From the ancient griots who spun fantastic tales for their communities, storytelling is ingrained in African culture. Through the centuries, a diverse collection of African plays have come to light, with playwrights sharing their thoughts on life and the pursuit of liberty in their homeland. Staging these plays is noteworthy in and of itself, as these noble creators put everything on the line to produce their art. Here are nine famous published manuscripts of plays from West and East Africa that any theater enthusiast should know.

Death and the King's Horseman - Nigeria
Wole Soyinka (W. W. Norton & Company)
Rooted in real events that took place in Nigeria’s era of colonization, Soyinka created the play while living in political exile in England. Centering on the clash between colonial and traditional Nigerian ideals, the production was created in hopes of showing the importance of communication between Africa and the West.

Price: $10

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Fabula: Yawreoch Commedia (Fable: The Comedy of Animals) - Ethiopia
Tekle Hawariat (Boydell and Brewer)
This Ethiopian play has forever secured its fame. It is regarded as the first original stage drama produced in Africa, dating back to 1912, making it a notable part of theater history. Its significance has been preserved in the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University, which hosts the second edition of the play’s script.

Price: $37

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Anowa - Ghana
Ama Ata Aidoo (‎Longman)
This play has been recognized as one of the most iconic theater productions in Africa’s history and is listed as one of the 100 greatest books to emerge from the continent by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. Playwright Aidoo highlights the disparities in gender by using her own experiences to bring life to her characters. Published in 1970, the play focuses on a modern woman, Anowa, who marries Kofi Ako, a slave trader.

Price: $10

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I Will Marry When I Want. Amazon.
I Will Marry When I Want - Kenya
Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Ngugi wa Mirii (Heinemann)
Noted as being Kenya’s most widely-renowned theatrical production, this provocative play sheds light on the inequality and racism perpetuated by the country's high class. Exposing these issues struck the wrong chord with the government, which subsequently banned performances of the production in the late 1970s. Although the playwrights Ngugi wa Mirii and Ngugi wa Thiong'o were jailed for creating the show, it resonated with ordinary Kenyans and made its way back to the stage over 40 years later.

Price: $127

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African Theatre - Six Plays from East and West West Africa. Image: Amazon.
Mother Uganda and Her Children - Uganda
Rose Mbawa (James Currey)
Although this musical drama has not been as meticulously preserved as other shows featured on this list, it was critical in a time of Ugandan political turmoil in the 1980s. Forcing the national audience to reconsider where their political and personal loyalties lay, the production united indigenous cultures to promote national unity, diversity and equality. The few VHS recordings of the production capture producer Rose Mbawa's message of urgency and strength.

Price: $19

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What Mama Said. Amazon.
What Mama Said - Nigeria
Osonye Tess Onwueme (Wayne State University Press)
A tale of government corruption and exploitation, Onwueme’s story mirrors the struggle for human rights and control over resources that endures today. In addition to receiving numerous international honors for her work and being nominated for the Nobel Prize in 2016, Onwueme is regarded as one of Africa's top female playwrights.

Price: $27

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Aminata. Image: Amazon.
Aminata: A Play - Kenya
Francis Imbuga (Heinemann Kenya)
Centering on the tribulations of an African female lawyer in a male-dominated society, it's a thought-provoking production from playwright Francis Imbuga. Through the titular character, the prolific author lays bare the (mis)treatment of women in Africa.

Price: $25

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Assémien Déhylé.
Assémien Déhylé, roi du Sanwi (King of Sanwi) - Ivory Coast
Bernard Binlin Dadié (CEDA)
Written in 1936, the then-teenaged author used the stage to examine and celebrate ancient African kingdoms—a first in the genre. The show found somewhat international fame: it was performed in Paris, France, in the midst of a showcase highlighting the country’s colonies.

Price: $14

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Carte Identite. Amazon.
Carte D'identité - Rwanda
Diogene Ntarindwa (Lansman)
Written by a former Rwandan soldier, the playwright created the show to reconcile his own feelings about being on the front lines of the Rwandan genocide. He explores how one’s environment and national events will shape who they become. Even more impressive, Ntarindwa himself takes on the roles of over 15 characters when he performs the one-man show on stage.

Price: $10

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