Wakati Ukati (Time is a Wall) is a play written by Tanzanian author Ebrahim Hussein in 1967. It follows the story of the Tatu family and the struggles they encounter when the young daughter, Tatu, is kicked out by her mother for trying to go to the movies with a boy.
The play opens in 1960s Tanzania at Juma Tatu, Tatu’s father, house. Asha Tatu, Tatu’s mother, weaves. Mama Tatu chastises her daughter for wearing tight dresses, which she thinks makes Tatu look like a white girl. Tatu, who was educated at a European University in nearby town, says that all the youth have adopted the new fashion. After some back and forth, Tatu asks her Mama Tatu if she can go out to the cinema at night. Mama protests, asking why Tatu isn’t going at her usual time on Sunday afternoon and where the money for it was. Tatu then explains that a boy named Swai is taking her out. Mama Tatu fiercely objects to this, telling Tatu that going out with a boy in a such a way is shameful and that the ways of white people have led her and the African youth astray. Tatu argues back, saying that times have changed and that she doesn’t care what people think. Eventually, Swai arrives at the house, and after Mama Tatu tells him to leave on his own, she throws him and her daughter out of the house. In a fit of passion, she tells Tatu to never come back to her house. Later, Baba Tatu enters the house and Mama Tatu tells him what happened. She recounts what happened, but Baba Tatu disapproves of what she did. He explains that in throwing Tatu out, she only pushes her towards doing worse things like working at nightclubs, which would the family more shame. He then goes on to talk about how as parents of a child coming of age, they have to help steer her in the right direction while acknowledging that she will inevitably go against their traditions to some degree. Baba then sets out to look for her.
A few days pass, and Baba and Mama Tatu are still unable to find their daughter, both of them much saddened by the situation. The door rings as Kristina, a friend of Tatu, arrives at the house. Baba Tatu immediately starts asking many questions about Tatu, clearly desperate to find Tatu. He tells Kristina about how they’ve been searching tirelessly for Tatu, unable to sleep or eat without her. Kristina tells them that Tatu is safe at her house, but that she still won’t return home. After some talking, Kristina finally reveals that Tatu and Swai had gotten married that day by the Area Commissioner. Baba and Mama lament this outcome, wondering how children could get married without their consent. Kristina then claims that Tatu should be able to make her own decisions and that people from the Coast treat their children like luggage, which the youth see as oppression. Baba Tatu protests against this, saying that if Swai and Tatu had come to them and Swai proposed, they would have entertained the idea even if it was non-traditional and despite the fact that Swai is from the Mainland. Devastated by the news, Baba and Mama Tatu tell Kristina to let Tatu know that they love her and she is welcome home.
In the next scene, four Bibis come to visit Mama Tatu, though she very much wants them to leave. They gossip among themselves about Tatu and Swai’s wedding, and in the end they say that children are a disastrous handful.
Three months pass, and Tatu and Swai are together in a small, sparse apartment. Swai is cheery, hoping for him and Tatu to go out dancing with the money he got from his job, but Tatu insists that they pay now. They had not paid their debts from the last month, and the landlord threatened to cut off their food supply. Swai complains that they are not truly enjoying life by just giving money for food and taxes, and he accidentally says that he regrets their marriage. Tatu presses Swai to say more, and he reveals that he only married her because it was the right thing to do after her parents kicked her out. Swai soon apologizes, and then gives her the money to pay for the bills and go to the market for food. He is left with a single ten-shilling note. After Tatu leaves, Swai is visited by Pili, a previous lover. After some talking, Swai admits that he still truly loves despite having married Tatu – a marriage which he describes as “three months of drudgery” – and he begins playfully chasing Pili. But before anything happens, the two see Tatu and Kristina in the doorway, who had seen the whole thing.
Later that night, Tatu tells Swai that it would be better for them to get divorced. At first, Swai protests, asks where she would even go. When Tatu suggests her parents’ house, he shoots down the idea and asks for her forgiveness. He begins to worry about what people will think if him and Tatu got divorced after only three months, and he begs for Tatu’s forgiveness. Tatu, however, having realized that they simply cannot be happy together, stays true in her decision; she is unwilling to be swayed. Tatu admits that she was wrong to be arrogant with her parents, and with new wisdom leaves the apartment for her parents’ house.
Hussein, Ebrahim. Translation by Williams, Joshua. Wakati Ukata (Time is a Wall). 1967
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