NGAAHIKA NDEENDA: Ngaahika Ndeenda, a play translated later into English as I Will Marry When I Want, was written by Ngugi wa Thiong'o and first performed in Kenya in 1977 in the playwright's home village of Kamiriithu. The resultant furore over the politics hinted at in the play is believed to have been the direct cause of the writer's detention without trial in 1977.
The storyline of the play centres on a peasant farmer and his wife who are tricked into mortgaging their home and plot of land to finance a 'proper Christian wedding' by the owner of the adjacent shoe factory in order, in conjunction with a local bank manager, to allow the owner of the factory to acquire the piece of land in order to expand his business. The play also points an accusatory finger at church institutions that are complicit in facilitating the wedding arrangements and act only as a means for the oppressed workers to drown their sorrows, juxtaposing them with the local bars in which the characters spend their time. The story echoes the Biblical King Ahab, who is pressured by his wife Jezebel to kill a vineyard owner, Naboth, and seize his vineyard.
Ngaahika Ndeenda was performed at the Kamiriithu Community Education and Cultural Centre - an open-air theater at Kamiriithu, in Limuru, Kenya. Ngugi's project sought to create an indigenous Kenyan theater, which would liberate the theatrical process from what he held to be "the general bourgeois education system", by encouraging spontaneity and audience participation in the performances. If traditional theatrical form was based on rehearsal "more or less in secrecy", in order to present an awing, perfected, daunting final form to an audience, Ngugi aimed to present a form of theater which would abstain from "mystifying knowledge and hence reality". By concealing the struggles of the actors to achieve their sought-after form as embodiments of their characters, traditional theater, according to Ngugi, actually causes people in the audience to "feel their inadequacies, their weaknesses and their incapacities in the face of reality; and their inability to do anything about the conditions governing their lives."
Ngugi's project sought to "demystify" the theatrical process, and to avoid the "process of alienation [which] produces a gallery of active stars and an undifferentiated mass of grateful admirers" which, according to Ngugi, encourages passivity in the viewer. Although Ngaahika Ndeenda was a commercial success, it was shut down by the authoritarian Kenyan regime six weeks after its opening. Ngugi was subsequently imprisoned for over a year.