Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thinking about Slavery

I've been thinking around the slavery issue, mainly because of the Dilemma project, but also because of some work I'm doing at Rose Bruford on political theatre. Dzifa sends me a rather disconcerting email from Accra, saying that there are rumours of another production. I'm not too worried - we have the writer behind us, and it's her text!

Juwon invites me to a show at the Lyric Studio, called Moj of the Antarctic. It's a solo piece, performed by a black woman called Mojisola Adebayo. Incredibly relevant to everything we're doing at the moment: the main story is about slavery, and also looks at gender! In a very playful way, Moj looks at the story of a slave in the Southern US, called Ellen Craft, who escaped in 1848 by disguising herself as a white man..... Talk to her afterwards, and plan a longer chat!

As the project grows, I'm looking at the different activities we can initiate around the theme of Theatre and Slavery. Talk to some of my favourite dramaturgical contacts around the globe. Rustom Bharucha emails from (interestingly enough) Brazil, with his usual incisiveness: "One has to be careful about essentializing slavery as the dominant reality of African peoples living in different parts of the world. Also, slavery coexists with different forms of servitude, particularly in the Indian context, which doesn't mean that slavery doesn't exist. Indeed, it does, in increasingly virulent, if invisible ways." Spot on.

I've been reading Robert J.C. Young's brilliant book: Postcolonialism - A Very Short Introduction. This book manages to deal with all the issues around the marginalisation of most of the world (of which modern slavery / global capitalism is, of course, a key part), without plunging into the dreaded "theory" with its willfully obscure language and apparent lack of relevance to anything but itself. Indeed, this book is startling in how directly relevant it makes its theme to the specifics of particular situations in the present moment. For one thing, it has the best discussion of the veil I've read anywhere, written long before Jack Straw started the current fever.

But the section that struck me most, I suppose in relation to the slavery issue, was to do with the term "Third World". I had always thought this a rather derogatory term, putting "the rest of the world" after Europe and America in terms of when it was "discovered", or third-class in economic (and by implication, other) terms. But it seems not. Young explains that the term is in fact derived from the "Third Estate" of the French Revolution, and was coined at the 1955 Bandung Conference, as a label for newly independent countries in Africa and Asia who wished not to be aligned with the capitalist or communist worlds then emerging as the super-powers, but instead to give a "third world" perspective on political, economic and cultural priorities for the globe. A very different idea, and a very positive one. I much prefer this concept to "the developing world"!


Mike Smith said...

It was interesting to read your somments about the origin of the term "Third World". When I first heard it used at school in the 1970s it was given as an alternative to "The Non-aligned Movement", which fits in with your description of its origin at the Bandung conference. That meaning definitely seems to have been lost over the years.

It's the kind of topic we might have discussed over a bottle of wine in West Hendon 20 years ago...

Mike Smith said...

Doh! That's "comments" not "somments"!