But we were also different. We had kids of perpetrators, we had widows, we had orphans, but this was not relevant on the stage."
Ingoma Nshya is a visionary grassroots project with multiple goals — healing, reconciliation, women’s social and financial empowerment, and artistic excellence. For the women, the group has been a place to begin to live again, to build new relationships, to heal the wounds of the past. Now a company of 20 professional drummers — together, they are a potent symbol of a society’s ability to heal, move forward, and create hope.
Support for this performance is provided by the Deborah L. Brown Center for the Arts Excellence Fund.
This is the first performance of The Book of Life at the Moss Arts Center.