By Jarita Kassen, Milda Mojapelo, Caroline Petersen & Kate Southwood
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 4 of VARSITY News.
Womb of Fire, directed by Sara Matchett and written and performed by Rehane Abrahams, tells the moving and interweaving story of three womxn in history. Once forgotten, but now brought to life in this play. Rehane Abrahams acts as all three womxn, connecting them to contemporary womxn of South Africa and drawing parallels to the status of womxn over time.
Draupadi’s story comes from the Hindu scripture Mahabarata, in which she was forced to marry five brothers (Pandavas). Draupadi’s husband then lost her in a bet. Draupadi refused to leave, and with her dignity at stake was dragged to court by her hair. Katrijn was the first recorded female convict slave banished to the Dutch-occupied Cape of Good Hope, convicted only due to self-defence against a past lover’s non-consensual advances on her. Zara was a Khoikhoi slave whose dead body was violently put on trial and punished by the VOC for the crime of suicide.
The story is one of women’s experiences and roles during the start of the Cape Colony. The piece is a portrayal of the enormous strength of women that is underrated, but not able to be diminished. These women defied power in a space in which they were considered voiceless. They are a reflection of powerful women today who still endure a struggle to be recognised; women who are seen as incomplete for not being married, women who are called disrespectful for standing up to injustice. It mirrors the fire within a woman that can never be extinguished. A fire which keeps her going, even when the circumstances are not only unfair, but brutal.
Womb of Fire tapped into the pain and suffering endured by womxn through the telling of the stories of three womxn who were lost to history, womxn who were punished for being womxn and for not behaving like ‘good property’. However, within the pain, the strength of womxn was highlighted – womxn fight until the last breath, womxn fight from beyond the grave, and womxn fight when they had everything to lose. The play left me feeling raw and restless, like an exposed nerve. Yet, it also made me feel proud – proud of being a womxn, and proud of being able to share the strength of the figures in the play.
“Women are strong.”, “Women are rocks.” These are statements you’ll often hear about womxn. Do we ever ask why? Womb of Fire highlighted that, although womxn have rights and are “equal” members of society now; we still have to fight daily. Despite the well-known struggles womxn have overcome, we are still thought of only as mothers and as nurturers. The paradox is that society expects us to be ‘carers’ who tolerate so much, but at the same time, we must be fighters. We need to fight for recognition, for safety. Men on the other hand, are simply expected to be men. Trash, if you ask me.
These womxn’s stories were once lost, as majority of the narratives and histories of female slaves. There is something quite rebellious and powerful in telling the stories of women who were destined to be forgotten. The play speaks into the present as womxn’s bodies are still policed, used as sexual objects, and used as pawns by men. Somehow, despite obstacles and oppressors, us womxn of colour have managed to survive, and have claimed a space for our bodies and our voices. Now, more than ever, can we use this heritage of power; survival, strength, and defiance, to fight back and stand up. As Sara Matchett states, “We are no longer lamenting; we are roaring.”