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Wednesday, August 13, 2008


The most telling - and compelling - line of a man's body is that place where his neck joins his shoulder. From which the head extends, retracts, responds. It can be beautiful in its cleanness and purpose. Its strength and flexibility, its balance and alignment. It can disturb in its distortion and strain, its rigidity or collapse.

I like to think that if I could see that line in its entirety, if I could enter the living braid of muscles beneath - trapezius, levator scapulae, sterno-cleido-mastoid - it would tell me everything about a man. Where he intersects with his reality. How he meets, receives, and inserts himself into the world.

Opening lines of Bwagamoyo (The Father): Part II of Migritude, An Epic Journey In Four Movements

I coined the word Migritude as a play on Negritude and Migrant Attitude. It asserts the dignity of outsider status. Migritude celebrates and revalorizes immigrant/diasporic culture. It captures the unique political and cultural space occupied by migrants who refuse to choose between identities of origin and identities of assimilation, who channel difference as a source of power rather than conceal or erase it.

The four works that make up the Migritude Cycle draw on my spiritual and cultural heritage, as a 3rd-generation East African of Indian Gujurati descent. Conceived as an Epic Journey In Four Movements, Migritude references the earliest religious teaching imparted to Hindu children: that of the First Four Gods. The Hindu child is taught that her first god is her Mother. The second god is her Father. The third god is her Teacher. The fourth god is The Guest.

Part I of the Migritude Cycle, When Saris Speak (The Mother), is a 90-minute spoken word theatre show. And now, a bilingual (Italian - English) book. It uses my trousseau of saris, passed down by my mother, to reveal how imperialism and colonialism, in India and Kenya, were - and continue to be - enacted on the bodies of women. It explores what diasporic daughters receive and reject from their mothers; delves into the relationship of migrants to the motherland, the mother tongue, the severing of those relationships and the forging of new transnational identities. Letters from my mother form an important part of the script, bridging the spaces between generations and continents.

Part II of the Migritude Cycle addresses the second archetype in the Four Gods theme: The Father.

This work will explore constructions of masculinity and race under colonialism. It will examine how the architecture of Empire is codified on the bodies of men: brown, black, and white. The context is the history of the Swahili coast, and the life of my father, who was born and raised under British colonial rule, on the island of Pemba, in the archipelago of Zanzibar.

The working title of the show is Bwagamoyo – drawn from two Swahili words: Bwaga – to dump, and Moyo – heart. Bwagamoyo was the original name given to two specific locations on the Swahili Coast: the town in Tanzania where slaves were brought from the inland and held for shipping, and a small island in the Zanzibar archipelago that was a holding prison for slaves. Both are now known as Bagamoyo. The original Bwagamoyo was a chilling admonition to the kidnapped human beings to literally dump their hearts, meaning their humanity, at these spots, since they would no longer use or need them once they left as slave cargo. Bwagamoyo is an equally apt metaphor for the socialization of boys into the kinds of manhood shaped by colonial power.

In this second 'movement' in the four-part journey of Migritude, I'm exploring new territories of form and language. It's being conceptualized and written as:

- a stage production,
- a text for publication, and
- a production for broadcast,

in order to have it reach larger audiences, and audiences underserved by live theatre and performing arts.

So, to return where I began, I check out men's necks these days. And I follow the small boy who skips through my brain, as he runs down a dirt road in Zanzibar at dawn, carrying empty milk cans. Stops to stuff himself on fallen mangoes - you've never tasted mangoes that juicy, and sweet. Each day, I try to carve out hours to drop down into the delicious, terrifying dance of fitting idea to image to word. The belly-fluttering pleasure of unrolling story, history, imagination, into something that lives and pulses.

Copyright Shailja Patel, 2008. All rights reserved. No part of this posting may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


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