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South African Play Explores Impact of Historic Xhosa Prophetess Nongqawuse

Navdeep Jassal, has been traveling in South Africa for the last five months and recently had the opportunity to review a play in Johannesburg. Presented by Africa Creations Production Company, the play reveals the nature of African indigenous spirituality. “The Rise and Fall of the African Gospel: Nongqawuse” was created, written and directed by Mbongeni Moroke who was inspired by the historic events of 1856-7 and the miseducation that followed.

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Nongqawuse. Wikipedia image and Tiyo Soga. Wikipedia image
Nongqawuse. Wikipedia image and Tiyo Soga. Wikipedia image

By Navdeep Jassal
Post News Group Contributor

Navdeep Jassal, has been traveling in South Africa for the last five months and recently had the opportunity to review a play in Johannesburg. Presented by Africa Creations Production Company, the play reveals the nature of African indigenous spirituality.

“The Rise and Fall of the African Gospel: Nongqawuse” was created, written and directed by Mbongeni Moroke who was inspired by the historic events of 1856-7 and the miseducation that followed.

Though performed in the Xhosa language, with a few short excerpts in English for non-Xhosa speakers, I had the opportunity to speak with Moroke — who portrayed Mhlakaza, a sangoma (traditional healer) and father to Nongqawuse. This article is gleaned from our conversations.

The play is about two well-known historical figures for the Xhosa: Their young maiden prophetess, Nongqawuse, and South Africa’s first Black Christian Presbyterian minister, Tiyo Soga.

For background’s sake, it must be understood that according to African indigenous spirituality, cows are slaughtered to summon the ancestors’ protection. In 1856, cattle represented the primary measure of wealth among the Xhosa, and the word to the king from prophetess Nongqawuse that cattle should be killed to hide the wealth from the arriving Christian missionaries was shocking.

The message came in a time when the Xhosa nations’ strength and trust in its leadership had been eroding after a great king had been assassinated by Christian missionaries in the early 1800s following his betrayal by his own counsel and other Xhosa leaders.

That “negative aura persisted around the kings,” making for a continual threat to Xhosa unity, Moroke said.

And unity is key: According to South African spirituality, God the Creator cannot intervene in a divided nation; therefore, after the slaughter, the rising of the ancestors foreseen by Nongqawuse did not happen in the way it was expected.

Enter Tiyo Soga, the son of a chief counselor to the king who had turned away from Xhosa tradition and followed in his Christian mother’s footsteps. He eventually traveled to Scotland to study religion and theology and returned as a Christian evangelist.

By then, Xhosa society was divided like never before. The Christian missions became the sanctuary and refuge for the hordes of hungry, famished people — their grain silos empty, their cattle no more, and their land useless.

While 16-year-old Nongqawuse was labeled a false prophet and scapegoated, Soga and lesser-known Black individuals spread the new religion by white Christian missionaries throughout Xhosa land.

Moroke’s inspiration is a righteous one: The spirit of God the Creator existed before the Bible in

Africa and Moroke speaks from and uses the African indigenous spiritual lens in his work as playwright, director, actor, and musician, demonstrating that spirituality in ancient Africa was powerful.

Through entertainment, Moroke strives to re-educate Black South Africans on the value of their own history, valor and spirituality.

The opening scene takes place on Robben Island more than 100 years before Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a political prisoner there. Three broken Xhosa kings shed tears as white Christian missionaries locked them up, thus destroying their ability to provide spiritual guidance to their tribesmen and women.

In his signature style, the first scene becomes the final scene as well, but for nearly two hours, Moroke takes the audience through the events that led to the kings’ capture.

“There are three things which control the world: economics, politics and religion,” said Moroke. “When a nation is ruling well within these three sectors, that nation becomes the most powerful nation in the world. So, white Christian missionaries took charge in Africa in these three sectors and used religion through the Bible to destroy and rule us.

“Every generation has its mandate and the last generation had politics as its mandate,” Moroke said. “As someone representing the current generation, the mandate is to revisit indigenous and spiritual history and go back to the core problems which led to apartheid. I am trying to answer a question of this generation in terms of what went wrong, and why are we here after all the struggles and voting in 1994.”

Although I could not piece it all together due to language barriers and lack of context, as I sat in the audience, I knew what I was watching was very moving and powerful.

There were some audience members crying because the play resonated with their backgrounds as African people. And, for others, the play resonated in terms of family whether it was family disfunction or affection.

Two Xhosa people said that when the ‘king’ was coming onto the stage, they had a vision of that actual king coming. Another sangoma said she learned many things from Moroke’s character about the discipline of a sangoma.

For more information direct message Africa Creations on social media: Facebook Africa-Creations; Instagram @africa_creations; Twitter @Afric_Creations; or email africacreationsmail@gmail.com and watch YouTube videos @africacreations8130.

Art

Mario Van Peebles’ ‘Outlaw Posse’ Screened at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre

The Oakland International Film Festival hosted a screening of “Outlaw Posse” at the Grand Lake Theatre on Monday. Special guests included director/actor Mario Van Peebles and his co-star, Oakland native Scytorya Rhodes. The film is Peebles’ second western, the first being ‘Posse,’ 13 years ago.

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Film director Mario Van Peebles, who also stars in “Outlaw Posse,” appeared at a press conference held at RBA Creative on MacArthur Boulevard hosted by the Oakland International Film Festival. Photo By Carla Thomas.
Film director Mario Van Peebles, who also stars in “Outlaw Posse,” appeared at a press conference held at RBA Creative on MacArthur Boulevard hosted by the Oakland International Film Festival. Photo By Carla Thomas.

By Carla Thomas

The Oakland International Film Festival hosted a screening of “Outlaw Posse” at the Grand Lake Theatre on Monday. Special guests included director/actor Mario Van Peebles and his co-star, Oakland native Scytorya Rhodes. The film is Peebles’ second western, the first being ‘Posse,’ 13 years ago. Filmmaker Van Peebles shared his passion for independent artistry and producing projects with his son, Mandela, who also starred in the film, along with Whoopi Goldberg and Cedric the Entertainer. Next week, The Post will publish an in-depth interview featuring Peebles’ reflections on his work, future projects, and continuing his father’s legacy and Rhodes on her grandfather, a real-life cowboy.

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Art

Marin County: A Snapshot of California’s Black History Is on Display

The Marin County Office of Education, located at 1111 Las Gallinas Ave in San Rafael, will host the extraordinary exhibit, “The Legacy of Marin City: A California Black History Story (1942-1960),” from Feb. 1 to May 31, 2024. The interactive, historical, and immersive exhibit featuring memorabilia from Black shipyard workers who migrated from the South to the West Coast to work at the Marinship shipyard will provide an enriching experience for students and school staff. Community organizations will also be invited to tour the exhibit.

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Early photo of Marin City in the exhibit showing the first department store, barber shop, and liquor store. (Photo by Godfrey Lee)
Early photo of Marin City in the exhibit showing the first department store, barber shop, and liquor store. (Photo by Godfrey Lee)

By Post Staff

The Marin County Office of Education, located at 1111 Las Gallinas Ave in San Rafael, will host the extraordinary exhibit, “The Legacy of Marin City: A California Black History Story (1942-1960),” from Feb. 1 to May 31, 2024.

The interactive, historical, and immersive exhibit featuring memorabilia from Black shipyard workers who migrated from the South to the West Coast to work at the Marinship shipyard will provide an enriching experience for students and school staff.  Community organizations will also be invited to tour the exhibit.

All will have the opportunity to visit and be guided by its curator Felecia Gaston.

The exhibit will include photographs, articles and artifacts about the Black experience in Marin City from 1942 to 1960 from the Felecia Gaston Collection, the Anne T. Kent California Room Collection, The Ruth Marion and Pirkle Jones Collection, The Bancroft Library, and the Daniel Ruark Collection.

It also features contemporary original artwork by Chuck D of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group Public Enemy, clay sculptures by San Francisco-based artist Kaytea Petro, and art pieces made by Marin City youth in collaboration with Lynn Sondag, Associate Professor of Art at Dominican University of California.

The exhibit explores how Marin City residents endured housing inequities over the years and captures the history of plans to remove Black residents from the area after World War II. Throughout, it embodies the spirit of survival and endurance that emboldened the people who made Marin City home.

Felecia Gaston is the author of the commemorative book, ‘A Brand New Start…This is Home: The Story of World War II Marinship and the Legacy of Marin City.’ Thanks to the generous contribution of benefactors, a set of Felecia’s book will be placed in every public elementary, middle, and high school library in Marin.

In addition, educators and librarians at each school will have the opportunity to engage with Felecia in a review of best practices for utilizing the valuable primary sources within the book.

“Our goal is to provide students with the opportunity to learn from these significant and historical contributions to Marin County, California, and the United States,” said John Carroll, Marin County Superintendent of Schools.

“By engaging with Felecia’s book and then visiting the exhibit, students will be able to further connect their knowledge and gain a deeper understanding of this significant historical period,” Carroll continued.

Felecia Gaston adds, “The Marin County Office of Education’s decision to bring the Marin City Historical Traveling Exhibit and publication, ‘A Brand New Start…This is Home’ to young students is intentional and plays a substantial role in the educational world. It is imperative that our community knows the contributions of Marin City Black residents to Marin County. Our youth are best placed to lead this transformation.”

The Marin County Office of Education will host an Open House Reception of the exhibit’s debut on Feb. 1 from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.. All school staff, educators, librarians, and community members are encouraged to attend to preview the exhibit and connect with Felecia Gaston. To contact Gaston, email MarinCityLegacy@marinschools.org

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Activism

Alternative Outcome to Slayings by Police Explored in One-Man Play

BLACK MEN EVERYWHERE! is the explosive new one man play written, directed, and performed by Jinho “Piper” Ferreira. Set against the backdrop of a presidential election, the play explores how political and cultural leaders wield the myth of the dangerous Black man to manipulate the masses for personal gain. Piper penned the follow-up to his ground-breaking solo play, “Cops and Robbers,” after an impromptu cross-country Black history tour. 

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BLACK MEN EVERYWHERE! is the explosive new one man play written, directed, and performed by Jinho “Piper” Ferreira.
BLACK MEN EVERYWHERE! is the explosive new one man play written, directed, and performed by Jinho “Piper” Ferreira.

Special to The Post

What would happen if police officers who have gotten off for killing unarmed Black people started turning up dead?

BLACK MEN EVERYWHERE! is the explosive new one man play written, directed, and performed by Jinho “Piper” Ferreira. Set against the backdrop of a presidential election, the play explores how political and cultural leaders wield the myth of the dangerous Black man to manipulate the masses for personal gain.

Piper penned the follow-up to his ground-breaking solo play, “Cops and Robbers,” after an impromptu cross-country Black history tour.

“My wife and I had been talking about it for years,” Ferreira said. They had taken their three children to Brazil several times and West Africa but had yet to explore their history as Black people in this country. “It was Juneteenth last year and I realized we had a few weeks to make it happen, so we just jumped in the car and left” Piper said.

Three weeks later the family had seen everything from the African American Museum of History and Culture in Wash., D.C., to the phenomenally preserved Whitney Plantation in Louisiana. They’d stood outside of the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., and paid their respects at the Africa Town cemetery – where the passengers of the Clotilda (the last known U.S. slave ship to smuggle captured Africans into this country) were buried near Mobile, Ala.

“We had the kids keep a journal of the trip and my wife and I took notes, but once we got back home, I knew I had to make the pen move,” he said.

Ferreira plays 21 characters in the 60-minute emotional roller coaster ride; personalities we all know. While brilliantly weaving in themes of revolution, treachery, and revenge, “Black Men Everywhere!” is surprisingly — more than anything else — a love story.

“I wrote the play for Black men and everyone who loves us,” Ferreira said. “The play is narrated by a sistah and performed in front of the deeply spiritual artwork of Nedra T. Williams, an Oakland priestess of Olokun. It’s called ‘Black Men Everywhere!’ but we don’t exist without the Black woman.”

For tickets, please go to: http://tinyurl.com/5dm3mhra

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