‘≠Aoni //Aes’, a Topnaar tale, takes the stage

Hazel Hinda, Chantell /Uiras (Diolini), and Dawie Engelbrecht star in ≠Aoni //Aes. Photo: Opas Isamurai Onucheyo

‘≠Aoni //Aes’, a theatre production concerned with the ≠Aonin (Topnaar) people’s contemporary dispossession and historic connection to the ocean is set to show at Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Utuseb from 12 June before its run in Windhoek from 21 June.

Written and directed by Nelago Shilongoh and starring Hazel Hinda, Chantell /Uiras (Diolini) and Dawie Engelbrecht, the theatre productions are free to attend and explore the rich oceanic heritage and present day struggles of the ≠Aonin people of Namibia.

During the colonial and contemporary eras, the ≠Aonin people were forced to leave their coastal homes and were denied access to vital ocean resources.

The community currently lives in a number of settlements along the lower valley of the !Khuiseb River and in urban areas at the coast.

“We cannot let the ≠Aonin community suffer any longer without their rightful benefits,” says acting chief of the ≠Aonin Traditional Authority, Stoffel Anamab, in a media release.

“We hope this play will raise awareness and empower us to fight for justice and regain what is rightfully ours. Let’s stand together and make a difference!”

To tell the story of the ≠Aonin people, Shilongoh employs a family structure.

The parents, played by Hinda and Engelbrecht, relay the history, heritage and resilience of the ≠Aonin people to Khoendikhoes (/Uiras), their highly attuned daughter, as they journey together through time.

‘≠AONI //Aes’ will be performed in English, Khoekhoegowab and Afrikaans.

Presented by the National Theatre of Namibia in partnership with the University of Namibia (Unam), the multidisciplinary research project and co-production is funded by One Ocean Hub.

“The artistic approach engages stakeholders to revive spiritual and cultural connections to the ocean through art, storytelling and theatre,” says One Ocean Hub Namibia country director Alex Kanyimba in a media release.

“This methodology can assist One Ocean Hub Namibia in reaching diverse policymakers and integrating marginalised voices into policy and ocean governance spaces.”

‘≠AONI //Aes’ is the result of a highly collaborative theatre-making process and is based on actual testimonies and living memories of the ≠Aonin people gathered through research, interviews and consultations with the community.

The final production also drew on the knowledge, literature and expertise of theatre artists, a team of Unam researchers as well as collaborators with legal, cultural and anthropological proficiency.

“This is a story that will touch many Namibians, as it echoes much of our shared experience of displacement and inaccessibility,” says Shilongoh.

“At the same time, it is also a celebratory gathering, reminding us of the rich ecological and cultural backgrounds we come from. We invite Namibians from different walks of life to witness and reflect on this story,” she says.

‘≠AONI //Aes’ will be performed at various venues in the Erongo and Khomas regions.

Audiences are invited to Walvis Bay Town Hall and Narraville Community Hall at Walvis Bay on 12 June, Coastal High School Hall at Swakopmund on 13 June and to Utuseb on 14 June.

Windhoek audiences can attend performances at the Katutura Community Hall on 21 June and at the National Theatre of Namibia on 19 and 20 July.

The performances are free to attend and each showing will be followed by a reflection session.

Follow the National Theatre of Namibia on social media or visit ntn.org.na for more information.

– martha@namibian.com.na; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram; marthamukaiwa.com

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