After the 12th January earthquake left many Haitians homeless, UNESCO sponsored theatre performances in different camps to at least give the people a slight moment of solace and joy. This also aimed at relieving them the fears after they were left with nothing. Street theatre troupe Zhovie first performed on 11th April. This date, the first performance of the play “Zonbi Lage” was staged in a camp in the Haiti capital in front of several thousands audience.
This play was the first event of its kind to be staged in a temporary camp in Haiti since the quake struck. It was revisiting the great myths of Haitian culture and special reference was given to Voodoo. There were several songs collected from the traditional repertory which tended to inspire the crowd to sing along with the performers. This day, the performance was at the Acra camp which had more than 20,000 displaced people. These are people who were in makeshift shacks and tents along Delmas Avenue.
This is the main thoroughfare of Port-au-Prince (UNESCOPRESS 1). Jean Joseph who was one of the players in the Zhovie troupe and also teaches philosophy in one of the senior high schools in Port-au-Prince explained that the major purpose for the theatre production was provision of therapeutic experience for those displaced by the quake on the 12th January 2010. Jean Joseph explained that in order for people to help those who survived the quake, they need not only to provide them with food. There was need to take into consideration their mental health as well.
Actually, he meant that physical health alone was not enough for them but they also needed to be assisted mentally. The theatre performances were aimed at helping the desperate, depressed Haitian survivors so that in the long run their hopes may be revived. Amateur thespian explained that it was good to give the survivors some good laugh, a positive memory and this was going to nourish them for several months. Zhovie is a street theatre that was founded in 2004 and today has three percussionists and fourteen players.
Its theatrical performance “Zonbi Lage” tries to evoke the earthquake via texts composed by Franketienne, an author and a UNESCO Artist for peace. The characters on stage included Voodoo divinity of the dead, Baron Samedi and Zombie who is a living-dead slave. This play was thus “psychosocial”, cathartic and therapeutic. It was taking into account the displaced people’s link to the collective. Psychosocial support was meant to help in healing and relieving the psychological wounds caused by the dangerous disaster.
From my experience this attempt was worthwhile since apart from material support that is essential, culture and art may also be used to help the displaced Haitians heal and even overcome the trauma they went through. Such a performance was worthwhile since it was going to restore some sense of normality in spite of the major difficulties they were going through in their temporary camps. I tend to concur with UNESCO which states that culture and art helps bolster social cohesion and to lend moral support to the earthquake victims.
Culture among all others helps to confer upon people a very strong sense of belonging and identity. This makes it easier for displaced individuals to cope effectively under the difficult circumstances. One of the distinguished guests who attended included United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro who asserted that the displaced people also needed “food for the soul”. This shows what the intent of the theatrical performance was. Intentions were achieved since one of the main aims of the performance was to make it public that the displaced people were in need of care.
By making it public, the international community was going to see the need to send its assistance to the people. One example that we can use to show that the attention of those in camps was captured even via the performances was the comment by the president Rene Preval that the international community was also engaged. The president was with Deputy Secretary-General of UN Asha-Rose Migiro when he stated that since the international community was fully involved, what was required was for the Haitians to have a follow up to make the efforts a reality.
Several funds were donated by the international community. As a result the parliament signed the emergency Act into law thus creating a constitution that would manage the donations (Unmultimedia. org 1). There were many camps in Haiti for those displaced by the January quake. The performance of the group which was reliant on the culture and traditional art of the population was phenomenal. This is something essential is communicating with the displaced persons as this was reminding them of their heritage.
Due to the use of traditional songs of the population, most of the displaced people during the performance were encouraged to join in and sing. Due to its collections of songs and other cultural performances, the theatre group was in high demand and even the UNESCO was making arrangements to sponsor several performances in other camps for displaced people as well. As people strive to assist the displaced Haitians, it is good for them to remember the culture of those they intend to communicate with.
Delivering a message to a group of people who are in difficult circumstances calls for the communicator to use the cultural aspect so that the message is effectively passed. If the theatre troupe decided to use some other methods to encourage the displaced population, most of them would not have seen the purpose of it. It could not have given them the needed psychological healing as in such conditions they not only require physical healing in terms of material possessions but also require collective healing. There was need to provide them with mental healing as well.
Thus my opinion is that the performance of the group was appealing to me just like it did to the displaced Haitians. I share the same opinion with the Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova who stated while she was on her official visit that people’s culture must go together with the humanitarian aid (UNESCO 1). This was supposed to be present in the strategies of reconstructing Haiti as development and culture are so closely linked. I thus like the idea of the group incorporating Haitian culture in the performances. This was sentimental.
Even though the play by the theatre troupe was encouraging the displaced people to sing along with them in the collection of the traditional songs they had, this play was not engaging them properly. It could have been better if the population was involved much more than the play did. The major target should have been the younger generation in whatever was happening in the performances as these are people who were going to represent the country in different fields in future. By engaging them more, their hopes could have been even more rejuvenated.
The collection of costumes was reflecting the culture of the Haitians. They were Wearing Zombie costumes with contrasting colors that could scare the living daylights out of the living displaced crowds. Dressed in a fashion dedicated to Vodou, they were inviting a unique fashion of the past and nature-based religious traditions of the population. This is a religion followed by the Haitians which was used to provide them with self-identity and some excellent way to offer support to each other.
The scary side of it is that it reflects the life difficulties in Haiti. The percussionists did a great job with their instruments. They also had to be in the Zombie costumes but of different colors. Some players on stage were in shorts which had bloody colorations and other contrasting ones. This was a good collection as it represented a great deal of the Haiti tradition. Works cited UNESCOPRESS, UNESCO organizes theatre performances for displaced people in Haiti, 2010.
Retrieved from http://www. unesco. org/new/en/media-services/single-view/news/unesco_organizes_theatre_performances_for_displaced_people_in_haiti/browse/4/back/9597/ UNESCO, Culture must be an integral part of reconstruction, says Director-General after Haiti visit, 2010. Retrieved from http://www. culturelink. or. kr/ASP/Board/View. asp? IDX=576&BoardCode=9 Unmultimedia. org, HAITI / MIGIRO ARRIVAL, 2010. Retrieved from http://www. unmultimedia. org/tv/unifeed/d/14975. html