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THEATER OF THE OPPRESSED AS A RHIZOME
Acting for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Today
By Mariana Leal Ferreira and Dominique Devine (SFSU)
The spread of Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed across the Americas and the
IronHawk on Death Row
IronHawk, an Apache warrior now on death row for 33 years, embarks on a spiritual journey at the moment of his botched execution at a maximum security prison in Oklahoma, in the Summer of 2008. The play examines the continuing Genocide of American Indians on death row in the U.S, highlighting the Geneva Convention's ban on the execution of Prisoners of War or P.O.Ws. The play is based on my experience teaching anthropology to American Indians on death row at a maximum security institution in Nashville, Tennessee, through the Long-Distance Education Program at the University of Tennessee (1999-2002).
May Your Body Lay Naked on Mother Earth
For almost 50 years, Pekwan and Wotek have been in love. Their deep, spiritual affection spans cultural and geographic borders, and the physical and political confinement of their dark, cold, and polluted 12 by 35-inch prison cells. Pekwan’s and Wotek’s bodies are crammed into cardboard boxes in a bio-archaeology lab, stacked up amongst thousands of brothers and sisters dug up from mass graves in northern California. The couple first met in 1959, when their spirits touched base in a damp, murky basement of a major U.S. University. “For all our relations!” screams Pekwan, as scientists pour her remains from a cotton bag onto an icy steel table, poking at bullet holes in her skull. “For the seven generations!” shouts Wotek, as researchers drill a hole through his left thigh in search of fresh DNA. Since their Indian marriage in the 1960s, Pekwan and Wotek have worked day and night to protect the human and animal rights of their two and four-legged relatives. “Sing me the Song of the Stars!” cries Pekwan, protesting her ancestors’ recent transformation into research data. “Weave me a garment of brightness!” replies Wotek, when the United Nations finally ratifies the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September, 2007. “We have made a footprint, we live in the light of day!” sing Pekwan, Wotek, and thousands of American Indian community members, commemorating their final repatriation and due respect for the right to proper burial of victims of Genocide in the United States.
Yurok fisherwoman Mollie Ruud envisions her body as a slot machine that pops pills like coins in order to regain control of her social and emotional health. Born in the 1920s on the Yurok Indian Reservation in northern California, Mollie’s dilemma is whether to allow the billionaire casino and pharmaceutical industries to conspire and take control of American Indians’ soul and conduct in the 21st century. From behind a redwood tree where she was conceived, Mollie emerges in her traditional Yurok regalia singing shell songs of political liberation and emotional freedom, spitting out pills and coins originally used to devastate indigenous genotypes. Radical Theater is used as a powerful practice to change perceptions and actions of broad audiences and communities who still view American Indians as inherently at risk for diabetes, drug, and gambling addictions.
The Madness of Hunger
Antonio da Silva, a seven-year-old smart little nordestino, offers his body in sacrifice to forestall once and for all the madness of hunger in Alto do Cruzeiro, northeastern Brazil. Antonio considers himself “a lucky boy” and says he is “glad to be alive,” despite his bare-bone and ill health. He fears, however, for the fate of his younger twin sisters, on the brink of starvation, and for the sanity of mother Madalena, who suffers from chronic nervos. There is never enough food in the house for the children, who are constantly crying, driving Madalena crazy. One day Maria shares her last two Valium pills with her sister Madalena so that the woman can make the decision no mother can dream of: Which one of her three kids should she let go of this time? Should it be Maria Antonia or cross-eyed Carolina? Antonio, she ponders, is already too old to be an angel. When Antonio overhears the conversation between his mother and aunt Sofia, the boy decides to carry out his plan: to offer his own body, like Jesus did, to end the sacrifice of others. What ensues is a battle between life and death, between love and desire, and between justice and fate.
One-Act TO Plays, ANTH 300 Fall 2010–M. Ferreira
For the past four years, anthropology students in the Foundations of Anthropological History Class (ANTH 300), under the leadership of Prof. Mariana Ferreira and Theater of the Oppressed Director Jiwon Chung, have presented one-act plays as their final projects, using various social and anthropological theories to address contemporary social issues. In Fall 2010, nine groups of students wrote and performed their ten-minute plays on December 14, 2010.
At the end of all nine presentations, the students voted to forum one of the plays, "Surrogacy: That's So Gay." Forum Theater is a part of the Theater of the Oppressed arsenal of techniques invented by Augusto Boal "to transform the spectator into the protagonist of the theatrical action and by this transformation, try to change society rather than contenting ourselves with merely interpreting it" (Boal 1992, p. 253, Games for Actors and Non-Actors). While the student-actors were performing "Surrogacy…" again, student spect-actors in the audience shouted STOP, stepped into the scene and replaced one of the characters in the play (in this case the surrogate mother-to-be or one of the gay fathers) in order to change the course of action and suggest a different outcome for the oppressive situation being represented.
Theater of the Oppressed as a movement is a powerful form of popular education that can be easily adapted to any classroom situation or topic to enhance student learning and engage them into social action. Here are the titles, brief descriptions and photos of the plays written and performed by Anthropology 300 students in December 2010:
The Ultimate Citizen