Introduction to X BY Peter Nazareth


X was the third play by me produced by the BBC African Theatre series and it was the first play I wrote when I was at the University of Leeds. It was 1965. My first play, Brave New Cosmos, written in 1961, had received first prize at the Makerere English competition and was then produced at the National Theatre in Kampala. Thereafter, the BBC asked me to write something for them, and I wrote The Hospital, a nightmarish play influenced by Kafka. My wife and I went to London to attend the recording at Bush House.

The producer, Shirley Cordeaux, made a trip to Leeds to interview Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ime Ikiddeh, and me. We talked in general terms about African literature. At the time, I was thinking about Malcolm X, who had visited Kenya and met Pio Gama Pinto before the latter’s assassination. I was struck by how Malcolm X thought about his life, recognized the forces that had conditioned him, and then remade himself. It was during this period that Ikiddeh wrote the play Blind Cyclos, I wrote X, and Ngugi started writing A Grain of Wheat, a novel.

In X, I used the resources of radio, of sound, to deconstruct the brainwashing of the mind under colonial rule. What I liked about Bertolt Brecht at that time was how he got us absorbed into a play on the stage, and then pushed us back to recognize the mechanics of the play so we could examine what we had believed and then remake ourselves. X pushes us back to realize we have been listening to a series of constructed stories, constructed by someone using the techniques of conditioning the mind through stories through time, and then making things up. There is a nameless storyteller, sparked off by two Yorkshire women talking on a bus about how the commercials for soap brainwashes them. The narrator then realizes that this was done to his mind, too.

Ngugi and I discussed what I was trying to do. He went on to write books about deconstructing the mind. He got something from me, and I got something from him. He urged me to start writing about Goans, and urged me further to write a novel. This became In a Brown Mantle (East African Literature Bureau; 1972), which got me the Seymour Lustman Fellowship at Yale. 

X By Peter Nazareth


Kyeyune X
Sheila Kase
Agafiao Sekibure
Jonathan Kaggwa

Bus Conductor
Newspaper Editor

Voices 1, 2, and 3 (male)
Voice 4 (female)
Woman 1
Woman 2

Narrator: (An African voice, with a dry sense of humour.) Kyeyune X was born one day shortly after I got onto a bus. (Pause.) It happened like this. I was waiting for a bus in a cold, northern city of England… (Voice fades slightly – sentence intonation stays up at end, as if going on with thought.) (Change of acoustics. Slight echo sound of bus approaching. Narrator’s voice changes from firmness of story-teller to stream-of-consciousness. Mood of reflection.) Thank god the bus is coming at last! Odd how one’s sense of time changes in this country … only five minutes late and it seems like an eternity … At home I would have waited for fifty minutes without thinking anything was wrong. (Sound of bus stopping.)

Conductor: (Pakistani accent.)Hurry up there! Sorry, six only, luv!

 Voice: (Englishman) Damn it! Missed another.

(Sound of bus moving on. We are now in the bus.)

(Englishman’s voice, fading away.)

“I’ll be late for work again…”

Narrator: Two women in front of me … Love listening to their, “I says to her” and “she says to me, luv” … How do they say? “I’ve a bu-us to take at library.” And to think that Teacher back home used to say my grammar and accent were bad. (He chuckles.)

First Woman: (Also with Yorkshire accent.) Whatever for? What are you going to do with three more packets of washin’ soap, Luv! You bought four packets of PERF washin’ soap last week because they wor giving away cannisters.

First Woman: But Luv, they’re giving away free bingo tickets with each packet! You can win two thousand pounds –

Second Woman: Well, dear, how much did you win?

First Woman: (Disappointed.) I missed by only one number. But next time –

Second Woman: (Angrily.) I wish they would leave us alone! Washin’ soap, washin’ whiter than white; threepence off, sixpence off, free canisters, lottery tickets – why can’t they leave us alone? Isn’t it enough that we try to bring up our children as decently as we can, sending them to school and putting the fear of the Lord into them? What do we want with so much washing soap? S’posin’ this country wor hit by a flood – we would be buried in tons of snowy foam of all the washin’ soap we have bought!

First Woman: But, luv, you don’t understand! Lots of women have won prizes. It says on the Tele –

(The bus stops.)

Second Woman: Oh, look, our stop. Come on.

(The bus re-starts. The first woman’s voice is faint.)
Someone at Derby won seven hundred pounds –

Narrator: (Still stream-of-consciousness. Sings an ad jingle.)

“Perf, perf, washes whiter,

Perf, washes Whiter!”

But does it wash a black man like me whiter or blacker? … That woman had a powerful imagination … if country were to be covered with snowy, soapy foam … the English hate bathing and yet this national mania for soap … that first woman was taken in by that gimmick of free tickets, which don’t win prizes – the second was not … but wait, even I remember that Perf jingle from my childhood – brainwash! … What if I told only the sum total of what I have been taught and told?

(Change of acoustics. No echo. Narrator moves back to present. From stream-of-consciousness to narration.)

Narrator: It was at that moment Kyeyune X was born in his mind. (Pause.) Kyeyune grew up in a village far from any town. When he was young, he was taught to respect the elders around him. Then he went to school, where he learnt all about strange white ghosts from another country.

(Fade out.)

(Fade in.)

Priest: (Earnestly.) And that, my dear boys, is the story of how Jesus of Nazareth was born in a manger because there was no room for Mary and Joseph in an inn.

Kyeyune: (Naïve. Stammering a bit.) Good mornin’ – Please sir – was Mr. Joseph the father of Jesus?

Priest: (Angry.) You, Kyeyune! I’ve told you dozens of times that the Blessed Virgin was conceived by the Hold Ghost, you dullard! Repeat after me – I believe in Jesus Christ –

Kyeyune: I believe in Jesus Christ –

Priest: His only begotten son our Lord,

Kyeyune: His only begotten son our Lord

Priest: Who was born of the Virgin Mary,

Kyeyune: Who was born of the Virgin Mary

Priest: (Fade out. We faintly hear the priest say “descended into hell. Suffered.”)

Narrator: And so Kyeyune was taught to give up his savage ways. For the priest said to him,

Priest: You are going to be saved, Kyeyune. Do you hear?

(Echo is increased so that there is a resonance on the last word.) Saved, Saved, SAVED!

Narrator: And that was not all, for Kyeyune was told that he was going to be civilized. He wanted to say…

Kyeyune: Good mornin’! Please sir, what is ‘ci-evil-ized’ meaning?

Narrator: – But he was afraid of being told once more that he was “a dullard”. And so little Kyeyune started on the long road to being civilized and saved. He began to condemn his elders for their savage ways, and he began to love these strange white ghosts from another country. But for a long time he could not remember whether this country was Is-rael or Heaven or Manger.

(Fade out. Fade in of the sound of the bus, faintly.)

Narrator: One day, Kyeyune found some writing which was different from the other one. This one had pictures! He picked it off the road and ran with it to his elder cousin, Kiwanuka.

Kyeyune: Kiwanuka, Kiwanuka! Look, I have found another Bible!

Kiwanuka: What? Let me see! Oh you fool, that is not a Bible! That is a newspaper!

Kyeyune: New–What?

Kiwanuka: Newspaper.

Kyeyune: Does it tell you about the country Jesus lived in?

Kiwanuka: What? Oh, you mean Israel! Yes.

Kyeyune: Then it is the Bible!

Kiwanuka: (Groaning.) It also tells you about many other countries. It tells you about England, for instance.

Kyeyune: About England? Where the priest comes from?

Kiwanuka: Yes. And where all the cars, lorries, and bicycles come from.

Kyeyune: Tell me Kiwanuka. Is England very far from Paradise?

Kiwanuka: You fool, Kyeyune. It’s no use talking to you.

Kyeyune: Tell me, tell me. These pictures. What are they about? I can see this man holding a box. What does it say here?

Kiwanuka: Oh, Kyeyune, don’t you learn anything at all at your school? That is a radio! You know – you get people’s voices over the radio. You turn the knob and you hear music from Kampala. You turn the knob again, and you hear somebody talking in a foreign language from Nairobi. You turn it again and you can hear voices from England.)

Kyeyune: Really? Really? That’s good! But what do the letters say?

Kiwanuka: It is telling you that the Bush Radio is the best radio for you to buy because it is cheap.

Kyeyune: When I grow up and work, I’ll buy a Bush Radio. What does this picture say?

Kiwanuka: (Reading.) Buy Frentic tablets. Dawa ya Kweli. Only one tablet cures your headache!

Kyeyune: When I work, I’ll buy Fre-Free – these tab – these things. And this picture, the picture of this woman?

Kiwanuka: (Reading.) You simply must buy Trubone lipstick –

Kyeyune: When I work, I’ll buy Trubone lipstick –

Kiwanuka: (Exasperated.) Oh, you’re a fool, Kyeyune. A fool.

Narrator: Kyeyune vowed earnestly to buy all these things in the newspaper when he grew up and worked. But there was still a long way to go. Kyeyune had first to go to secondary school. By then, he had learnt to read and write with great skill. There, he learnt a great many things. For instance, he learnt the history of the British Empire –

(Fade in.)

Teacher: (English. In a bored voice.) Siraj-ud-Dowla was an evil man. Hating the progress brought to India by Robert Clive and the humanitarian English, he planned brutal revenge. First, he very insidiously gave support to the equally villainous French, confident that they would defeat the English. But the forces of good triumphed. Clive defeated Dupleix at the Battle of Plassey. So Siraj-ud-Dowla planned a treacherous, cowardly deed. He locked up a hundred innocent English men, women, and children in a small room in Calcutta, a room too small for even ten people. Within a day, there were only six survivors. After this black-hearted man, this black-sheep of humanity, this room is called the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Kyeyune: Please sir.

Teacher: Yes, Kyeyune?

Kyeyune: How was that possible? I thought the Indians were brown and only we in Africa are black!

Teacher: Wretched boy! You have not been listening to my lesson or you would not have asked that irrelevant and utterly stupid question! Take a hundred lines.

Kyeyune: But –

Teacher: And for your homework, you shall write an essay on the “Black Hole of Calcutta”.

(Fade out. Fade in.)

Narrator: After secondary school, Kyeyune went on to University.

Everybody told him that this was a great achievement and he could now justly be proud of himself. And he was proud of himself. And it was at university that a wonderful thing happened to him – Kyeyune fell in love. No, not with himself. That had happened a long time ago. He fell in love with a girl, Sheila Kase. They loved each other passionately until the day of the tragic incident –

(A knock on the door.)

Kyeyune: (From outside the room.) Sheila, may I come in?

Sheila: Is that you, Kyeyune? (Frantically.) Wait, wait a moment. (Sounds are heard, as though she has opened a drawer, put something into it, and shut it.)

Yes, come in.

Kyeyune: Oh, Sheila darling, I’ve missed you passionately. I haven’t seen you for one whole day! Come, Honey, let me swee-ee-p you into my arms and kii-iis you!

Sheila: Wai–

(Sound of a long kiss.)

Kyeyune: That’s strange. Most odd. Your lips taste sweet.

Sheila: (Laughing nervously.) Well, you always did say that I had honey lips. It’s my natural sweetness.

Kyeyune: (Musing.) No, they taste sweet in a different way. I’ve got it! You were eating something just before I walked in. What was it?

Sheila: Come, darling, never mind that. We have a lot to make up to each other for the long twenty-four hours absence.

Kyeyune: (Angrily.) If you won’t tell me, I’ll look for it myself.

(Sounds of things being upset and a drawer being opened.)

Sheila: Don’t! Kyeyune, leave that drawer alone!

Kyeyune: Ah ha! Found it! A plate! I knew it! This is what you have been eating!


After all I have told you, you revert to your old ways! Matoke! You, a girl in university, eating matoke!

Sheila: (Suddenly defiant.) What’s wrong with eating matoke? It’s our food, isn’t it? It grows in our country –

Kyeyune: Don’t be ridiculous, Sheila. After fifteen years of education, you should not be primitive enough to be eating matoke! Don’t you know the correct thing, the civilized thing to eat is, English Potatoes?

Sheila: Kyeyune, do be reasonable. What’s wrong with eating food eaten by our ancestors?

Kyeyune: No, it is the end. And I’m sure you even use a chewing-stick instead of a hygienic Dr. West toothbrush. No, don’t try and deny it, Sheila. I can see it in your eyes.

This is goodbye, Sheila.

Sheila: But, Kyeyune –

Kyeyune: God knows what other primitive and unhygienic habits you have. It’s been a pleasure knowing you, but – oh my god – a savage in spite of all her education!

(The door slams. Fade out. Fade in.)

Narrator: And Kyeyune’s heart was broken for many days. He vowed to be cautious in future when dealing with other black women. After all, you never knew… (Pause.)

Kyeyune’s subject at the University was English Literature. Having no literature of his own, he was going to learn the great truths of life through the literature of another country.

Tutor: (Arrogant, patronising Oxford accent.) As a famous critic has said, English Literature can widen our focus, develop our sensibilities, and make us aware of depths and possibilities in life that we would otherwise remain ignorant of. (Swelling almost to a song.) What is true of individuals is also true of societies. A society without a literature has that much less change of embodying within its temper, and so within its organisations, something of the FULLNESS of human experience.

Narrator: Kyeyune read English literature avidly. He enjoyed his classes too, except for the day on which a fellow-student behaved abominably. This was the day on which Kyeyune’s tutor delivered a brilliant lecture on the English novelist, Charles Dickens.

Tutor: And that is why Dicken’s Bleak House remains one of the greatest works of literature of all time. For its fundamental theme is, as Dickens sees it, of man constantly striving to create order out of bleak chaos. There is no need for Dickens to embody any positive values in his characters, for they are all present in his very style. (He bursts out.) JOY! And the joy of living! This emerges from the very style. The all-pervading existence in the novel of religion, money, and law – (a feeble attempt at a joke) not forgetting the all-embracing fog – are symbols of men attempting to attain this joy.

Olull: (In a voice shorn of all niceties.) Sir, may I make a comment?

Tutor: Yes, Olull.

Olull: You have completely misread the novel. What is this vague “joy of living” and vague “symbolism”? Bleak House is very much concerned with social injustice. It shows how the social system itself is unjust; that the poor, like Jo, remain poor through no fault of their own but because a handful of people choose to make a living out of the toiling and suffering of thousands –

Tutor: Now look here, Olull –

Olull: (Getting angrier.) Instead of saying vague things about Bleak House, we should look to our society and try to improve it. Here we are in this university, living on the fat of the land, and on our very doorstep, on the college boundary, we have Wandegeya – the biggest eyesore of poverty and slum-life in this country. We should do something to improve Wandegeya. This is what Dickens was writing about.

Kyeyune: (Mocking.) Good god, sir, how could Olull be so dim! Dickens writing about Wandegeya, indeed! (Leering.) We all know what joy of living is to be found in Wandegeya! And we know what Olull is doing to uplift the poverty in certain sections of Wandegeya! But how can Olull be so dull-witted? How can you overlook the most important qualities of Bleak House? Its aesthetic shape? The extent to which it has derived its strengths from the whole English tradition, from Fielding and Jane Austen, while remaining inexorably Victorian in sensibility and technique?

Olull: Damn it, Kyeyune –

Kyeyune: (Mocking.) Control your baser instincts, Olull. Remember, you are in a lecture room, not some jungle.

Tutor: Come, come. Olull! We must not lose our sense of proportion or we will be most un-Dickensian and lose our joy of living!

(The whole class laughs.)

Olull: Damn it, I’m not staying here to be laughed at by a pack of fools!

(He leaves, slamming the door.)

Tutor: Well, well, well. At least, Kyeyune and I did our best to create order out of bleak chaos!

(Pause. Tutor coughs. The class takes the cue and laughs.)

Tutor: In conclusion, Bleak House illustrates the point that…

(Fade out.)

Narrator: After the class, Kyeyune made it a point to apologise to his tutor for his classmate’s rude behaviour. The tutor very generously told him to forget about it. (Pause.)

And it came to pass that Kyeyune’s country was to receive Independence. At least, this is what Kyeyune read in the papers. This came as something of a surprise for the papers had always told him things like:

Newspaper Editor: Britain has formed trade agreements for its protectorate with other countries. This new agreement will benefit the protectorate as the home government has always had the interests of its protectorate at heart.

Narrator: And Kyeyune discovered that he would have to vote for one of two candidates, one of whom would form the Government and the other the Opposition. The two candidates came to address the University. Mr. Agafiao Sekibure came first.

Sekibure: (With a deep and sincere voice.) Friends, fellow-students, countrymen. My party is dedicated to serving this beautiful country of ours. For too long have we suffered under the tyranny of Imperialism. My party will change all that. We have worked for you, suffered for you, even spent the best years of our life in prison for you. Would Mr. Jonathan Kaggwa of the other party have done this for you? His party does not have the interests of the country at heart. His party is out to exploit this our beloved country, the country for whose freedom so many sons and daughters have sacrificed so much. Therefore, my friends, in the interests of this, our country, I ask you to vote for me and not for Mr. Jonathan Kaggwa.

(Enthusiastic applause from the audience.)

Thank you.

Narrator: And so Kyeyune was convinced that he had to vote for Agafiao Sekibure. It was obvious that Sekibure was the right man to form the Government. The other fellow would form the Opposition. But then Mr. Jonathan Kaggwa came to address the University.

Kaggwa: (Oratorial and emotional, with a hint that this a technique.) Friends, fellow-students, countrymen. My party is dedicated to serving this beautiful country of ours. For too long have we suffered under the tyranny of Imperialism. My party will change all that. I have worked for you, suffered for you, even (aggressively) spent the best years of my life in prison for you. (Passionately, forcing a response from the crowd.) Would Agafiao Sekibure of the other party have done this for you?

(Murmurs of “No” from audience.)

His party does not have the interests of this country at heart. His party is out to destroy this our beloved country, the country for whose freedom so many sons and daughters have suffered so much. Therefore, my friends, in the interests of this our country, I exhort you to vote for me, Mr. Jonathan Kaggwa, and not for that – not for Agafiao Sekibure.

Narrator: Kyeyune was confused! For from what Mr. Jonathan Kaggwa said, it seemed that his party should be the Government and the other the Opposition! But Kyeyune was a man of great resource. When in doubt, he had to inquire. So he asked the student in the room next to his which candidate he should vote for.

Student: (Sombre and bitter.) Neither! Both men belong to evil parties that should not be allowed to rule our beloved country. They will bring it to ruin! The man to vote for would be Karago Katorogo, the rightful leader; but he is in prison on a trumped-up charge of receiving bribes.

Narrator: Kyeyune got even more confused! When he went to vote, he marked a cross right across his ballot paper, even though he knew it would be put into a special category marked “Spoiled Votes”. (Pause.) After the day of Freedom, Kyeyune began to feel that something had gone drastically wrong. He revealed his feelings in an interview he had with a visiting journalist from England, shortly after a very terrible diplomatic rebellion in a neighbouring country.

(Fade in.)

Journalist: Tell me, Mr. Kyeyune, why is it that so soon after Independence, things do not seem to be going smoothly in your countries?

Kyeyune: I really cannot say. It may well be that we do not have enough experience, that we do not have the qualified men to take over.

Journalist: Come, come, Mr. Kyeyune. That is evading the issue! I mean, we are now talking after the recent breaking-off of relations between two sister African countries. And the cause of it was – a football match! (Laughs uproariously.) Yes, a football match! The country whose side lost claimed that the referee had been unfair, and so the two countries broke off diplomatic relations!

Kyeyune: Ah, yes, but you must remember that those two countries were under the French and, though independent, are still French. We here have – had – English masters and we must be, and indeed we are, grateful for all the training and guidance we have received from your country.

Journalist: Well, I must say that from my ten-day tour of your continent, your country seems to be having the least troubles of all.

Kyeyune: Of course, I must admit that things are not going too smoothly here, either. However, with patience, with more good will and aid from your country, we will soon be developing along the right path.

Journalist: Thank you, Mr. Kyeyune, for a most stimulating, intelligent, balanced, and unbiased analysis of the state of your country after Independence.

(Sound of the bus. A car behind honks rudely.)

Narrator: Then at last, Kyeyune achieved his life’s ambition. He came to England. The land of his dreams! The land his teachers, priests, and rulers came from! The land of his aspirations. And Kyeyune liked England. In England, you are always told what to do, and from long training, Kyeyune liked being told what to do. There were notices all over the country saying:

(In the following sequence, the first three voices are of men and the fourth of a woman.)

Voice 1: (Quick.) Drink Triple Emerald, the beer men drink.

Voice 2: (Commanding.) Smoke Contular Cigarettes, the cigarettes men smoke.

Voice 3: (Deep, charismatically.) Wear Hall Made-to-Measure, the clothes men wear.

Voice 4: (Sexy.) Use New Price, the talcum powder women love on men.

Narrator: When he saw television, he heard it say:

Voice 1: Drink Triple Emerald, the beer men drink.

Voice 2: Smoke Contular Cigarettes, the cigarettes men smoke.

Voice 3: Wear Hall Made-to-Measure, the clothes men wear.

Voice 4: Use New Price, the talcum powder women love on men.

Narrator: When he went to the movies, the films said:

Voice 1: Drink Triple Emerald, the beer men drink.

Voice 2: Smoke Contular Cigarettes, the cigarettes men smoke.

Voice 3: Wear Hall Made-to-Measure, the clothes men wear.

Voice 4: Use New Price, the talcum powder women love on men.

Narrator: And so Kyeyune did.

Voice 1: Drink Triple Emerald, the beer men drink.

Voice 2: Smoke Contular Cigarettes, the cigarettes men smoke.

Voice 3: Wear Hall Made-to-Measure, the clothes men wear.

Voice 4: Use New Price, the talcum powder women love on men.

Narrator: And Kyeyune learned to increase his wealth, both physical and spiritual. For there were signs near churches saying,

Voice 1: Be good to your enemies; you probably made them.

Voice 2: If you have to choose between two duties, one is not your duty.

Narrator: And as he walked on, there were signs saying,

Voice 1: Save as much as threepence on items you buy here!

Voice 2: By customers’ demand – prices cheaper here!

Voice 3: One-and-six cut to one-and-two!

Voice 4: Be wise, shop here, and save, save, save, save, SAVE!

Narrator: And Kyeyune became rich because he bought and bought and bought and…

Voice 1, 2, 3, 4: (Together.) Saved, Saved, Saved, Saved, SAVED!!!!

Narrator: And so the prophecy of Kyeyune’s early priest was fulfilled. He was saved. He was ci-evil-ized –

Conductor: Terminus! I said TERMINUS!

Narrator: The end of the road. (Pause.) So I killed off Kyeyune X. I got off the bus. I was going to see the brilliant new film, A Taste of Money, which all the film critics and reviewers said was marvelous and avant-garde and one of the most original films of the year. Yes, like Kyeyune X, I too had been brainwashed.

The image of civil rights activist Malcolm X, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, is for representational purposes only.

peter nazareth.jpg

Adapted from Two Radio Plays (Nairobi: East Africa Literature Bureau, 1976) and with the permission of the playwright. First produced by Shirley Cordeaux for the African Service of the BBC on 8 August, 1965.

Peter Nazareth, born in Kampala in 1940, graduated from Makerere University College, obtaining his English Honors degree from the University of London, later doing graduate work at Leeds University.  He left Uganda in 1973 to accept the Seymour Lustman Fellowship at Yale University, after which he was a Fellow of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. He is currently Professor of English and Advisor to the International Writing Program. In a Brown Mantle can be purchased here.