October 20, 2014

The Burdens (by John Ruganda)

The Burdens (by John Ruganda)John Ruganda, who died in 2007, was considered a shaping force in East African literature, and his published plays – The Burdens (1972) and The Floods (1980) have, over the years, featured among the required texts for literature in English courses at high school level in Kenya and Uganda. The Burdens was first published in 1972 by Oxford University Press.

Set in post colonial times, the play touches on many themes, including education, politics, poverty, and violence. Wamala, the father at the center of the drama, is a man living in denial, unwilling to accept his slide into poverty, after he loses his post as a Minister in the government.

“………….he had found himself a minister, with all the licensed and unlicensed accessories befitting his office. The trouble is once you surprise yourself with this finding, you not only forget your former self but you also look forward to bigger surprises…..there is always an audience to cheer you until one day the axe falls and you are all alone…..”

Once at the top, Wamala feels humiliated by his inability to look after his family, and seeks solace in taking liquor. He blames his wife Tinka for bringing him down. But neither Tinka nor their fourteen year old son, Kaija, is prepared to let him off. Tired of sharing a bed with his bedwetting sister, Kaija feels that he is old enough to have a bed of his own, and pesters his father to buy him one. But the young boy’s pestering is met with silence …”a silence that gnaws…”

Wamala’s humiliation is further compounded by his isolation from his children, who increasingly lean towards their mother. Kaija, in particular, is very close to his mother, and the two enjoy a special bond that goes beyond the mother-son relationship. He always runs his mother errands, and keeps her company until late in the night, when Wamala returns home drunk. And he often stands up to defend his mother when she and Wamala get embroiled in their frequent fights.

The situation in the house is always tense. Tinka exploits sympathy from her two children to taunt and futher humiliate her husband. Rather than confront the present, Wamala looks to his happier past for solace – a denialism that infuriates his wife even further. In the end, the constant quarrels lead to a deadly climax.

The Burdens depicts many of the dysfunctions in post-colonial African society – at a personal and societal level, and is a brilliant portrayal by Ruganda, one of East Africa’s best known playwrights.


  1. Indeed books keep ur spirit a live after u r long gone, am feeling the impact this great man made on the entire universe. RIP

  2. Shelmith R says:

    This is a true picture of what is happening in our society to date,it has kept the fire of literature being the mirror of the society blazing.RIP Ruganda.

    • Mugira jessie says:

      The pride of Tinka is a clear reflection of East African society… The play is just perfect

  3. Machuor Peter Riak says:

    I must say that John Ruganda has truly developed the Literature I speak together with others today and for ever shall his spirit rest in eternal peace.

  4. Kirabo Agie Smile says:

    Really,John was a very good writer and i really love his books,May His Soul R.I.P

  5. just fabulous

  6. its hard to forget him, besides to me he still lives one cant really say ruganda is dead when his works are alive in us , let the almighty make him last beyond his legacy dear ruganda

  7. jessica mwenda says:

    I love ‘the burdens’ it provides comedy and life lessons too. Ruganda, a great writer indeed.” High expectations make frustrated men.” Wamala …….one.of.my favorite lines from the book.

  8. Ruganda dereves to be alive because we all believe whatever that was gonna come again from him is more than he has give so God give him peace

  9. I liked tinka

  10. nakaayi justine says:

    i really like kaija’s character; very creative, hardworking and innovative.

  11. Where can I buy a copy of this play?

    I want to see if I can adapt this for a stage performance.


  12. Muhoozi jones says:

    Thanks for publishing such a nice book……… It has helped me in learning literature and passing examinations.


    oooh what wise man

  14. Agustus Kaingu. says:

    I like the relevance of the subjects potrayed in this piece of literature.It makes us love written art more.

  15. kimeli amos says:

    The book is just awesome.this is what i call -playing with wits,,,bbravo.

  16. it is mervelous for wamala’s x-stion.Ruganda’s soul shall ever live with us.

  17. olaboro emmanuel says:

    gud work,may ur soul rest in peace

  18. Agustus Kaingu. says:

    Kimeli,if Africans were as loyal to these books by Ruganda &co.as they are to Scriptures,..just imagine how ‘enlightened’ Africa could have been.

  19. mercy gift says:

    i love wamala

  20. Mayira Odinga says:


  21. John Ruganda is realy an inspiring writer i also love his play the black mamba

  22. esther mwende says:

    the play is jxt awesome.i love it

  23. mirror of modern society!

  24. cedric lusimba says:

    I liked this mans art he inspired me a lot RIP.


    OH…!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I really fell in mob love with Kaija coz he so awesome!!! LUV YOU!!!!

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