Bringing People to Consciousness for Development: A Report of Theatre for Development Workshop in Barebari Community

by suleimanharuna


It is truism that without empowerment there can be no development. Such   empowerment necessarily results from ownership of knowledge and followed up with action by a community. Ownership and action on the other hand are the keys that open the doors of success to any project undertaken by such a community either on their own or in partnership with facilitators. Theatre for Development (TfD) as a genre of theatre provides a platform for that partnership as it has concerned itself  with people’s lives and experiences and aims at making them aware of their social, political and economic realities towards empowerment.

During the last Thirty Six years, there has been a perceptible tendency in developing countries to use theatre as an educative medium for social change and development. This is because theatre is neutral as a technique; it can serve the purposes of oppression as well as liberation. However, as soon as it is used to transmit direct information, knowledge or skills, neutrality is out of the question. Whether intended or not, it becomes an instrument with which people are persuaded to accept their situations or get involved in changing them.

Aristotle’s Poetics did not give room for man to have the critical thinking necessary for addressing his challenges, let alone how to change his society. Brecht however, kicked against such idealist theatre. He proposes a theatre that would be meaningful to the oppressed society; meaningful in the sense that it should be purposeful in the development of human life. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” is very influential in the discourse of achieving a participatory education.  The work has significance for developing societies. First, his emphasis on dialogue has struck a very strong chord with those concerned with popular and informal education. Given that informal education is dialogical rather than a curricula form that is hardly surprising. However, Paulo Freire was able to take the discussion on several steps with his insistence that dialogue involves respect. It should not involve one person acting for another, but rather people “working with” each other.

Secondly, Freire was concerned with praxis-action that is informed and linked to certain values. Dialogue was not just about deepening understanding – but was part of making a difference in the turbulent developing nations in the South American States. Dialogue in itself is a co-operative activity involving respect. The process is important and can be seen as enhancing community building, social capital and to leading nations and nationals to act in ways that make for justice and human flourishing.  An important element of this was his concern with conscientization – developing consciousness, but consciousness that is understood to have the power to transform reality.

Freire’s teaching influenced Augusto Boal to develop “Theatre of the Oppressed” during the 1950s and 1960s. In an effort to transform theatre from the “monologue” of traditional performance into a “dialogue” between audience and stage, Boal experimented with many kinds of interactive theatre. His explorations were based on the assumption that dialogue is the common, healthy, dynamic between all humans, that all human beings desire and are capable of dialogue, and that when a dialogue becomes a monologue, oppression ensues. Theatre then becomes an extraordinary tool for transforming monologue into dialogue.


From his work Boal evolved various forms of theatre workshops and performances which aimed to meet the needs of all people for interaction, dialogue, critical thinking, action, and fun. While the performance modes of Forum Theatre, Image Theatre, Cop-In-The-Head, and the vast array of the Rainbow of Desire are designed to bring the audience into active relationship with the performed event, the workshops are virtually a training ground for action not only in these performance forms, but for action in life. The success or applicability of Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” suggests that people by themselves are forced to or reach a consensus to develop governing and gathering individual’s response to bring about change.


Concerned with a participatory approach, this medium of education focuses on workshop participants who analyze, prioritize and create a story based on problems encountered in their communities. Commenting on the participatory approach in TfD as basically inclusive, Mda iterates that:

People must be active participants in the creation of theatre […] but with the objective of turning theatre into a much more effective medium of adult education (1993: 9).

The workshop participants, who normally constitute members of the target community, understand their problem better when they are engaged in the theatre process. They also understand the causes of their problems and anticipate solutions which they may choose to integrate in the story that is subsequently developed into a workshop play. The participants may also decide to leave the solutions to their problems for the audience to make attempts at finding solutions during post-performance discussion.

What is peculiar about TfD is the cultural dimension involved. It makes room for communities to employ their folklore.  Similarly, TfD depends on action, song, dance, drumming and storytelling to communicate educational messages relevant for the development of the community.

Significant TfD workshops in Africa include the Laedza Batanani experience (1974) in Botswana, The Kamiriithu theatre experience (1976) in Kenya, the Chilambana workshop (1979) in Zambia, the Wasan Manoma (1977) in Zaria Nigeria, the Murewa workshop (1983) in Zimbabwe, the Theatre-for-Integrated-Rural-Development workshop (1984) in Kumba, Cameroon etc.



Post graduate students of Theatre and Performing Arts and Development Communication of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 2009/2010, session embarked on Theatre for Development workshop targeted on six communities namely Zangon Tama, Nasarawa, Hayi, Dan Kawo, Unguwar Ilu and Bare Bari all in Giwa Local Government of Kaduna State. The workshop took place from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th June, 2011. Though other groups from the department have visited these communities before now, the group did not set any agenda for the project, rather it was agreed that the approach will evolve from field experience. This is as a result of studies of other notable TfD workshops in Africa like Murewa workshop (1983) in Zimbabwe that was described as having preconceived ideas, which made it difficult to marry theory with practical experience in the field. Martha Vestin, one of the resource persons that participated in Murewa workshop described it as too academic as nothing was left to improvisation and common sense. Another workshop that was studied was the Theatre for Integrated Rural Development Workshop in Kumba, Cameroon where it was discovered that majority of the villagers were farmers and were always in their farms during the day. This prompted the resource persons and student participants to apply homestead method as they followed the villagers to the farm and the stream to witness first hand the challenges of these communities. It was assumed that our group would encounter similar challenges because Barebari community and other surrounding communities are predominantly farmers and the season for the project is farming season. It was obvious that Homestead Method is preferable for the workshop.


On reaching Giwa Local Government, the first activity was a visit by the entire group to the Sarki (chief) in charge of the chosen communities. He welcomed the student participants and the co-ordinator of the project Mr. Steve Daniel, who was singled out for always remembering their communities. He charged the group to tell the story of their neglect and underdevelopment to the world. After the brief meeting, the group proceeded to the Zangon tama community, which was to be our base, 15km of  long, winding, untarred and weather-beaten road. Zangon tama was also our take off point to other communities. We were received by a welcome party headed by the chairman of the community development association. We were offered two classrooms of the mission school as accommodation and mats to spread on the punctured floor. The co-ordinator, Mr Steve Daniel shared mosquito nets to all student participants.


The day was already far spent after a long and hectic journey to Zangon tama community. The entire group decided to take a transect walk around the community; and from this we gathered preliminary information that was to guide our assignment better. By sunset, we were done and we retired to put our feet up. Our rest was to be cut short by an invitation to receive a formal welcome by the community; over a hundred villagers had already gathered and were waiting in the church hall. The liaison officer Mr. Mathew Myam introduced members of the group to the community as Mr. Suleiman Haruna served as an interpreter to those members who do not understand Hausa language. The community was very enthusiastic to receive the visitors as the youth staged two performances. One was a debate on “Education is more important than Money” and the second was improvised drama piece about a politician who during his campaign promised the community of infrastructural development and better life only to  abandon the people after winning election. The group also entertained their hosts with a comedy skit after which the group went to sleep ahead of the next day’s task.


In the morning of the second day, the students were grouped into six to visit the designated communities, Barebari community comprised of the following members:

  1. Walter Temple Chukwuma        –        Group Leader
  2. Haruna Suleiman                      –        Member
  3. Jamila Mohammed                             –           “
  4. Linda                                        –           “
  5. Orifa Omore Gladys                  –           “
  6. Zaki                                          –           “
  7. Chata                                       –           “
  8. Gilbert Clifford                                   –           “


The greatest challenge of that day was the early morning downpour which started in the morning and delayed the movement of the groups to their communities. The heavy rain had continued till 11.00am when the group decided to hold a meeting to discuss what was to be done. At the meeting, there was debate as to whether the groups would be able to conduct the visits to the designated communities and conduct a successful intervention. The alternative that was considered was for the whole group to remain at zangon tama and conduct the intervention that was to be decided. In the end, due to the shortage of time, the meeting agreed that despite the rain, each group should visit its assigned community even if no intervention was possible for each. The meeting also agreed that each group should invite people from the different communities for a forum session at zangon tama. (the meeting had from the transect walk identified education as a possible common problem).


A guide was assigned to our (Barebari Community) group in the person of Mr. Yahaya Sama who led us to the community. The distance from Zangon tama to Barebari community is about three kilometers and it took us about forty five minutes to walk to the community. On our way to the community, we passed a smaller community called Ikari. Our first point of contact in Barebari community was the Mai’anguwa (ward head) Alhaji Aliyu Musa who gave us his support but advised that men should interview men while the women among us should interview women as we can see that the community is Muslim dominated.


The community members are predominantly farmers in the area of cropping, fishing and animal rearing. The population of the community can be estimated at over 1000 people. The major food crops produced by the community are maize, Beans, and soya beans. The major cash crop is rice while the animal they rear are Cow, Ram, Goat and Guinea Fowl. One of the men that had interaction with us in the community Mr. Abdullahi Sani who has a Rice Processing Mill in his compound informed us that during harvest season, they used to take over 2000 bags of rice to market every market day (twice a week) from the community.


One thing that struck our attention was the seeming comfort and prosperity we noticed among the people as we had entertained the thought that the community was occupied by impoverished people with malnourished children and women. To our greatest surprise, however, we met an economically empowered people who had no government support and unfortunately no conscious self effort to develop their community.


Another interesting aspect of the life of the people is the use of Animal Labour for farming. They have a unique way of fixing a plough in the middle of two cows which enable them weed, till and cultivate crops. This animal labour system serves the purpose of a tractor.  It was discovered that in the past, they practiced what is called “Gayya” which means ‘group labour’, involving group of people who collectively help each other in farming. We were informed that when the use of animal labour was discovered for farming, “gayya” shifted to other areas like road repair. We had gathered that every adult from 18 years owns two cows and a plough.


Apart from cultivating crops, the community members engage in fishing especially during rainy season as it constitutes their major source of income at that period. One of the villagers, Malam Mai’anguwa Kambaya told us that some fish dealers do come from town to buy their fish products. Their major source of water supply is from Well.



One of the problems identified through interaction with different community members is lack of fertilizer to improve their crop production. When we enquired as to why they do not have a co-operative society, which could have helped them obtain or purchase fertilizer and sell to members at a subsidized rate, they informed us that they do not have and even if there is, the government will not listen to them. This indicates the level of despondence about government as opposed to the issue of dependence on government which is always blamed for lack of empowerment. The most pathetic aspect of this challenge is that they buy a tare of fertilizer for N500.00, which is too expensive and which is why they resort to the use of manure as an alternative.


We saw a school with a dilapidated structure and enquired whether it was in use. The community members frankly told us that the school was not functional. They also informed us that the school was built through community effort but was taken over by the local government which posted teachers to the school. Eventually, the teachers refused to stay, on account of the remoteness of the location. The community claimed that they made every effort to make the teachers happy so that they can stay but to no avail. They went as far as training their own children to take over the management of the school but Giwa Local government refused to employ them. They claimed to have over 700 school-age children who are out of school. We asked them why they were not attending the school at Zangontama for which they answered that it was privately owned and managed by a church; and as a Muslim community they are not comfortable attending a school owned and managed by Christians.


Another problem that the community members identified is lack of health centre. We were shown a health centre constructed in the community that never operated for one day. Malaria is the prevailing disease in the community. There is a clinic in Iyatawa but during the rainy season, they cannot cross the river for medical attention there. They are forced to go to Giwa town for medical attention. They also gave the same reason above why they would not attend the health centre located in Zangon tama (the clinic is also owned and managed by a mission).


A very vital problem as stressed by the community members is accessible road to enable them take their farm produce to the market and have access to other communities. One of the villagers Mr. Mai’anguwa Kambaya boasted that they have enough money to buy any car of their choice but cannot because of lack of the road on which to drive them. Also, if they had accessible road, they could take their children to any school of their choice in other communities.



The groups gathered together over the visits of various communities to share their experiences. It was discovered that these communities have similar problems. Mr Steve Daniel, who moderated the discussions advised the groups that we should not “forget the key issues in TfD include coming, dialoguing, planning and acting together”. After much deliberation on the field experiences of various groups, it was agreed that the group should have a collective performance and intervention. One of the reasons for this decision is as a result of limited time as rain has taken most of the time of the day. The second reason is because the communities have similar problems and meaningful intervention may not work without bringing these communities together.


One of the vital observations of the groups is lack of religious integration. Though the communities cooperate on social and political issues, it was evident that there is a cold religious war among the Christian and Muslim communities. For example, in Barebari community where a school collectively built by both Christian and Muslim communities is being utilized by the muslims as an Islamic school, rather than a private secular school, as there were no government employed teachers. they have also refused to attend the school operated by a church. Thereby leaving 700 children without formal education. The groups therefore agreed to address and intervene on the matter so as to provide a bridge which can help in integrating the children from the different religious groups in all communities through education. This facilitation process may not succeed if the communities are not brought together. These differences among communities were linked to a similar challenge in Hammocks to Bridges: Theatre for Integrated Rural Development workshop held by Community Development Training School, Kumba, Cameroon as reported by Eyoh Hansel Ndumbe the co-ordinator of the workshop.


The group that worked in Konye community discovered two other neighbouring communities called Ndoi and Ngolo-bolo. These three communities have their differences though they are not religiously motivated. Their differences hinge upon the battle for supremacy. Konye community felt that they have well to do people, they see themselves as the real owners of the land as they classify Ngolo-bolo people as strangers. These affected their effort to construct a Bridge to replace the hammocks in the Mungo River. The facilitating group succeeded in bringing the communities together and performed an improvised play addressing their differences and this prompted these communities to agree to work together for the construction of the bridge. Having drawn from this experience, our group decided to bring the communities together to address their religious differences.


The groups went into creation of improvised play of conscientization on religious harmony/tolerance, the importance of education and health facilities and personnel, tree planting and the need for accessible roads. The students that participated in the play are Jimmy Akoh, Zaki, Suleiman Usman, Gilbert Clifford, Daniel Bawa, Andesati Danladi, Linda and Terngu Gwar. The community leaders directed the town crier to summon other communities to Zagon tama for the play.


The performance night that took place on the second day was eventful one. The student participants nominated Mr. Suleiman Haruna to co-ordinate the event due to his understanding and interpretation of Hausa and English Languages for the purposes of translation and interpretation. The women, children and the youths were fully involved in the performance process. Tsibati Lass, Orifa Omore Gladys, Linda and Grace Basa created children’s theatre for the children where they played moonlight games. Teenage girls presented their performance derived from their folklores. The women group presented an aesthetic dance performance. One interesting thing about the night performance is that we were informed that the women have not danced together in this manner over thirty years (some, since their wedding days). The youth also put up a fantastic improvised play emphasizing on the need for education, health care and accessible road.


All in all, the play by the visiting group drew a lot of discussion at the forum level and it was agreed by the communities that they have not done enough to help themselves. They therefore agreed to meet next morning (Sunday, 12th) in a dialogue of all the communities by 11.00am to crystallize a strategy. The student participants’ performance helped in no small measure in bringing the communities to consciousness on the need to work together for their development. The groups rested the night with a bonfire which lasted till the early hours of Sunday morning.




The dialogue was a fruitful one; the communities realized the need for religious tolerance, peaceful co-existence and self effort in pursuit for development. They came to consciousness that unless they come together as one indivisible people, the effort for self development would not be realized. The high point of the dialogue was when they decided to jointly build and run a school for their children. They stressed that the project would commence immediately.

Another outcome of the dialogue was the agreement by the communities to use the already existing structure in the church to inaugurate an adult education centre. The inauguration was scheduled for Saturday, 25th June, 2011 though it was rescheduled for Saturday, 2nd July, 2011 for logistic reasons. The student participants were invited by the communities for the inauguration programme. The students on their part agreed to honour the invitation as a follow-up process.


The community members through the Liaison Officer, Mr. Mathew Myam deeply thanked the co-ordinator Mr. Steve Daniel and student participants for this development-driven visit to their communities. He expressed that it is the wish of the communities that such visits would be a continuous one. He prayed for journey mercies as the group travels back to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. The group was led by Mr. Mathew Myam to bid farewell to the Sarki, who was visited at the beginning of the workshop.



Though it was agreed by the student participants to allow the methodology and approach for the project to evolve from field experience; it was also suggested to use Homestead Method due to the fact that the members of the communities are predominantly farmers and we may not meet them at their various homes during the day time. Homestead Method was only applied in Zangontama community.


However, Flood Method was applied in other communities including Barebari. According to Steve Daniel and Salihu Bappa (), in the Flood Method,  “the whole external group goes or invades the community, meeting the villagers wherever they are holding informal discussions with them. It is also referred to as the ‘Migrant Technique’ in which facilitators go in and out of the community from a central base potentially assigned by the community”(Osofisan ed : 20).  The reasons for this methodology could be attributed to the following:

  1. There was limited time as the project lasted for only three days.
  2. The period of the project is rainy season and most of the plans by the groups were thwarted by rain.

iii.           For example, Barebari community was not consulted about the group’s visit early enough so as to enable their families make arrangement to host us.



Despite the limited time assigned for the project, it was a very successful one as it proves the point that Theatre for Development should be pursued as the process of democratizing culture with the intention of effecting a positive change in the lives of rural and marginalized populations. It does not necessarily have to be used as a medium of protest; rather, it should be exploited for its effectiveness in consciousness- raising.

One unique thing to note about this project that made it different from many other projects in Africa is that the people took centre stage in the drama making process. Apart from the student participants making drama for the people, most of the improvised plays were made by the people themselves unlike the Kumba (1984) workshop that made drama for the people.


Team members

Walter, Temple c.

Suleiman Haruna

Jamila Mohammed

Orifa Omore Gladys

Clifford Ayabowei

Linda Ashio

Chata Emmanuel

Zaki Emmanuel



Boal, Augusto (1995):  The Rainbow of Desire:The Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy. London: Routledge

Boal, Augusto (1993): Theater of the Oppressed. New York: Theatre Communications Group.

Brecht, Bertolt (1964): Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic ( Ed. and trans. John Willett),  London: Methuen.

Eyoh, N. Hansel (1986): Hammocks to Bridges: An Experience in Theatre for Development. Yaounde: Bet & Co. Ltd.

Freire, Paulo (2000): Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum

Kavanagh, M. Robert (1997): Making People’s Theatre, Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.


Kerr, David (1995): African Popular Theatre: From Pre-colonial Times to the Present Day. London: James Currey.

Mda, Zakes (1993): When People play People: Development Communication Through Theatre. London: Zed Books.

Mlama, M. Penina (1991): Culture and Development: The Popular Theatre Approach in Africa. Uppsala: The Scandinavian Institute of African Studies.

Osofisan, Femi (ed): Communicating Children and Women’s Right in Nigeria: Experiences from the Field, produced by Department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan and Planning and Communication Section, UNICEF, Abuja.