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Thursday, March 11, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Infidelities so alarming

Title: Black Mamba
Author: John Ruganda
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza
Available: At all leading bookstores in town

Namuddu: Here we are dear husband, Shs100 for us. I couldn’t believe my eyes when he gave it to me. Barewa: Good God! That wasn’t as bad as you thought, was it? Going to bed with the professor and earning your first treat. I knew you’d make it. Why the devil didn’t I think of this before…?

Well, when desperation or exorbitant greed drives a man to fix his wife with another man for money, it says much about the force with which decadence and moral degeneration have infiltrated society.
Yet this is one of the most disturbing realities in the late Prof. John Ruganda’s famous play - Black Mamba (1973). In this drama, as in some of his other plays such as The Burdens (1972) and The Floods (1982), the gripping style with which he tackles social concerns such as prostitution, corruption, domestic violence, hypocrisy, adultery and exploitation is arguably unmatched in this country.

But it’s the clever use of symbolism and the eloquence of his characters that makes Black Mamba unforgettable; no wonder it’s a set book on the O’ Level Literature Syllabus. The symbolic title itself is action-packed and should prepare you for a rollercoaster reading experience, particularly if you are a Christian and know that the snake is the most cunning, dangerous creature in the Bible. Indeed, all the characters in this 70-page play are black mambas in one way or another; no one is to be trusted, as is difficult to simply confide in anyone today.

As Odiambo laments, “I’m ashamed of my own country; I’ve lost confidence in the individual.” The play’s central figure, Professor Coarx, betrays his wife by shamelessly sleeping with Namuddu, his houseboy’s wife. She’s herself a snake and the Prof. doesn’t know her true colours; he’s clueless that she’s Berewa’s wife. When he turns against her, it’s her turn to spew poison back in his face, calling him an “infernal devil” who shouldn’t live with snakes without expecting them to bite him.

The professor’s infidelities are so alarming that in a self-aloud, he asks what it is that enslaves a man to a woman. Sex is his guiltiest pleasure; he has resigned to his own fate saying “the shimmering thighs of a woman” would make any man fall. His sexual sins are symbolised by innumerable black mambas, which Berewa says “keep on popping out” of his house “at odd hours now and again” as if “it was a zoo.”

Overall, Black Mamba is a hilarious illumination of the evils that suffocate society, society so rotten to the core and the people at the helm who should be helping change the contemptible situation are perpetrating it instead. But there is a hint of hope at the end to the effect that despite the hardships and disagreeable state of affairs, love can help people go through it all as Berewa and Namuddu come clean and embrace in true love.

--Sunday Monitor, February 21, 2010