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Celebrating black history with the Tragedy of King Christophe

The play which is to be directed by Patrick-Jude Oteh is a reflection of the headship of Governor Henri Christophe. Previously under French colonisation, Haiti…

The play which is to be directed by Patrick-Jude Oteh is a reflection of the headship of Governor Henri Christophe.

Previously under French colonisation, Haiti gained freedom in the early 19th century. After the death of her first leader, Desalinize, the black general Henri Christophe emerged as governor.

Realising his discontent, Christophe abandoned the town of Port-au-Prince for the well-to-do popular Mulattos. He went on to establish himself as president of the Southern Territory  as he also imposed himself as King cum emperor in the Northern Territory; thereby elevating himself to nobility and surrounding himself with a court.

‘In the course of ruling Haiti, Christophe intoxicated with power, trampled on the peasants and made life unbearable for them as no one had the right to be tired. They worked under harsh conditions and erected a palace on a mountain with steep slopes as well as a citadel, which till date, though in ruins, still tells the story of the happenings of his time.

It is recorded that Henri Christophe committed suicide having found himself incapable of ruling as a result of the paralysis uffered.

As regards the choice of the play and its relevance to the festival, Oteh said “the choice of the play was made by the festival committee that was set up under the leadership of Professor Wole Soyinka comprising academics, practitioners and civil servants. I think the choice has to do with a study in tyranny which is presently engulfing many former colonies across the globe. The piece in my opinion has to do with the message that Aimé Césaire wanted to pass about the evils of tyranny at the dawn of Independence for most African countries. We should not forget that Haiti was a freed slave colony.”

The play which is currently rehearsing in Jos is being realised with a cast and crew of 40.

The Black Heritage Festival is held annually in Badagry to welcome back most former ‘slaves’ and offspring in the Diaspora. This draws guests from the United States of America, the United Kingdom and all over. It has also evolved into a festival to celebrate the former slave port at Badagry and its relevance in the shipping of slaves across the seas.

According to the organizers, the event which is the third in its annual series entitled Memory and Performance in the Return to Source, is planned to raise this awareness to new heights, broaden and deepen the linkage between the African continent and its Diaspora.

“This will be effected through a focus on the lives and works of three eminent representatives of, and close collaborators in this racial mission, all three now ancestral figures:  the Martiniquan poet, dramatist, pan-Africanist and cultural activist, Aimé Cesaire; prime mover of the journal Présence Africaine, and the publishing house of that name, Alioune Diop (whose centennial anniversary comes up this year; and poet, essayist, and statesman Leopold Sedar Senghor. With this emphasis, a further step is taken to diminish the fragmentations in a common race heritage that were created through colonisation under competing European cultures on African soil.

The three ancestors led a closely intertwined career. Césaire, it will be recalled, was a principal midwife, in company of Leopold Sédar Senghor and others, of the philosophy of Negritude, the Beingness of Black.  In addition to the performance of Césaire’s plays and readings from his poetry, rare archival material from Alioune Diop’s  pioneering journal, Presence Africaine, of which Aimé Césaire was also past president, will be placed on exhibition for the first time in this country.

At the same time, Lagos State pays tribute also to the late President Leopold Sedar Senghor who was the inspiration and spearhead of the first ever international Negro Arts Festival (1966), the second edition of which the late Alioune Diop, served as Secretary-General and principal organizer.  That second edition was called the Black and African Arts Festival, 1977, better known as FESTAC. The festival runs from the April 3 – 9, 2010.

In another event, the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF) in partnership with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Schlumberger Nigeria Ltd. beginning today will present an exhibition tagged “50 Years Ahead; Through the Eyes of Nigerian Women”, in commemoration of Nigeria’s golden jubilee. Through this exhibition, the AAF is drawing the focus to Nigerian women artists, offering a platform to express their vision of our great Nation over the next half-century.

The event which is the premier edition of a series of annual women artists’ exhibitions, will take place at the Civic Center, Lagos. It will showcase works of photography, video art, sculpture, installation and painting by Aisha Augie-Kuta, Unoma Giese, Lucy Azubuike, Zemaye Okediji, Pris Nzimiro, Taiye Idahor and Chineze Araka.

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