Birds and their Words

A children’s play on the power of words in conflict resolution

(age 12+)


Narrator : objective pragmatist. Begins prologue, narrates story and in the epilogue  asks questions that are critical of how we learn from our past.
Civeo : the most pensive blue bellied bird; represents collective consciousness and asks the most questions of all the characters.
Levi: leader of The Chosen Ones.

Blue Bellies 1,2,3,4     Blue belly 1     Accepts status-quo. Not inquisitive.

                                    Blue belly 2     Internalizes conflict, yet not compelled act.

                                    Blue belly 3     Sympathizer. Needs to be lead.

                                    Blue belly 4     Does not want to confront issue.

The Chosen Ones : not free thinkers as they work in unison under ideology of a higher authority.



As far any one could remember, this is the way it always had been. There were the blue bellied birds that lived in the tall trees and were able to fly. Then there were the yellow bellied birds that lived in the short trees and were grounded. Although they could not fly, the yellow bellies had different skills and abilities more suitable for land. They had a strong connection to the soil and knew what it meant to have a fertile relationship with their environment. Whereas the blue bellies adapted to the sky, and as time went on most had even forgotten what basic bellie needs were, and how to cultivate them. The blue bellies flew to one of their moons leaving a feather on its surface, a far reach for their kind. They obsessed over progress and too often looked past the stars that used to marvel them so.

It was a wondrous place they inhabited — all part of Atreh, a dust speck in the vast universe. The plentiful land the yellow and blue bellied birds shared was surrounded by water on almost all sides. Thick plush green forests, brown mountains and clear rivers covered the terrain.

Both yellow and blue bellies would go about their daily routines, acknowledging each others’ existence, but with limited interaction. There was a lot of chirping between birds, mostly hearsay. Usually, talk was trivial, chit chatting about this and that, but when a belly stopped, took a deep breath and listened, they could hear the same quiet reed song: the rush of water falling, waves rolling over boulders in the river, and wind brushing by the leaves trees. How they cherished those moments! Poetic melodies that clung to their soul.

Act 1

[Setting: Summer in a beautiful lush valley. Steady warm climate. The blue bellied birds are playing in their tall tree forts near to the waterfalls. They can taste the spray as the water spills down to the yellow bellies in the short trees. Below, the yellow bellies are farming and dancing around a fire, festive and feasting.]

[Civeo enters]


Birds are quite remarkable creatures. They have a great sense of hearing, sight and smell. These senses give them a keen instinct able to feel danger long before it arrives.

Advantageous in that they can see things near and far, from their high perch the blue bellied birds in the tall trees observed many happenings over the past generations. Although, many of the blue bellied birds are so consumed in looking up as they fly that they hardly notice the world below them.

Civeo was one blue bellied bird more pensive than the rest. He would go out on the end of a long limb in one of the tall trees and ponder about what it meant to be a bird. He asked himself questions like: “why are the other birds grounded where as I can fly?” Or, “how come they have yellow bellies where as mine is blue?”

Once a year, Civeo gathers the strength to tell a horrific story he took part in, hoping that somewhere in his recount are seeds of compassion that stir a bird’s moral feathers. 


[Speaks from the end of a branch of a tall tree]

We saw another sort of bird come and go. These intruding birds were aggressive and didn’t seem to care for the beauty of our land. They took our resources, deepened conflict between the land birds and then left. Left them confused, left them dominated, and just left them forgotten.

The intruders did something strange while they were here. They separated the land birds, forging a division by putting red bracelets on some of their wings. The intruders eventually left but the red bracelets stayed on a select number of yellow bellies; and because the intruders put them in charge they started classifying themselves as different and special — superior in some way. They called themselves “The Chosen Ones” and started moving homes to be nearer one another. The Chosen Ones would eat, sleep and chirp in unison. This was another kind of song, not like the one that clings to our soul. This song felt like it had teeth and could bite, this song barked.

There started to be arguments between the ground birds. This was all visible from our tall trees. The Chosen Ones were rigidly organized and enforced strict laws, increasing the separation between the yellow bellies. With every passing sunset the red bracelets held more significance- a symbol of solidarity for The Chosen Ones, and anyone not wearing one was no longer considered a bird.

I was watching terrible things happen. From the long limb of a tall tree, I witnessed the evolution of a non compassionate machine. I wanted to talk with the other blue bellies. Had they not seen what I had?

[Civeo goes to meet other Blue Bellies at top of the waterfall]

Blue Belly 1

Their behavior is quite peculiar.

Blue Belly 2

Other creatures of Atreh have started climbing up the tall trees to get to our homes. They say theirs have been cut down.

Blue Belly 3

When darkness falls you can hear their cries. It brings me to tears.

Blue Belly 4

But what can this all mean? Are we sure of what we see? Surely this nightmare will be over soon. The Chosen Ones can’t really be doing this alone. We need not get involved.


What responsibility do we have to the yellow bellies? What if this was us down there? What then?

Act 2

[Setting: The air is chillier, stagnant. Life appears dull and the land seems to have lost its fruitful energy.]


 The Chosen Ones were cutting down the short trees and so the land birds had nowhere to live and disappeared. The cutting was ordered by the chief of the group, Levi, whose squawk the others followed diligently.

Levi knew that the blue bellied birds could see what The Chosen Ones were doing, but since he only ever saw them watching, he figured they would remain perched. Fear tends to be obedient.

It’s curious— a bird that sits on a high tree, watching with great peril below, yet hesitates to do something. As if a history is taking place that he cannot interfere with, as if birds do not contribute to the shaping and social structure of Atreh. The bird can see it, can hear it, can feel the danger yet does not confront it. Cevio breaks from thought hearing dreadful cries from the yellow bellies. These cries are not only in his nightmares; they are reality and he can no longer bear such earnest pleas. Their authenticity is frightening.


Why do I hesitate to interfere? How is it so hard for me to take action? I can speak, why then does my beak feel tied? The feeling of wrong is overwhelming. Many close their eyes to it, it’s easier for them I suppose—to pretend it’s not happening. I really don’t know. My eyes are glued open, even at night they do not shut. I need to convince the others to do something. Why aren't the sky birds chirping about this?


It was a single thought that gave Civeo the shove he desired many sunsets ago. A thought that he identified with quickly: the realization that the sky birds themselves could be in danger. At last he decides to confront Levi. Unlike The Chosen Ones he has no grand army; his words are his greatest weapon.

[Civeo goes to Blue Bellies 1, 2, 3, and 4]


The Chosen Ones keep cutting down the short trees, coming closer and closer. How long before they cut down ours?

Blue belly 1

It’s the yellow bellies' trees they are cutting down, not ours.

Blue Belly 2

They’ll never get to us. Besides, what on Atreh would they need so many trees for?  We’re safe in our homes.

Blue Belly 3

I’m not safe in my home, I’m sickened. We’ve heard the cries of the yellow bellies and the creatures who’ve climbed up our tall trees have also told us of their horrors. Aren’t you scared?

Blue Belly 4

…of The Chosen Ones?  They are forests away! How can we be sure of their ill intentions? All we know is they are cutting down trees. I’ve got enough of my own worries. I don’t have time for this.


I can’t believe you blue bellies! We’re all birds just the same. We rely on our instincts for our survival. I can hear cries, see danger and even smell the difference in the air. Now, tell me that is not all for nothing. What if that was us down below? What if I was born a yellow belly and not a blue belly? I can’t help but do something, for God’s sake! For all our sake, we need to help them. Who’s with me?

Blue Belly 1

You’ve gone mad. You have no army. 

Blue Belly 2

Why does it matter to us?  Since when do two wrongs make a right, anyway?  You think you can crush ‘em? You won’t make a difference if you tried!

Blue Belly 3

Not with more viciousness if we could help it. Right, Civeo? But how would you have us do it?

Blue Belly 4

I’m not risking my life for theirs.

I am not sure what it will take, except for that we will need integrity, courage, and compassion. Look at us! We’re soldiers already, each fighting some sort of battle every day. Pity we so often take up arms against one another, mistaking our despair. You see? Where is cause for such madness when here and now, not beyond a good will to better understand our own humanity, are lush golden fields? If we go today, we each put on our poetic breastplate, souls ablaze, rouse our moral feathers and use our words, to defend our dignity. May we stand tall together, as tall and purpose-filled as a spring poppy!
[Civeo flew down to the ground, landed right in front of Levi. Blue Belly 3 followed]


How fast a bird moves in a condition of fight or flight!


STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP! I have sat on a long branch of a tall tree and I’ve seen what you are doing to the other land birds. They are disappearing by the day. Thousands, gone.


For a moment Levi was speechless. No one had stood up to his authority before. No one had questioned what he was doing. He had worked hard and was not going to give up power so painlessly.


Ah, Civeo. I have seen you on the long branch of your tall tree. If you were watching for so long, why did you come down just now? You surely saw us start to cut down the trees? Were you afraid that we would cut down all the small trees, eventually making our way towards the tall ones?


I’m ashamed to admit it was not until then that I was pushed to act. But I’m here now and I will not let you cut down any more trees.


Levi laughed in the faces of Civeo, and then was silenced by a large shadow that covered the dim sun making everything grey. Hundreds of blue bellied birds had come down to defend Civeo, his words had opened their ears to the cries of the ground birds.


We will not let you cut down any more trees, Levi. We will not stand for this.


Why do you concern yourself with the lives of the yellow bellies?  You have wings. They are grounded. Perhaps you’d like to stay down here a while longer? We could use you for our next cutting. After all, you could show us to the tall trees. Cut off his wings! Tie up his beak!

[The Chosen Ones marched forward towards Civeo]


How would clipping my wings help me to assist you? How would tying my tongue silence the other Blue Bellies? You don’t see past your own wicked scheme, do you? I wouldn’t help you hurt Atreh any further if my life depended on it! I will however, make it a point to ensure your operations are stopped because our wellbeing depends on it.

[Levi mocks Civeo. Stunned, he begins to find that half of The Chosen Ones aren’t behind him. Many have moved, now standing behind Civeo. They saw this moment as their window to freedom.]


Come on you cowards! Come back now or you’ll face the same fate. NOW I SAID! MOVE!

[The rebels of The Chosen Ones stood still, behind Civeo.  Levi stood bewildered. There was a minute long silence, during which, more came to stand behind Civeo and Levi was left with but a few loyalists at his side.]


Levi could not justify his actions. His ideology would not stand the test of time. Knowing his eventual defeat, Levi and his loyalists left. Agreed to stop for the day, claiming they would be back tomorrow. The next day they didn’t show up. Bellies everywhere rejoiced, hoping to never see them again. Some however, were concerned The Chosen Ones would cause trouble in other parts of Atreh and began a planet wide search for Levi and his loyalists.

The Chosen Ones felt lost without their leader, they had not done much thinking on their own since he had given them so many orders. They were afraid they’d be put to trial for their compliance. So, they took off their red bracelets, marched to the shore and threw them into the water, the tide burying their markers sea deep.

Act 3


Perplexed, Civeo returned to the long branch of the tall tree. Relieved the Blue Bellies were able to stop the cutting and the disappearing, but also disturbed that perhaps more birds could have been saved and more trees spared if he had just spoke out sooner.


Why did I choose to wait? Where was my courage earlier? Was I afraid to lose my own life? Is this selfish? Who can judge me?


These were tough questions, but they were the ones that counted. For the rest of his life, Civeo would attempt to answer them. He held many discussions, trying to get The Chosen Ones to publically admit to their injustice but they continued to deny what had been done – claiming the diffusion of responsibility wouldn’t hold them accountable, that they were just ‘following orders’.

He worked with yellow bellies to write books, recording their tragedy. He also went on to teach the birds how important it is to speak up for themselves against such oppression. But Civeo would never be satisfied or come to terms with what had happened. It wasn’t until after The Chosen Ones disbanded that the blue bellied birds began to understand the intricate detail and planning that had gone into such destruction - their actions are incomprehensible.

As far as the healing of the community, well it would take generations to mend. Creatures from distant lands of Atreh, abundant in resources, heard of the disaster and brought aid to the yellow bellies. This left them dependent. What they really needed was for the birds in the tall trees to look below more often, even come down to talk with them about the sky bird’s way of living.

Civeo called for a memorial, to remember the thousands of birds who had disappeared. The whole bird community came together to replant the thousands of trees lost. Finally, they were united.



History would have it that Levi returns. Perhaps on a different part of Atreh, even in another form, but his methods will be similar. How will the birds react after what they have learned? Have they learned?


• Atreh: scramble of earth.

• Civeo: scramble of voice.

• Levi: scramble of evil.

• Land remains nameless to represent the fact that genocides have happened all over the globe and does not belong to one specific culture or geographical region.

• Red bracelets are a symbol of the bloodshed and the wickedness that is associated with racial discrimination and genocide.


(*) A conversation I had with Paul Rusesabagina in Minnesota (his story brought to film in Hotel Rwanda)—“never underestimate the power of words - especially when they are all one has to defend the dignity of humanity”. This is the central theme of the play and written to communicate its importance. 

(*) Eugene Ionesco—Rhinocerus, a play critical of the diffusion of responsibility, like minded thinking, bandwagoning and Nazism.

(*) Theodor Geisel – ‘The Sneetches’ on racial discrimination. Used “bellies” in this piece in reference to the “starbellies”.

(*) primary text Primo Levi wrote (read during genocide studies course) – Levi in the play is also a reference to Primo Levi and his struggles with evil as he survived the Holocaust. However, I do not associate Primo Levi with the character Levi in this play. He wrote on evil in many works and said that after evil touched him he could no longer feel joy. I wish to honor Primo’s outspoken voice and struggle in confronting evil, which unfortunately consumed his ability to live happily until his death.