And Crocodiles Are Hungry At Night

On 25 September 1987 Jack Mapanje, a Malawian University lecturer and poet was arrested without charge, under a direct order from Ngwazi Dr H. Kamuzu Banda.  He was detained in Mikuyu prison without trial for 3 years, 7 months,16 days and more than 12 hours.

 The Africa Centre, in collaboration with Nanzikambe Arts and Bilimankhwe Arts, are running a production of “And Crocodiles Are Hungry At Night”, adapted from the memoirs of Dr Mapanje.  Nine actors travelled from Malawi to bring to life the injustice suffered by Mapanje and other political prisoners during President Banda’s oppressive 28 year rule.   

 I have worked with prisoners in two of the largest prisons in Malawi and found some of the scenes particularly hard to watch due to the striking similarities between the degrading treatment Dr Mapanje suffered and the inhumane conditions prisoners are still forced to endure.  In one scene, the higher authorities discovered that one sympathetic prison guard had helped some inmates to communicate with their families; as a result Dr Mapanje and his fellow inmates were subjected to a very public and extremely humiliating strip search.  This is a regular occurrence at Chichiri prison, where invasive strip searches are publically carried out on new inmates in the prison courtyard before they are shown to their cells.  The nine Malawian actors did a fantastic job in portraying Dr Mapanje’s experiences, with humour, sensitivity and vibrancy.

The production used Dr Mapanje’s poetry as a powerful tool in highlighting the strength of the human spirit.    “Skipping Without Ropes” beautifully encapsulates the inmate’s anguish and frustration at the injustice they suffered and Mapanje’s resilience when confronted by the cruelty of the regime.   

Skipping Without Ropes

by Jack Mapanje

I will, I will skip without your rope
Since you say I should not, I cannot
Borrow your son’s skipping rope to
Exercise my limbs; I will skip without

Your rope as you say, even the lace
I want will hang my neck until I die;
I will create my own rope, my own
Hope and skip without your rope as

You insist I do not require to stretch
My limbs fixed by these fevers of your
Reeking sweat and your prison walls;
I will, will skip with my forged hope;

Watch, watch me skip without your
Rope; watch me skip with my hope –
A-one, a-two, a-three, a-four, a-five
I will, a-seven, I do, will skip, a-ten,

Eleven, I will skip without, will skip
Within and skip I do without your
Rope but with my hope; and I will,
Will always skip you dull, will skip

Your silly rules, skip your filthy walls,
You weevil pigeon peas, skip your
Scorpions, skip your Excellency Life
Glory. I do, you don’t, I can, you can’t,

I will, you won’t, I see, you don’t, I
Sweat, you don’t, I will, will wipe my
Gluey brow then wipe you at a stroke
I will, will wipe your horrid, stinking,

Vulgar prison rules, will wipe you all
The hop about, hop about my cell, my
Home, the mountains, my globe as your
Sparrow hops about your prison yard

Without your hope, without your rope,
I swear, I will skip without your rope, I
Declare, I will have you take me to your
Showers to bathe me where I can resist

This singing child you want to shape me,
I’ll fight your rope, your rules, your hope
As your sparrow does under your super-
vision! Guards! Take us for a shower!

 

The show runs until 18 August and tickets are available at  http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/bilimankhwe