Derik Uya Alfred, Co-director of the play Cymbeline, performed by the South Sudan Theatre Company at the Globe to Globe Festival. London, May 3rd 2012.
© Interview by Steve Rowland – First Publication – February, 2014, The Shakespeare Central Times, Excerpted
Rowland: What are the specific things in the story that are easily translated and understood by people in South Sudan?
Alfred: Well you know Cymbeline as a text and as a play got that similarity with our history and our experience, that’s how Sudanese — we have been in war for quite a long time between the south and the north and that war brought about pains, killings, you know a lot of misfortunes and so on. But at the end that war which continues over long years ended up with genuine peace which is the CPA that is the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which was signed in 2005 between the north and then the south, SPLM and in the south and then the government of Sudan in the north. So if you look into the play you see that there was war between Rome and then England, Britain and then this two, the Rome wanted Britain to pay tribute which England refused at the beginning and said no, we will not. So there is that linkage in the history of two people getting into war and then they end up with the peace and then every country now have its own sovereignty and a recognizable state, then they’re not under. So you look into the play you find that — and then there is the act of reconciliation when with that fight that you see Cymbeline reconcile everybody, said Caius you are the representative of Rome, okay I’m not against you, I’m not going to kill you but I’m going to release you and we even we can pay the tribute, not because we overcome you, we conquered you but we will pay as you know, it’s a good heart. So that act of reconciliation of you know having mercy on the people is what happened in our history in South Sudan. Until this moment, there is a lot of reconciliation, you know practices going on between tribes to tribes, people they have done wrong to each other, they’re reconciling because there is a new peace, there is a new era coming on. So that is one of the things that I think that was genuine in the Cymbeline that we found and we felt that it was speaking to us more than anybody else in South Sudan.
Rowland I think that idea of forgiveness and making peace is important can you talk a little bit more about that, the theme.
Alfred: Yeah that was a strong theme because war is not such a very good thing. In war people die, there is a lot of loss in the material and human beings and so on. And to make peace is actually you are sustaining life because life is a very valuable thing, its not be destroyed by any means. So the act of peace is actually a very strong thing and we people who have gone through war, we know what war is, it’s a very bad thing, it’s a lot of bad things happening in the psych of the people, in the minds of the people and the surrounding zone. So when they make this, they’re actually making it out of the heart that we don’t want to go back to war again and I think one of the theme, the play ended by Cymbeline you know saying, why don’t we now go all of us to temple, to the Jupiter Temple and we ask the gods you know to reconcile us, to accept our prayers and then we’re going to like, go do a ceremony that, and we say a lot of things that we burn it so that all the smokes go to the nose of the gods, you see these kinds of things? That no peace has ever been signed like this which has stopped the war for ever, in that sense.
So people who actually go into peace, they’re saying that from the hearts, that whatever things that we did in the past to each other, killing and hatred, let this stop and now let’s be friends and people shake hands as a sign of peace, as a sign of agreement, as a sign promise, they promise themselves not to go back to war again. So that is a very strong moment. So peace is all about civilization, without this I don’t think there is anything left in the world, people die, anything will die, the whole nation of ethics, all these things will die. But if we have peace, then we’re sustaining the humanity, new ideas, development will come around and so on, yeah.
Rowland: When you have a new country and a country which has many different citizens, different tribes, different groups, there is a question of trying to create a national identity. I know that English has been controversial there, speaking of English, studying of English Shakespeare, how do you decide, it’s sort of a complicated question but how do you decide how much emphasis to put on world culture that like include Shakespeare and just on national culture. And also is there a sense of Shakespeare can be healing because it’s not identifying with any one group in the country if you understand what I’m saying.
Alfred: Yeah I understand I think. Yeah I think to create a national identity is not an easy thing, it’s a process actually, it’s a process that goes from generation to generation. Then At the end we have the shape of what we want to be. But then the most important thing we should ask ourselves is, who are we and in the process of defining who are we, we will find it one day. So who are we, we should bring all the people in to define that, who are we and who we want and how to achieve it. So that is a process that will take all the people elements of the culture, all the elements of the culture on board so that at the end of the day you belong to all the sides because in that process you should not exclude somebody and this was the experience that we had with the North Sudan, that when we talk about Sudan, South Sudan is excluded.
If you’re talking about Sudan, you’re talking about Arabism, you’re talking about Islam and so on and other people are not part of that. But that experience is what we don’t want to bring on board in South Sudan. We want to feel that all of us, the sixty something tribes are given equal chance to express themselves, we want to know ourselves because of the war because of the under development it was not possible for South Sudanese to know themselves through the process whether its media, through the cultural festival and all these things, we will know ourselves and then we will start to appreciate the whole, the heritage that we have and try to celebrate that heritage. That’s it.
We should also want to enjoy the human contribution to the world and Shakespeare is somebody who is overwhelmingly international universal that you cannot as you talk about theater you will not read about Shakespeare’s stage’s summons some of his, plays and so on. And it is good that now we know that you can translate Shakespeare into your own language, into your own vernacular and do it to the people. So that will be again, you will, for instance staging on the Globe here was a new experience for us and with all the ceremonies that was done yesterday, with the all the ethics that are in place and so on. So there are things that you cannot exclude from formation of yourself as a country. So we think that we will base, we want to know ourselves as South Sudanese and at the same time we want to also know what is happening in the other world, so and I think Shakespeare and England is a reference to theater that you cannot denounce, you cannot shy away from. So it could also be bought as a part of formation of the country and giving people chance to know themselves and to know one of the stories. And one element that one of our friends said that was if it was not Shakespeare who wrote these thing, you know, like 600 years ago, people will accuse you that you’re like, you’re criticizing the government and so on and there is a lot of political criticism within the text. So you can see how powerful other culture can give you the power to say something that maybe you cannot say alone and you’re afraid that something will happen to you. So I think Shakespeare is a wonderful thing.