Travelling theatre presents pollution to Coastal fisherfolk

Tuesday November 22 2022
The Bahari Huru festival

A scene from the play where the Mangrove (centre) struggles to survive through plastics. The Bahari Huru festival had performances that simplified complex environment matters to Coastal communities in Kenya. PHOTO | SIAGO CECE | NMG


Art mirrors society, reflecting our actions and natural phenomena.

So, what do creatives do when the oceans rebel?

This is what is going on with in the world today. Climate change and marine pollution are affecting life on earth negatively, and there are communities that are impacted and don’t understand why.

Kenyan artiste Caroline Ngorobi, 37, has decided to break down the climate and pollution issues to Kenyan coastal communities.

Ngorobi is the creative director at Jukwaa Arts, a Mombasa-based creative arts group using theatre in education to deal with modern day problems.

In her latest project, a festival dubbed Bahari Huru, Swahili for ‘’free oceans,’’ Ngorobi, tells stories on the importance of marine conservation to provoke conversations on how pollution happens, who pollutes, why and what solutions communities can offer to avoid more pitfalls.


Community art project

This is done through a community-centred art project involving theatre performance aimed at raising awareness of the importance of safeguarding the marine environment.

She has simplified the performance by using every day ‘’subjects’’ familiar to her audience such as fish, mangrove, turtles, and ocean tides. She has given these subjects personalities to evoke emotions such that in the performances, the fish are crying out for a clean environment to live and reproduce or die; the mangrove are screaming for help not to be destroyed; turtles simply run away to escape humans and the oceans, the source of all these lives becomes angry and lashes out by overrunning land. These are all symbols of disappearing fish stock and depleted mangrove forests and rising sea levels, all being effects of climate change and marine pollution.

The 10-day arts festival across three Coastal counties in Kenya, simplified the most complex terminologies, theories and research papers to tell stories on the environment while addressing social issues.

As a poet and performing artists, Ngorobi uses performing and visual arts, music, and fuses poetry, music and dance theatre to bring the issues alive. For instance, in the visual arts category featured a filmmaker whose production was a film on the effects of climate change on coconut farming, a sustenance of the Coastal subsistence farming.

Informal setting

The festival was held at the Pallet Café, in Diani, South Coast of Kenya, an inclusive beach front restaurant where the audience — high school students, invited guests and members of the local community — sit on the beach on mats, lessos or benches to watch the performances in a very informal setting.

The performance is highly interactive and the audience laugh, cry and comment as ‘’marine’’ characters express their frustrations with the background music from drums setting the mood.

Mary Favor, who plays a mangrove character sings a melodious tune capturing the attention of the audience in her unique costume, an overall with strips of green rags on the arms and chest. She’s painted green around the eyes, the same colour as her braided hair. She stands out as a mangrove tree.

The songs used in the production were written by the artistes during the residency, where each one was expected with a piece of art. These were later pieced together by the play director into one meaningful item.

 “I played the mangrove and my role was important because I feel that sometimes we ignore the vital function that mangrove forests play. We simplified it to inform the communities that they are home to all sea creatures including fish because the marine ecosystem is interdependent,” said Ms Favor after her performance.

She said they used skits to breakdown scientific data for the ordinary person in the community. They also use simple language and dramatic costumes to communicate to children too.


The cast designed the costumes which were stitched by a seamstress. The beachfront venues, all chosen because they are communal, site-specific, and can be accessed by the community without restriction. I interviewed her on the ''set'', which is a beachfront littered with waste from the ocean, but arranged to represent all continents. This is something Ngorobi said was important to illustrate the extent of the world pollution.  “I wanted this to be provocative and make people realise that our world is rubbish.

“If someone asks you to point out your country, would you be proud to touch a used polythene bag or a plastic net?” she poses.

She said one would rather touch the ocean, which is blue and clear. “But for how long?”

She said the backdrop symbolised that the trash in the ocean comes not from the sea, but from the continents where humans live.

To get communities to watch the play, she used community opinion leaders.

Art and science talk

The festival also included an art and science talk where researchers, doctors, and experts held discussions with artists to see how to bridge the communication gap for the benefit of the community.

The performances and talk aimed to challenge communities to act and ignite conversations on climate change and the sustainability of the blue economy.

There was an art show 10 days of the travelling festival through Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale counties whose populations highly depend on the ocean as a source of livelihood. The festival targeted both urban and rural communities living along the Kenyan coast.

Ms Ngorobi, is a Bakanal De Afrique arts fellow.

 “I wanted it to be as relatable as possible. For instance, in Watamu, we did our performance on the beach among mangrove forests. So, fishermen watched the whole performance and later through our engagement, they said they understood the concept,” said Ms Ngorobi.

She said a fisherman confessed of killing turtles for meat, but promised to stop having learnt the possible impacts of his actions.

Wider audience reach

The play is acted in English, Swahili and Mijikenda languages for a wider audience reach. She said the idea is to bring information that lives online, down to the fisher folk.  She was happy that communities reacted with their own concerns of disappearing mangroves and fish stock and discussions were held on how to replenish these through local initiatives.

This is the second time the festival is taking place, having begun last year.

Ms Ngorobi explains similar activities, and improved art performances are expected to take place for the next three years as the festival is a five-year project.