By Cheryl L. West
Directed by Linda Hartzell
The world premiere of Mwindo is an epic Central African tale passed on for centuries featuring heroic beings and fantastical creatures. Mwindo, born as a full-sized boy, is an unwitting threat to his father, a Chief whose heart is corrupted with greed and hatred for the son who will grow to take his place. Mwindo journeys on a quest to battle enemies and overcome obstacles, to triumph and forgive, to bring his people compassion and the richness of joy. With plenty of action and adventure, music and dance, Mwindo teaches us what it’s like to search for and find one’s warrior spirit.
If your family likes courageous, coming-of-age stories, Mwindo is for you.
ASL Interpreted Dates:
Public - February 7, 2:00pm
Schools - February 4, 10:30am
Age Recommendation: For Ages 9+
Discussion Topics: Forgiveness, Leadership, Maturity, African Oral Storytelling
Running Time: approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes
Be warned: This is a complete synopsis of the play, so it is full of spoilers
As we write this synopsis, the script for Mwindo is still being developed. There may be some differences between what you read here and what you see in the show.
In the village of Tubondo in the dense forest of the Congo, the Chief announces to his warriors that he has just become father to his sixth daughter. He is a wealthy man, because his daughters bring him rich bride-prices. With his prized Hawk perched upon his shoulder, he awaits the birth of a seventh daughter from his favorite wife. He calls for Spider-Cricket to find out why the birth is taking so long. Spider-Cricket is an unusual but entertaining creature whom he keeps for good luck, and who longs to learn someday how to fly.
The child is born in a burst of light from the Mother’s little finger. Mother is alarmed to discover not a girl, but a boy-man—fully grown, walking and talking, with a magic scepter twined in his hair—a “conga” made of a buffalo’s tail. He also wears a pouch bestowed by Kahindo, the goddess of good fortune, which holds a rope that can extend forever. He drums and dances, telling his Mother that he is Mwindo. Mother is worried, knowing the Chief has forbidden the birth of a son. Not only will a son bring him no bride-price, a son might one day challenge his power.
Spider-Cricket reports the news reluctantly to the Chief. Furious, the Chief banishes Spider-Cricket from the village. The Chief’s warriors have been worried by omens pointing to his irresponsible leadership—their animals have been running away and the people are hungry. They ask the Chief to accept his son. But he angrily throws a spear into the Mother’s hut to kill Mwindo and leaves. He does not know that inside the hut his son effortlessly catches the spear, thinking it a game. Mwindo’s Mother gathers provisions, telling her son he must leave to protect himself. But before he can make his escape, the Chief hears from Hawk that Mwindo lives. The Chief orders his warriors to bury his son alive. Mwindo allows the warriors to bind him, thinking it another game of his father’s. As they take him, he does not realize he has left his magic conga behind.
Buried underground, Mwindo is discovered by Cha-Cha, a hedgehog still sobbing over his own banishment by the Chief ten years ago, although he refuses to talk about the reason for it. Cha-Cha seems to know who Mwindo is and greets him as the miracle he has been waiting for. While Mwindo sleeps, Cha-Cha digs a tunnel to the surface. There he meets Spider-Cricket, who, yearning to fly, shows off her beautiful but useless cricket wings. When Mwindo wakes up, Cha-Cha and Spider-Cricket try to make him understand that the drums he hears from the village are not a game but signify danger—his father wants him dead. Together they offer him their advice and companionship. Mwindo refuses any notion of needing help from anyone.
Mother finds Mwindo and brings him his conga. She tells him that the spirit world has told her he is the chosen one who will rule his people. She also tells him that to keep himself safe he must journey to the realm of his Aunt Iyan of the seven hearts. Mother prophesies that if he should ever see the blessed Golden Hawk, he will be touched by the greatest love imaginable and return to her.
The warriors come back, grab Mwindo and throw him into the River of No Return. As they do so, there is great thunder and a blaze of golden light. They bring Mwindo’s conga to the Chief, reporting that the Mother was also swept into the river. The Chief’s Hawk also returns, but it has been wounded by the light. The Chief, seeing golden marks in its body, hopes this is a sign it will turn into the fabled Golden Hawk and bring him more riches. He takes the berries that his warriors have gathered for their starving families and feeds them to his recuperating Hawk.
Meanwhile, the river has carried Mwindo into an underground water pit full of terrifying sounds and creatures. Trying desperately to show no fear, he realizes he no longer has his conga. Razor ropes ensnare Mwindo, but Cha-Cha and Spider-Cricket have followed along to rescue him. Cha-Cha chews through the ropes to free Mwindo. Spider-Cricket weaves a bridge across the pit, bringing them all to safety. Instead of expressing thanks, Mwindo claims he could have done all this by himself. As he gloats, a giant water serpent, Kuti, rises from below, terrifying Mwindo. Kuti announces he is the gatekeeper of the Land of Iyan, and asks who dares to enter. Mwindo musters his courage and answers that he is the son of a chief and he fears no creature. Kuti calls down the Lightning of Hate upon Mwindo. But the bolts reflect off of Mwindo and evaporate the water in Kuti’s pit, rendering Kuti vulnerable to the other pit creatures who begin to eat him. Mwindo brags that he is the chosen one as Kuti lies dying.
Iyan of the seven hearts appears, commanding Mwindo to show mercy and save Kuti, revealing that he is her husband. Mwindo, following Cha-Cha’s encouragement, successfully calls back the waters that save Kuti. Mwindo is astonished by his new powers. As Iyan welcomes him into her kingdom, Mwindo learns that one of her hearts has dimmed because of Kuti’s humiliation. Iyan summons drumming to celebrate Mwindo’s arrival as the chosen one, but he calls for them to stop since they remind him of his exile and rejection. Mwindo vows revenge upon his father.
Years pass and Mwindo matures in physical strength. On his birthday, Cha-Cha and Spider-Cricket bring him gifts of leopard skin, eagle feathers, copper bells and a spear, the outward symbols of a young chief. Mwindo reveals that he is setting out to kill his father. Spider-Cricket and Cha-Cha are excited to accompany him back home. Seeing Aunt Iyan, Mwindo notices to his surprise that all of her hearts but one have dimmed. She tells him it is because she has spent all her love trying to soften the hate and anger in his heart. Iyan asks Mwindo to look his father in the eye before killing him to see how his own hatred has made him like his father. She offers him the love in her last heart, but Mwindo leaves bent upon revenge.
Back in Tubondo, the Chief receives a suitor for his last unwed daughter. The suitor offers as a gift the rumor of a son returning to dethrone the Chief. This news excites the wounded Hawk. In a flash of light, the Hawk suddenly transforms into the prophesied Golden Hawk. The Hawk grasps Mwindo’s conga and flies away. The Chief, hoping for the riches the Hawk will bring, pursues it with his warriors.
Spider-Cricket and Cha-Cha journey with Mwindo through a dark, cold and dying land. This is what the Chief’s domain has become. Spider-Cricket sees some of her spider relatives, but instead of welcoming her they run away. In trying to catch up with them she falls and injures herself. Mwindo helps Cha-Cha rescue her with his rope. Suddenly the Golden Hawk swoops in and drops the conga down to Mwindo. With it he makes a fire to warm them and light the way. Remembering his Mother’s prophecy about the Golden Hawk, he feels her love is near.
The Chief and his warriors surround Mwindo with spears. Mwindo declares that he does not seek the Chief’s power or riches—all he wants is his father’s love. The Chief refuses to believe him and reveals that Mwindo’s Mother has died. Cha-Cha explains that Mwindo’s Mother’s spirit took the form of the Golden Hawk to distract the Chief and keep Mwindo safe. The Chief says that is a lie and that he will catch the Golden Hawk for its riches. Mwindo is furious, blaming his father for the death of his Mother. He raises his conga. Lightning sparks and thunder peals out. The Chief falls and Mwindo holds him at the point of his spear. Cha-Cha stops Mwindo, telling him he was born to be better than this. He finally reveals the reason for his own banishment—he had prophesied Mwindo’s birth, a son who would be greater than the father.
The Chief commands his warriors to kill Mwindo and seize the Golden Hawk, but they recognize the signs of the prophecy and bow down to Mwindo as their rightful leader. Cha-Cha tells Mwindo he must let the Golden Hawk go to set his Mother’s spirit free. The Chief breaks free and ensnares the Hawk in a net, but Mwindo frees it with a wave of his conga. As he calls to the Hawk to go in peace, his father tries once again to kill him. Spider-Cricket deflects the spear, losing her wings. The Chief runs after the Hawk, but Mwindo orders him to stop and look him in the eyes. Realizing all he has done, the Chief is too ashamed to look at Mwindo. Mwindo goes to his father and vows to rebuild Tubondo, saying he still needs a father and perhaps his father still needs a son. Aunt Iyan appears and announces that with this act of forgiveness Mwindo has become a man. All hail Mwindo as Chief of Tubondo. Cha-Cha is appointed counselor. Mwindo raises his conga, and Spider Cricket is magically able to fly!
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