Living in the West – telling African stories

by Dorothy Atabong

It is quite a responsibility one has as an artist to be seen and be denoted as a link between Africa and the West. I do not need to be humble at heart to know for sure that I am a spec in the vast realm of complexities that bridge and gutter the two regions. Yet I AM nonetheless. Therefore I do count for something. As an artist of color, a female artist of Black descent born in Cameroon, West Africa living in the West, I cannot begin to describe what it means to be involved in what is The Africa Trilogy. That it exists alone is enough to get me churning inside with twirling emotions of.. of pretty much every sensation.

I was eager to partake in plays such as The Overwhelming by J.T. Rogers with Studio 180 and In Darfur by Winter Miller at Summerworks, which dealt with the genocide in Rwanda and Darfur respectively. I found myself immensely involved in both tragedies and as I dug deeper into research, I discovered there was much more to both stories that cannot be covered in its entirety within a two-hour theatrical production. However, the plays in their own right do help create awareness and do address the tragedies per se as well as the reaction of the West. Africa is the second largest continent in the world with 54 countries. With a rich culture spanning centuries we are bound to find stories of the good and the bad. We need to find a balance in order to obliterate misconceptions of Africa the bad and disseminate the true nature of this continent.

Dorothy (l) performs with Mariah Inger (r) in the Studio 180 production of The Overwhelming at Canadian Stage. Photo by John Karastamatis

I can’t help thinking of the documentary “Journey of Man.” How as one we originated from Africa and journeyed into the far ends of the Earth. We started out as one and millions of years later, with the exception of our actual physical attributes (race) that are indeed in our genetic makeup (changes that came about to allow us to adapt to our enviroment); we’ve  somehow allowed  culture, class, race, gender, politics, religion etc… coupled with misconstrued notions and ignorance to develop into a gorge between Africa and the West.

Having lived and schooled in several U.S. States including Michigan and in NYC, and of course living in Canada, I am definitely no stranger to the West. I Sometimes find myself in the middle… caught in between – sort of like being an adjudicator in a game no one wants to play. Tensions flaring, both parties blaming each other as far back as the colonial times, not to mention the recent Rwandan genocide;  listening attentively to both sides wondering how I could stand firm as a brick on that bridge that links Africa and the West?

African stories.. our stories need to be told. And my, are they rich and bountiful. So how do we get past the safaris, the mud houses, the loin cloths and spears, naked people and all the like? How do we share the story of the great city of Timbuktu in the 10th century? Queen Amina of Zaria 1588-1589; The Empress Candace of Ethiopia  in 332 B.C, Tenkamenin, King of Ghana  1037-1075AD, Mansa Musa, king of Mali  1306-1332? The list of Kings, Queens, Emperors and Chiefs reigning in kingdoms and dynasties rich in culture, education and technology is indeed Africa’s foundation.  Well, we could start from where Africa is now and grow if you may, backwards to our roots… our beginnings. The Africa Trilogy is an artistic platform that has gone to great lenghts to begin this dialogue.. the dialogue of Africa as we perceive it and its relationship with the West. I am humbled and honored.

Dorothy Atabong plays the role of Lydia, a Kenyan writer who makes her first trip to the West in in Glo by Christina Anderson, directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo. You can check out her website here.

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~ by volcanotheatre on May 12, 2010.

One Response to “Living in the West – telling African stories”

  1. whoa whoa, doro you can write oh. anyway you brother googled your name this morning and found your article, very impressed. in limbe at my pharmacy this morning, hope all is well with you say hello to moyo. augus

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