10 November 2017

Kenya: Film Review - Compelling Conservation Message in 'Pumzi'

Written and directed by Wanuri Kahiu, Pumzi was first released on 21st October 2009 and stars Kudzani Moswela as Asha who live in the Maitu Community, a dystopian world where practically all types of vegetation has disappeared.

To exist, the community lives in a controlled environment where every tiny bit of moisture counts including sweat and urine.

It is thirty five years after the Third World War or the Water War. Each person receives a little water to live and uses technology available for the refining of urine and sweat into drinkable water, a task Asha does without ceremony.

In the process she gets a little bit more fluid that she shares with a cleaner creating a bond that comes in handy later on.


Human interaction is absent in the Maitu Community, no emotions are shown and the keyboard through the technological interface is what is used to make the voice heard.

Asha is a curator in the Virtual Natural Museum where communication like anywhere else is shown to happen through the fingers where messages have to be typed, probably a critique of the modern world where chats, videos and technology are practically taking over inter-personal communication.


Control in Asha's world is critical and done without hesitation. Dreams are ostensibly dangerous and could damage their existence.

To deal with them they are required to take a dream suppressant, something Asha does without demur.

However, her dream of the gigantic green tree lingers, the Mother Tree in the centre of a desert wasteland.

No matter how much she tries to ignore the dream the more it tortures her with its realism.

The dream takes a whole new level when she receives an anonymous package from outside with some soil sample, a presumed dead world. A few scientific tests suggest it has high moisture content, zero radioactive elements like the rest of the wasteland.

In the Virtual Natural Museum, Asha tries to understand more about the quality soil, which arrives with longitudinal coordinates.

Making use of her inherent senses, Asha inhales the soil fragrant plunging herself into a surreal vision inside a pool of water that seemingly has life in it.

Through science and her biological abilities, Asha has no doubts the world outside Maitu Community has some life in it.


She puts the Mother Tree seedpod preserved in a glass jar within the museum into the quality soil, adds some of her precious water and immediately a green leaf shoots off, giving credence to her dream of the gigantic green tree with a canopy in a desert wasteland.

The unfolding mysterious events suggest there is hope for life after all. She believes there is life out there and the wasteland is not dead as the community believes. Her refusal to heed the call to take the soil to the security puts her into trouble that will change her life forever.


The Maitu Council is summoned and warns her that there is nothing on the outside and she needs to take her dream suppressant. She must stop her obsession with the outside and life out there. Asha shows the council the growing seed but curtly refuse to hear her even after she has placed her hand on the scanner allowing them to share into her vision of the pool of water and the gigantic green Mother Tree.

Her request for a visa clearance to go to the outside to investigate falls on deaf ears.

Security is summoned and she is banished from the museum. Before she is harassed out of the museum and all evidence destroyed she hides the growing tree with the quality soil wrapped in a piece of cloth and a compass.

The security destroys the museum but the cleaner whom Asha has been sharing her water with hides the compass and the growing plant.


Asha is relegated to the energy generation section of the community. To move around a guard is always with her.

She goes to the bathroom where she has been turning her urine and sweat into extra water. The cleaner shows her a way out of the controlled structure they call home and hands her the compass and the budding tree.

She runs away into the desert wasteland with nothing but scorching sun and dry sand.

The outer part of the community is clearly the dustbin area, where waste is thrown out. After finding a scarf and pieces of refuse to cover her legs she moves on, dripping some of her little water into the plant to keep it alive and follows the coordinates on the mysterious soil sample package using her retrieved compass.


Just as she is about to give up she sees the gigantic, green tree in her dreams and runs to it.

When she touches it she realises it is dry, rotten and dead as others around the area. She goes a little bit ahead but seemingly the hot sun, lack of shelter, food and enough water is taking a toll on her.

She creates a hole on the ground, puts the growing plant in and drains all the remaining little moisture on her bottle on the plant. She even wrings sweat drawn from her body on the plant to keep it alive. She then covers it and herself and lies next to it.

From above Asha looks like a dead corpse in a dry wasteland that could care less. Then the plant grows further, creating a canopy and it is not clear whether it is offering shade to the emaciated girl or jutting out of her.

The 21-minute film has a strong, compelling conservation message and the effect of destroying the environment. Technology and its affinity to be used to control, deteriorate organic interpersonal interactions and make zombies out of people is also very clear in the film where decisions for everyone are made by a few who make "The Council".


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