The first-ever play in Griqua-Afrikaans will premiere at the annual Macufe Arts Festival in Mangaung (Bloemfontein) in October, thanks to a grant from the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT).
Maagmeisie, using Griqua actors and displaying the unique and relatively unknown language, culture and traditions of the Griqua people, is one of 23 projects in 12 disciplines that received money in ACTís latest funding cycle, which will see a total of R1.2 million distributed.
Committed to the upliftment of communities through the arts, ACT receives funds from founding partner Nedbank, with money donated dependent on turnover by clients: the more Nedbank Arts clients use their Nedbank Arts affinity accounts, the more the trust receives. Nedbank has made a significant contribution to the R6-million disbursed by ACT since its inception. In addition, Nedbank and fellow founding partner, the Royal Netherlands Embassy, each donated R500 000 to the June 2003 funding cycle.
In conception, execution and outcomes, Maagmeisie accords with the trustís credo: ACT is inspired to open the hearts and minds of all South Africans to nurture the rich diversity of arts, culture and heritage in South Africa by supporting creativity, fostering understanding and enhancing the quality of life of all our people.
The production aims to promote the neglected and under-appreciated Griqua cultural heritage and further the use of Griqua-Afrikaans. It is situated in the drama department of the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, and directed by Professor Nicolaas Luwes, head of the department. Luwes has vast experience in the theatre, having written 23 plays and directed 26 for, among others, the department, the former Performing Arts Council of the Orange Free State, the former Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal, the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival and the Aardklop National Arts Festival.
Based on the verse drama Maagmeisie by Thomas Deacon (Protea Boekhuis), the play tells the story of the initiation into adulthood of a Griqua virgin. For two weeks, the maagmeisie is isolated, her body covered in ochre, buchu and antelope manure representing life, death and good, with the medicinal buchu plant betokening also power for the future. The drama builds into a love story between the young woman and her suitor, Abrahamsram, with the dialogue between them exerting a charm in Griqua-Afrikaans that has been compared to that of Boerneef in Afrikaans.
Luwes says of Griqua-Afrikaans: The imagery is fantastic. It is a fascinating dialect, with interesting spelling and sentence construction. In its development, the language is moving close to standard Afrikaans.
To initiate the theatrical adaptation of Deaconís text, Luwes met Griqua chiefs in Cape Town, at the historically resonant old slave quarters next to Leeuwenhof. After the traditional leaders gave the project their blessing, Luwes enlisted the help of theologian Dr Willa Boesak, and set about casting the production. From Upington in the Northern Cape, Griqua people - not professional actors - were selected, and other cast members chosen in Kimberley and the Free State. Rounding off the cast was a Griqua youth leader from Bloemfontein.
The story unfolds through a narrator, the principal characters and singers, and the careful portrayal of ancient rituals. For the last aspect, the production has the services of a cultural advisor - a vital component in works that deal with South African cultures and indigenous systems of belief and knowledge. In portraying and hence promoting and preserving Griqua cultural heritage and the distinctive linguistic branch of Griqua-Afrikaans, this stage version of Maagmeisie is in line with ACTís nurturing of the diversity of South African cultures and heritage, and fostering understanding of those.
Importantly, the production meets a number of key new assessment criteria for ACT funding, namely job creation and creative skills, and, potentially, cultural exchange and cultural marketing. Eleven actors, a cultural advisor and director have work; the non-professional cast members will acquire most benefit from the artistic skills they will learn; and Luwes says that with financial support from the Government the play can be performed at the Conference of Indigenous Peoples in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2004.
The University of the Free State is also lending valuable input to the anthropological, musical and linguistic context of the play. There will be lectures on behaviour, rituals, music and language at the time of Maagmeisieís run at the Macufe Festival.
* ACT was launched in 1994, with initial founding partners Nedbank and Sun International each contributing R2-million in three yearly tranches. Subsequently, the founding partners were augmented by support from the then Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (now the Department of Arts and Culture), which committed R1-million over three years to stimulate private-sector support for ACT, and broadcaster NNTV, now defunct, which pledged air-time worth R1-million to publicise the trust.
Currently, founding partner status is held by Nedbank, Sun International, the Royal Netherlands Embassy and Vodacom, each of which are represented on the ACT Board of Trustees .