A REAL AND SURREAL PIECE OF AFRICAN HISTORY…A PRESENTATION

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The unfortunate circumstance of genocide has plagued world history for centuries. In modern times, many of us remember the atrocities of Rwanda, Bosnia, Dafur, and the slaughter of millions of Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany. But many of us may not be

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The unfortunate circumstance of genocide has plagued world history for centuries. In modern times, many of us remember the atrocities of Rwanda, Bosnia, Dafur, and the slaughter of millions of Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany. But many of us may not be as familiar with another genocide considered the first of the 20th century.

During the European scramble for Africa – between 1904 and 1907 – nearly 100,000 Herero people of German South-West Africa (modern day Namibia) were killed. German colonist purchased much of the land owned by the Herero people, and the German settlers (commissioned by the German government) took control of the Herero territory. As German settlements grew, it became almost impossible for the Herero people to reclaim their land. Eventually the Herero revolted…. but to no avail. They were captured and relocated to desert land. German settlers made it impossible for the Herero leave desert land, causing death by starvation and lack of water. The Herero who survived were forced into concentration camps, and subsequent slavery.

So, how can one begin to tell this story? Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury has documented one version with her play – “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915”. Yes….that is the title of the play. At first glance, the title’s length seems ridiculous; however, that was Drury’s intent. She wanted a mixture of comedy and drama so audiences can digest the tragic nature of genocide.

Drury elevates this theatrical approach by literally presenting the subject in an unusual but highly effective way. The play opens with an ensemble of six actors who are the “Presenters”: Black Woman, Black Man, Another Black Man, White Man, Another White Man, and a random white woman. And yes, these are their character names.

In a very smart comedic interpretation of events, “the actors present” a timeline of the German “discovery” of German South West Africa and the killing of the Herero people. It is a fast-paced, yet short sequence that transitions into the world of the actors. Through a series of improvised scenes, the actors attempt to dramatize history. Led by ‘Black Woman’, the ensemble take letters written by German settlers. They attempt to extract the real story – particularly from the perspective of the Herero people. Because what does it mean to come from an oral tradition, then that tradition be completely eradicated? Can anyone tell your story? Or can your story be told by non-Africans? After several tries, the group successfully interpret “the” story; but at a very high and daunting price.

“We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915” runs through April 29 at Victory Gardens Theater.

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