Bellywoman Bangarang

This play was written by The Sistren Theatre Collective of Jamaica. The introductory note on the play in the Contemporary Drama of the Caribbean explains that it was founded by working class women in Kingston and with assistance from a tutor from the Jamaican School of Drama. The objective as recorded in the introductory note was to:

analyse and comment on the role of women in Jamaican society through theatre, to organize ourselves into a self-reliant co-operative enerprise and to take drama to working class communities (77).

The Sistren Theatre Collective exhibits a distinctly feminist impulse as well as one dedicated to defying Gyatri Spivak’s theory that the subaltern cannot speak.  Here we see the most subaltern of them all: poor, third-world, inner-city, black, women giving voice to serious issues challenging Jamaican society and taking it to the “downpressed” people of Jamaica. But this was not without serious opposition by the powers that be as the actors were pelted with fruit and faced general resistance and aggression by males because of their frankness about the rampant reality of rape culture and the acknowledgement of homosexuality in Jamaica. This play, while being criticized as being “too expressionistic” is a brave and honest betrayal which no doubt embarassed the audience as it was fearless in its airing out of dirty linen. One important issue addressed was the internalized misogyny of many of young girls’ mothers who reperpetuate the dominance of men and force their daughters to abide by the misogynistic society they were born into. This sets up the vicious cycle of abject poverty in which most of inner-city women live: The mothers get pregnant young and have several children, do not encourage the daughters to find a way out of the ghetto and so the daughter winds up having several “pickneys” herself and the cycle continues.

One surprising critic of the plays were feminists from abroad. The introductory note says

Some feminists abroad lambasted it for remaining silent and not doing enough on issues of homphobia (80)

Here we see the differences in first-wold and post-colonial feminism which is an area that I am personally very interested in. The fact of the matter is that as feminists around the world have different issues which concern them, there will be discrepancies in an ideology of feminism which seeks to cloak and stand for the rights of all women and advances ideas of intersectionality. In the 1970’s, while first world feminists were gaining ground in America in rights of sexual liberty and birth control etc, the objectives of post-colonial feminists were very different. This play for example places greater emphasis on rape, domestic abuse and what to do when there is no birth control used and the girl is already pregnant. What then? There are also institutionalized issues of class prejudice and race which are very serious concerns in post-colonial societies. In the midst of this very gynocentric work, adequate attention to the issue of homosexuality (in any case the Jamaican audiences already thought it was too “anti-man”) may not have been put to the fore in a way that first world feminists would have liked. But quite frankly the play was not put on for them. It was described by a member a the target group, a young black female who said she liked the play because “what me get from di play is dat dem a sey we woman musn’t be licky licky. An a dat me like.”

Therefore it can be said that the Sistren Theatre Collective achieved their objective in reaching the core group of arguably the most oppressed group of the world: third world, poor, uneducated, black, women.

Works Cited

Sistren Theatre Collective. Contemporary Drama of the Caribbean. Ed. Erika J Waters and David Edgecombe. St. Croix: The Caribbean Writer, 2001. 77-131. Print.

Waters, Erika and David Edgecombe. Contemporary Drama of the Caribbean. Ed. Erika J Waters and David Edgecombe. St. Croix: The Caribbean Writer, 2001. Print.

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