Ha e iphetsetse ka e e hlabileng is a Sesotho expression that may loosely be translated to mean, one does not revenge on the one who initially afflicted harm on them. I argue that unless we consciously learn through our lived experiences, we are likely to inflict harm on others through our words or actions.
This Heritage Month I would like to make a special invitation for us to think through the pain that may have been caused by our environments, and how we may use storytelling to celebrate our resilience. I know this may be hard, and three words come into my mind; forgiveness, self-love and courage as storytellers.
Let me explain through my story:
Someone came to apologise to me about the way they spoke to me. I told them that I did not remember how they spoke to me, and as such did not see the need for any apology. Their response surprised me, and I would like to share it within the context of “epistémicide”, a word I learnt recently while interacting with the members of Swartwater; a play written and directed by Geralt Cloete (Nama Khoi Productions) with dramaturgy by Lee-Ann Van Rooi. It reimagines the losses of the Nama Khoi indigenous people during colonialism and the period of diamond “discoveries”.
I learnt that through their work, the production company seeks to not just preserve the Nama language, but enrich and rework it into the present realities of their lives and their perspectives as young Nama Khoi people. Their presence, their wisdoms and their courage in creating this play and participating in open dialogue with the students I was with, reminded me of a concept called “translanguaging” which emphasises the importance of an insider perspective in diverse contexts to communicate and/or make meaning.
I asked the production company what they thought makes their storytelling unique because there are a number of productions and films dealing with the Khoi experiences. I cited a theatre play; Sarah Baartman. A member from Swartwater expressed that they felt “triggered” by my question. They took a deep breath “phweee…” and simultaneously asked Dr. Dylan McGarry from the theatre company Empatheatre to answer for them. (Nama Khoi were collaborating with Empatheatre (www.empatheatre.com) that week to develop new shadow puppetry elements and visual sociology research, together with archaeological and anthropological archives – together they were witnessing the way other people had written Indigenous histories and re-membering their histories with these fragments).
Dylan too took a deep breath and introduced the term “epistémicide” before explaining to me the importance of allowing people to tell stories from their lived experiences, in their own language and with what Professor Nomalanga Mkhize calls their own: “Idiomatic reasoning”. He explained, that “genocide” not only violently erases people, it erases their culture. Epistémicide can also occur insidiously through the forces of white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism and its descendent, capitalism. Epistémicide is insidious as it slowly steals away cultures, or forces them into assimilation or to being aborbed into normopathy or neurotypicality – which is in itself biased towards white bodies and white ways of being and doing. Google deepened my knowledge by alerting me that “epistémicide” happens when epistemic injustices are persistent, systematic, and collectively work as a structured oppression or particular ways of knowing. Hence the slow seepage that Dylan was referring to.
I began to understand better the comment about “triggered” from the Swartwater member. Many people, who are not Nama Khoi, have been telling their stories with their own blind spots, their own biases, and their own assimilated perspectives, and the Nama Khoi are left to watch their stories performed in these diluted and distilled ways.
Musing on this, I began to think about the gift that we have as creatives regarding our ability to shape our desired environment through storytelling. Then I started thinking about another concept; “Botho” or “Ubuntu”, which to me suggests the power of perspective and how deeply understanding that we could consider forgiving ourselves and others, once we have created the opportunity for each other to speak or story the world in ways that are meaningful and sovereign to them. Perhaps it is because the person who came to apologise to me insisted on apologising because “I am doing it for myself, I should not have spoken to you the way I did.”
In creative process, research may expose us to information or events that may be “triggering” or difficult to deal with and yet how we shape such information, how we respond to the ‘trigger’, and how we practice care, radical hospitality and attentive listening in the moment can allow us to tell better stories; we could bleed on others or we could heal others.
As those who are working with and for children and young audiences, our creative making processes might call for “apologising” even if our audiences may not understand why the apology is necessary. In my opinion, we do it for ourselves, so that we may be strong enough to coin new words and stories that celebrate our ways of knowing and being; our heritage.
– Lalu Mokuku is the Chairperson of ASSITEJ SA and ASSITEJ International EC member.
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