A bird is more than its cage

Luanda, 1977. Hidden away in a house, estranged from his family and sought by the Angolan political police, Adolfo Maria seeks to survive the loneliness of self-imposed confinement. Recollections of childhood follow those of his times in exile and his awakening to the nationalist struggle for independence. Sporadic shipments of food, letters and a small radio bring news from the outside world.

About a bird is more

than its cage

Adolfo Maria witnessed and actively participated in some of the most important events in Angola’s recent history. In 1976, shortly after the country’s independence from Portugal, he was persecuted by the new regime’s police and forced to hide away in a house in Luanda, in absolute solitude and isolation. He remained there for almost three years. The men now chasing him were some of his lifelong friends and nationalist companions who opposed his newfound political stance. He is betrayed by his former companions. 

That period, which he recalls as one of the hardest in his life, allowed him to reflect deeply about imprisonment, his personal circumstances, solitude, and political struggle. 

I remember asking him if he had any appetite for retribution against his fellow combatants, who were responsible for his situation. He told to me, as he drew with his index finger on the tabletop, "There are two distinct paths: one is my personal life, the other the life of the country. One and the other should not be mixed." 

His words brought to my mind Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, and the way in which that author made sense of his own incarceration by going back to ancient philosophy.  In it  Boethius asks a question that is of relevance to us all: "If everything in the universe is governed by impermanence, how are we to attain ’happiness'?" 

The kind of 'happiness' to which Boethius was referring was not happiness in the modern sense, but rather hapinness as used by ancient Greek philosophers in ethical treatises. The ancient Greek word for happiness was eudaimonia and it meant, generically, the fulfillment of human capacities, or 'flourishing'. Ancient Greek philosophers asked themselves how was life to be lived and what should we do in order to live a meaningful life. Adolfo Maria also wondered if his life was still meaningful. 

Another aspect of Adolfo Maria's story that struck me was the account of the strategies he used to maintain sanity in solitude — having no human presence, no schedules, no social arrangements. He described how he had established a calendar of activities for each day: yoga, followed by study and writing the biographies of his fellow combatants, for future generations. 

A Bird is more than its Cage is a play based on the period of forced seclusion of Adolfo Maria.

About Adolfo Maria

Adolfo Maria first became involved with the cause of Angola’s liberation in the 1950’s. By then he was working for Cultura, a magazine published by Sociedade Cultural Angolana and for the ABC — Diário de Angola, a newspaper.

It was also during that decade that Adolfo experienced imprisonment for the first time — then at the hands of PIDE, the Portuguese political police.  

Adolfo Maria was one of the founders of Centro de Estudos Angolanos, in Argel, in the early 60’s; there he worked with Maria do Carmo Reis, Pepetela, and others as the research back office of the People’s Movement for the Liberation the Angola (MPLA). In Brazzaville, Congo, in the late 60’s Adolfo Maria was the writer and the MPLA’s official radio, Angola Combatente. 

In the beginning of the following decade Adolfo formed with Gentil Viana, Mario Pinto de Andrade and others a protest movement within the MPLA — the Revolta Activa (RA). The positions taken by Revolta Activa led to the persecution and forced confinement of Adolfo Maria.

Working from Lisbon after his expulsion from Angola, in 1979, Adolfo Maria was part of a think tank focused on finding ways to end the Civil War in his country. He currently lives in Lisbon. He has a vast collection of works published and he participates in a weekly debate on African political and social issues on RDP Africa. 

Production Requirements

Type: monologue 

Cast: 1 actor between the ages of 35 and 50 

Duration: 1 hour, approx. 

Venue: intimate 

Scenario: minimalist 

Lights: lighting design available on request 

Sound: requires onstage audio output 

Rehearsals: with actor Paulo Pinto: 2 weeks of rehearsal + a tech and 2 dress rehearsals. 4 weeks for an actor unfamiliar with the text.

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