With a theatrically evocative beginning in gesture and sound, The Xhosa Chronicles is a lament for lost stories; it does not consist of these stories, which the title might suggest, because they have been erased and rewritten. Instead, the show chronicles how this history has been obliterated by the ‘visitors’, initially welcomed by the elder who has now lost his name, and who are in fact thieving ‘invaders’ who stole the land and culture, and re-told the history of the amaXhosa.
In reality, how can a culture now tell their chronicles and history when these very tales have been written over?
As it says in the play, ‘the men fought and fell and memory was lost. The ancestors silently sit on the mountains, and their ancestors before them’.
At one point, a child protests against being taught her own history by the oppressors.
Who tells whose stories in the theatre and for whom are they told? And who is watching and listening? These are political questions, and this play is political. Political about story, history, culture and memory. How can a culture search for its history when the telling of their story only starts from the point of invasion?
The pastoral community is presented as being a happy place, with the women working, the children playing, and the men proudly loving the land, their wives and their children, until the ‘visitors’ were welcomed and took away the names of the elders with gifts of brandy and mirrors.
Produced by the Isikhumbuzo Applied History Unit, the production is theatrical historical research. Directed by history Master’s student, Masixole Heshu, who also has an Honours degree in Drama, the staging beautifully renders the context of an amaXhosa village in a show that intends to interrogate what happens when the past meets the present.
The direction supports the intention of the show and the ensemble cast enacts with authenticity and conviction both the village life and the lament. And protest at its plundering and the historical consequences thereof.
The staging is strong. However, I did long to hear the very stories the title of the show promised to give, and it doesn’t go beyond the lament. But how can it, if the stories have been lost?
The Xhosa Chronicles has its last show Friday at 12. Book HERE.
Featured Artists: Sisonke Yafele, Ntomboxolo Donyeli, Nombasa Ngoqo, Anele Heshu and Phemello Hellemann.
Company: Isikhumbuzo Applied History Unit