Harare, March 17th 2015 | Patience G. Tawengwa
When I first read “Fabulation or The Re-Education of Undine” I was drawn in by the similarities which exist between Undine’s self discovery journey and the search for identity for many of us contemporary Africans. Most Africans of my generation have parents who were born and raised in the rural areas of colonial Africa, only after independence were black Africans able to freely move from “Africans only” designated townships to the affluent and formerly all white suburbs. My generation became beneficiaries of a lifestyle and opportunities which our parents never had access to. The multi-racial schools we attended had an english language only policy and we were not allowed to speak our own African languages, that rule created within us a belief that english language and culture were superior and synonymous with education and civilization and our own mother tongue and culture inferior and aligned with being backward. There was a shift in values and to the younger generation non-english speaking rural relatives became “uncool” and their presence in certain social settings elicited a sense of shame.
In Fabulation, Undine (whose real name is Sharona), comes from a humble background and through the support and sacrifice of her family she manages to make it to Dartmouth College. On her graduation day Undine says her family drove “two hundred and sixty-seven miles in a rented minivan, loaded with friends and relatives ……I was the first person in the family to graduate from College. They came en masse, dressed in their bargain-basement finest. Loud, overly eager, lugging picnic baskets filled with fragrant ghetto food….I didn’t mind until I overheard a group of my friends making crass, unkind comments about my family. …..And I decided on that day that I was Undine Barnes, who bore no relationship to those people.” Undine makes a decision to abandon her roots, sever ties with her family and re-invent herself but upon finding out that her husband has embezzled all her money, leaving her with no choice but to declare bankruptcy she confronts the truth that:
“My ancestors came shackled in wooden ships, crossed the Atlantic with nothing but memories!……Let’s just say their journey brought me here – their pain, their struggle, established me behind this fine expensive teak desk.”
Sooner or later our journey forces us to all confront our roots and to acknowledge the fact that it is somebody else’s journey, struggle and pain which established us. I am confident that the play will resonate and appeal to African audiences, because the story is like a mirror being held up in front of us, I see myself, I see my friends and so many others in Undine’s narrative. Undine’s last line in the play is “I breathe!” and I believe that’s what happens when we take pride in our identity and come home.