Going into Women’s Month, I like to recall the “woman moments” in my life. Back when I was in primary school I made a rain stick inspired by the ones from the Aztec culture. Little did I know that ten years later I would be living in a country that has a legacy of Rain Queens. Growing up, there weren’t many all-powerful women characters that I looked up to, but here in South Africa there is Modjadji. Modjadji was the Rain Queen of the Balobedu people back in 1800. There is mysticism and magic around her legacy, but the theater production brings the Rain Queen’s legacy to life.
Carla Fonseca, 27, hails from Mozambique and South Africa. She is involved with a House music collective, called BATUK, as well as her moving work in theater. I learned about the production over dinner with TJ Ngoma, so it was destiny that I go to support the show.
Carla is both fascinated and obsessed by engaging with African stories that aren’t always told. More so the stories of African gods that aren’t recognized. Many African histories have been lost over the years; even more going unwritten and passed down only to those within ear shot.
Through theater, Carla and her Co-Director, Mandla Mbothwe, sought to make the story of Modjadji, the Balobedu Rain Queen, mainstream. The cast was comprised of Iman Isaacs, TJ Ngoma, Spoek Mathambo, Richard September, and Indalo Stofile. Each actor was given a skeleton of the script and from there the cast members were encouraged to contribute where they saw fit.
The play itself is performed in Afrikaans, English, and isiXhosa. Granted, as someone in the audience who only has full comprehension of English, making sense of each act was a challenge. However, there were most definitely two themes that stuck out the most: emergency and rape.
A metaphor in the mystique
I did not expect to leave the theater having ruined my eyeliner after crying through the second half of the play. This was not done by mistake, in fact Carla knew exactly what she was insinuating when she made use of Modjadji’s story and pairing it to a state of emergency and rape.
Literally speaking, the city of Cape Town is experiencing a water crisis. Thinking about a Rain Queen in times like these seems rational enough. For Carla’s abstract mind “[our bodies are] lacking nutrition, substance, marrow…our bones are dying.” She links the natural to the political when she goes on further to say that South Africa, and Africa as a whole, is experiencing a political and societal drought as well. Which leads viewers to the raw and guttural portrayals of rape in the play. Carla believes that it the artist’s responsibility to discuss current affairs, and South Africa’s rape crisis is one of them. “How many people have been raped in this conversation,” she muses as we sat down to chat before the show.
Destigmatization and dinner parties
For Carla, rape is something we don’t discuss over the dinner table, it’s too taboo. But at the same dinner tables there is a doctor, lawyer, or some other well respected individual who is capable of committing such heinous crimes. “Who do we ask for salvation, for help, for redemption, if we pray – as women – in a society where men are feared…do we look to a man?” Carla wanted to see a change in how we engage with subjects such as rape, but also religion. “I wanted to work with the power of a female god,” she says when describing why she chose Modjadji’s story of all tales.
Carla was clear with what she wanted for the audience to take away from the inclusion of rape in the show’s story line. “It’s healing…after the production, men and women have to deal with it…face it…talk.”
Photography by Rob Keith
Keep a look out for ‘MODJADJI’ in Johannesburg and Maputo, Mozambique!