Took Maji Maji War for Sabrina to know herself

A sombre scene preparing for hanging, in the contemporary stage performance “Maji Maji Flava”, at the National Museum and House of Culture in Dar es Salaam involves, from left Lisa Stepf, Jan S. Beyer, Isack Abeneko, Sabrina Ceesay and Shabani Mugado.


AT first when the Kassel-Germanybased actress, Sabrina Ceesay, agreed to join forces with Flinn Works’ Artistic Director Sophia Stepf, she had no real insight as to where it would lead her.

It was just guided by the feeling inside her, which wanted to be a part of this project simply because she is the product of a mixed race union and saw herself as being “half, half”. “My one half is German, which is my mother and the other half is Africa.

My father is from Gambia. I’d never been to Africa in my life before and something just pulled me towards it, compelling me to be part of it,” she openly explained to ‘Woman Magazine’ recently, when in the country, as one of seven professionals involved with the “Maji Maji Flava” contemporary stage performance.

The fact that Sabrina knew nothing about the Maji Maji War, at this stage, which she acknowledges as part of her history, made her feel ashamed and angry that they were not taught in school. All her life she had lived in Kassel, a small city in the centre of Germany, about 70 minutes train ride from Frankfurt, where she now works fulltime for the State Theatre.

“It was kind of maybe, a personal thing. I just felt like I had to do it because I will learn so much about Maji Maji, the people here in Tanzania and about myself, because I’m in between those two worlds. I’m connecting the German and African part, although I’m not from Tanzania but it doesn’t matter, I’m African.” she said.

Taking this duel existence a stage further, Sabrina referred to herself as being the link between the two sides, and boasts having a unique understanding of them. Most people she comes in contact with in German take her as coming from there when she talks, however, if they see her first without hearing her, they usually think she’s from another country.

During the conversation she also talked about the initial attraction of being in Africa for some time, although she would be working with people, who do not necessarily have a background in theatre that she has never meet, much less worked with before. However, she was amongst those who volunteered and the only one chosen from the State Theatre.

Now together with her four German associates – Sophia, Jan S. Beyer, Konradin Kunze and Lisa Stepf (Sophia’s younger sister), Sabrina stayed there in Kassel working together and six months later the five of them came here to Dar es Salaam. Here they joined-up with the two local members - Isack Abeneko and Shabani Mugado - of the cast, with the task of simply getting to know each other and come-up with a stage production based on the Maji Maji War.

“In the summer last year we came here again, rehearsed in Bagamoyo then had four weeks in Germany, before the play was premiered there in Kassel, followed by performances in Berlin and now we’re here in Tanzania, to bring it here,” she said just after their first performance, last month at the Bagamoyo College of Arts (TaSUBa).

This performance was followed with another last Wednesday at the Dar es Salaam International Academy (DIA) and the National Museum and House of Culture the following morning for students. Their last performance was on Friday, as the performing act in that month’s Museum Art Explosion (MAE). Then Sabrina returned home to Kassel on Sunday.

When she came to Africa for the first time, she now says, it was like finding a piece of a puzzle that could have never pulled-out without being here. She had to be here to see and accept that she’s also half African. In German general environment she says she was always trimmed to be “very German”.

When not expected to be it is corrected. Now she knows her other side a lot better and sees it's fine to be this way. Not only did being involved with the play helped her to know more, it also made her more fully aware of herself, especially on African history.

It was while here in Tanzania on her first visit, early last year that she actually got the bigger picture of who she is and what she wants in her life. However, this was only visible when she returned to Germany.

“I disconnected negativity and certain kind of things, which I did not see while I was there in Germany because maybe there was fear. Now Africa gave me a lot of strength to make decisions,” she admitted.

Now it makes more sense why when Sophia was talking to ‘Woman Magazine’ she referred to Sabrina as being a “Black actress in a state subsidised theatre, who faces racism every day”. This brings to mind Sabrina’s connection to her personal conflict as being similar to Germany and Tanzania’s relationship in reflection to the Maji Maji War.

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