The plot of “Our Lady of Kibeho” is as follows: “in 1981, a village girl in Rwanda claims to see the Virgin Mary. She is denounced by her superiors and ostracized by her schoolmates—until impossible happenings begin to appear to all. Skepticism gives way to fear, causing upheaval in the school community and beyond.” Based on real events, the play explores faith, doubt, and the power and consequences of both. I did a lot of scaffolding for this play. Before diving into the play, I introduced background on Katori Hall (See https://www.americantheatre.org/2015/01/16/katori-halls-raptures-of-the-spirit-in-our-lady-of-kibeho/ ). Next, I provided my class with a few clips from a production of the play so that we could discuss how emotion and meaning are made onstage (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIZEqzVAUjI). I also assigned several videos that succinctly described the Rwandan genocide (occurs over a decade after the events of the play, but Hall ensures the genocide haunts the play’s events and dialogue) (Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iGxre5G3_k , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V82i_dpKos, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVnOGsJY5RQ, and read https://www.kibeho-cana.org/a-brief-history-of-the-apparitions-of-our-lady-of-kibeho/).
Students need to understand the fundamentals of the history of the Rwandan genocide in order to grasp (and close read) “Our Lady of Kibeho.” As for the play itself, here are a handful of important topics to consider:
- The characters of our three main girls—Anathalie, Alphonsine, and Marie-Claire. Are they what you expected from the basic outline of the story? What are your thoughts on them?
- Intersections of ethnicity and gender? Hutu and Tutsi, gendered language used, etc.
- Thoughts on Sister Evangelique? Father Tuyishime? Their relationships with the girls?
- If you will remember from our video, Hall said she wanted to write a play about genocide without writing a play about genocide—what are some of the indicators she hints at? How do the girls’ visions echo, push against, or foretell memories/futures of conflict?
- One of our crowd-sourced definitions of myth was “a story about something that happened in history that may or may not be true.” What is the tone of the responses that various people around the girls have to their visions? How and why do these responses change as time goes on? Why do some characters want to believe the girls and others don’t? What does it tell us about various characters?
- What are some other subtle social commentaries that Hall may be making through the use of various characters’ biases?
- Thinking back to our discussion on putting on a play—what would be some challenges in staging this?
Notes on language and pronunciation:
- As our characters have a mixture of Rwandan, Italian, and French names, I did what I could to locate and provide accurate pronunciations for all of the main character names, which I’ve pronounced phonetically here: Alphonsine (Al-FON-seen), Sister Evangelique (Ee-VON-jel-eek), Marie-Claire (MARE-ee klair), Anathalie (aNAT-alee), Father Flavia (FLAH-vee-ah), Father Tuyishime (Too-yeh-SHE-may), Bishop Gahamanyi (GAH-ha-mon-yee), Nkango (nKAN-go), Emmanuel (EE-man-well)
- Muzungu/mzungu (muh-ZUN-goo) is used in the play to refer to a white person, but can more widely be used to describe someone who is of foreign descent.