If you know next to nothing about the Cameroonian War of Independence, you are not alone. A quick poll of the audience at last night’s post-show Q&A for Under the Kundè Tree, Clarisse Makundul’s new play set during the conflict in the 1950s, proved that ignorance is the norm.
And that’s intentional. This is often called the ‘Hidden War’ because, thanks to the then-colonial master France’s efforts to suppress news getting out, it never made global headlines and, to this day, still isn’t taught in schools.
Many theatregoers admitted that they had booked because of their embarrassment, and even shame, about their lack of knowledge of this important chapter in the decolonisation of Africa.
Clarisse Makundul, who is half-Cameroonian, was inspired to write Under the Kundè Tree by her grandmother, who lived through the war. In the meticulously researched play, her protagonist Sara (played with power and grace by Selina Jones, who is also half-Cameroonian) fights for her country’s independence while simultaneously fighting for her own independence in a deeply patriarchal system.
The team believes this is the first theatre production about Cameroon’s war staged in the UK – and certainly the first to explore it specifically through the lens of the women who took part in the fight.
Perched atop the mound of Cameroonian land and beneath the tree-like limbs of dangling props in designer Niall McKeever’s set, writer/producer Clarisse Makundul (who also appears in the play) and Selina Jones along with fellow cast members Amma-Afi Osei and Yinka Awoni, and (seated on right) director Ebenezer Bambgboye and movement director Rose Ryan joined me after last night’s performance to discuss the development of this acclaimed new drama.
Under the Kundè Tree continues at Southwark Playhouse Borough until 17 June 2023.
.@e_bamgboye's production of @CMP_London's #UnderTheKundeTree at @swkplay has been praised for shining a light on Cameroon's 🇨🇲 'Hidden War' of Independence & women's role in the freedom-fighting movement.
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) June 1, 2023