Takes more to present sensitive issues on stage


THERE’S one thing left for Chief Isaria Meli, of Old Moshi in Kilimanjaro Region, to do in respect of his late grandfather, Mangi Meli’s memory.

That is to bring back the skull of his severed head from Germany, where it was carried to, when the country was under German colonial rule. As to the exact whereabouts of his skull in the European country, he claims to have documents stating one of the museums in Berlin.

“I’ve been using people from there (Germany), who I have met here (Tanzania), to conduct researches to find out where my grandfather’s skull is being kept, along with his colleagues that were killed, before their heads were taken away…

One professor even took DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) samples from me, which he took back to Germany that proves I’m the legitimate offspring of Mangi Meli,” Chief Isaria proudly told the ‘Daily News’ last week.

This DNA exercise was also done a second time by another person, Chief Isaria added, at a Lecturer Performance, of “Skull X”, which was held at the Goethe Institut, in Dar es Salaam’s City Centre, last week Wednesday. It was with much enthusiasm that he talked of his past and current efforts towards approaching the local Government for assistance to achieve this goal.

It is only by the skull’s return to the country, he maintains that his late grandfather’s memory will be able to live-on in a way fitting of his stature. Chief Isaria finds it hard to comprehend why it is local officials today have not seen this as being an important issue, which requires their intervention.

He had come to the performance with a Tour Operator - Mejah Mbuya - whose work concentrates on local historical backgrounds. Actually, this young man, who also comes from Old Moshi, told the ‘Daily News’ for many years now he has been trying to find out the whereabouts of Chief Isaria’s skull, after he was hanged by the German’s in the early 1900’s.

“I’m from right there in Old Moshi, a historian and a tour guide, so had the idea of starting a cultural tourism trek around that area. This would first help revive the history that has not been well documented and secondly assist the community earn a little money from the tourists that will come to learn about the history there,” Mbuya explained.

“The third thing is that once other people come and learn about the local history, especially that concerning Mangi Meli, it would help solidify the pressure we’re trying to bring on the local and German governments, to take steps towards bringing back the skull of our chief, Mangi Meli,” he added.

Mbuya believes staging this Intellectual Performance will go some way towards reducing the difficulties encountered, while striving to have the skull returned. He also praised the creativity of the artist, for managing to show both perspectives of current-day people from both countries concerned.

Expectations of African governments that bringing back a skull should also involve some financial reparation, is one such issue, he pointed to. The actor, who Mbuya was referring to is the Berlinbased Director of Theatre plays and Actor, Konradin Kunze. He is the one who handled all the research, from18 months ago, for the performance. This is the same person who wrote the script for his solo performance, which is directed by his colleague, Sophia Stepf.

To make a long story short, it was when researching for what turned out to be the “Maji Maji Flava” contemporary stage performance that Kunze came across the topic of the skull from records of the colonial era. He soon realised it was a much bigger topic than he originally thought and as such required extra format. The end product, which was first staged here in Dar es Salaam, at the German Cultural Centre (Goethe Institut), last week Wednesday, focused on two skulls.

That is the Mangi Meli’s one and another one, returned to the Namibian people some years before. Prior to the performance here, last week Wednesday and Friday, Skull X had been staged a number of times in Germany, which according to Kunze proved that “sensitive subjects” can be dealt with in an “artistic way”.

“A big part of the show is actually about the search for Mangi Meli’s skull. This is why we also thought it might be interesting to bring it here (Tanzania). This way, people who actually have heard of this story can hear a little more and also see the other side, which rests on the difficulties that cannot be avoided for the German side to bring back a skull,” Kunze said.

Presently, the play is doing the circuits again in Germany. From its very nature the play is not just suitable to be presented in theatres but also museums, which he has already done. As a result of their getting a feedback from audiences of the play being imbalanced for it is only a “white man telling the story, without even a “black man” telling the other side of the story, they made some small changes.

Now, there is a part of the performance when the skull speaks itself against being used in a performance. This has now become one of the normal parts in the play, which is based entirely on facts. An audience must prepare itself for this not being a theatre piece, as such, but is more a lecturer that has artistic touches to it. When the ‘Daily News’ asked Stepf why use this format for the production, she replied immediately. She holds onto the belief that reality writes the best stories.

Therefore, having two very real stories in hand, the facts out of the research, so why go into fictionalising anything? She asked. Added to this without the technology they wouldn’t have been able to project other voices.

The last person spoken to after the two presentations of this play last week is the Director of the Goethe Institut, Eleonore Sylla, who was happy to allow staging this play on their premises, given the sensitive subject and the opportunity to put on a performance, which uses a new format to people here.

She found it handled a difficult topic in a way that was not boring and worked well with historic and contemporary material.

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