25 June 2009: The University of Pretoria (UP) has joined hands with the Balobedu community to start a research project in the form of drama productions aimed at collecting and recording traditional mythologies, stories and traditional customs surrounding rainmaking associated with the Queen Modjadji Dynasties.
The role-players are the University’s Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology, the Department of Drama, the Queen Modjadji Dynasty and her people (known as the Balobedu Community) and the UP-Kara Heritage Institute partnership.
UP coordinators of the project are Prof Marié-Heleen Coetzee (Head of the Drama Department), and Prof Hannes Rautenbach (Head of the Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology). Prince Mpapatla Bakhoma Modjadji (the Regent) will coordinate Balobedo involvement.
“We would like to present these customs and stories in the form of a performance and in a way that shows how intersecting oral narratives engage with the ‘hard’ scientific evidence of the cultural landscape. The theatre production will offer the narratives as a collage of stories that are woven around the cultural landscape to encourage multiple perspectives” said Prof Coetzee.
According to Prof Coetzee, the performances, which will involve students from both the UP and Ga-Modjadji, will aim to present dialogical theatre(s) where the interplay of differences are allowed to exist and where blurred narrative edges are highlighted rather than wiped out.
“It is hoped that this will engage the audiences in reflective questioning and perhaps debate. Core images, themes and threads, both verbal and visual will be identified in the stories and these will be used as stable units around with to structure the theatre production,” she said.
As a natural scientist Prof Rautenbach regards the project as an important platform, not only to create awareness of the importance of the rich living heritage of the Balobedu people, but also to demonstrate how both rainmaking customs and modern atmospheric science could be used to formulate beneficial applications through indigenous knowledge system (IKS) research.
The project will run over four phases. Phase one will take place between 9 and 12 July 2009, and will involve a field trip to Ga-Modjadji and the preparation of an initial performance. During phase two this performance will be presented at Ga-Modjadji with response from the community. A separate play by the Balobedu community will be developed and both plays (UP and Balobedu) will be presented to the public during phases three and four.
In the first phase (during a visit to Ga-Modjadji by lecturers and students of the Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology and the Drama Department), oral histories will be collected from selected Balobedu communities as determined by the Regent (Prince Mpapatla Bakhoma Modjadji) in consultation with the existing UP-Kara Heritage Institute partnership. An initial theatre performance based on collective threads, themes and images surfaces through the narration of the oral histories will be created by lecturers and students of the Drama Department and will be rehearsed at the UP by students.
During a second visit to Ga-Modjadji, the theatre performance will be presented to selected Balobedu communities as again be determined by the by the Regent (Prince Mpapatla Modjadji) in consultation the UP-Kara Heritage Institute partnership. The performance that will be presented at Ga-Modjadji will serve as a platform for discussion, debate and intervention by communities by means of participation, and drama-and theatre based methodologies. Balobedu communities will subsequently be trained in theatre skills and playmaking skills by UP drama staff and postgraduate drama students to create their own performative responses to the initial performance presented by the UP.
In the third phase, lecturers from the UP will visit Balobedu communities to track the progression of their playmaking and provide feedback on plays. In this phase the focus will shift from a performance about communities to performances with and by communities to challenge orders of narrative and representational strategies.
In the fourth phase, Balobedu communities will perform their plays and with the permission of the Regent (Prince Mpapatla Modjadji), audiences will select one play to be presented at the Krêkvars Student Arts Festival (21-26 September 2009) at the UP. The initial play by the University’s students, commented on by Balobedu communities and reworked to respond to the comments, will also be performed at the festival. Reflection on both performances will be invited.
According to Prof Coetzee, the final performance by the Drama department at the Krêkvars Student Arts Festival will be supported by video recordings of story tellers from the region, as well as by spoken translations, written texts and live performance.
“Both performances will be of interest to the general public, schools, cultural organizations – NGO’s, Government Officials and cultural representatives from the various international diplomatic representatives in Pretoria,” she said.
Prof Coezee emphasised that like scientific narratives, oral histories offer ways of reading, interpreting and shaping the past and conjuring the past into the present. These histories are in constant processes of becoming and operate within fluid parameters that are shaped and shifted by cultural memories, scientific data and emerging ideologies which also shapes the ways in which communities are read and (re)presented.
“Multiple histories can thus coexist and narrating these histories ‘story’ communities into the cultural landscapes. Different layers of stories (fact/fiction, objective/subjective) vie to inform the (re)presentation of communities and the way in which communities wish to (re)present themselves,” she added.