One of the outstanding playwright and poet to emerge in Papua New Guinea is Nora Vagi Brash. She remains the foremost and the only Papua New Guinean female playwright. Nora was involved with acting in amateur theatre, radio plays, and street theatre in early 1970s.
|Melanesian writers: Regis Tove Stella (PNG), Nora Vagi Brash (PNG), |
Sam Alasia (Solomon Islands), USP Fiji campus, 1999.
Her exposure to the world of theatre in England inspired her to write her own plays on her return to Papua New Guinea. The National Arts School employed Nora as an assistant lecturer in puppetry, dance, and drama. She then moved on to become one of the two artistic directors with the National Theatre Company. Nora wrote her own scripts for the puppets using tradional stories of Papua New Guinea.
The National Theatre Company toured local villages and performed in the streets. They went to the Pacific Arts Festival in Rotorua and Wellington, New Zealand. They also danced in Point Venus in Tahiti and a small group went to the Black Arts Festival in Nigeria.
In 1978 Nora resigned from the National Theatre Company to take up studies for her BA degree at the University of Papua New Guinea. She maintained her interests in theatre and wrote several of plays. Nora joined the National Broadcasting Commission in 1980. She also became the deputy chairperson of the National Cultural Council and a member of the Board of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies.
Two of Nora’s plays that I admire so much and read many times are Taurama and Which Way Big Man? Both are important plays depicting the post-independence experiences of Papua New Guineans.
Taurama is based on an actual historical event that occurred in a Motuan society about five centuries ago. The cultural hero is Kevau Dagora, the only survivor of the terrible Taurama Massacre revenges on the Lakwaharus (Tubuserea) who caused the massacre. Kevau Dagora grows up in exile at Badihagwa, under the protection of an old couple. He is treated as an outsider, but through courage and the process of reconciliation gains confidence of the Motu people. He marries the daughter of the woman who caused the massacre. In a twist of fate he releases the haunting spirits of Taurama to establish peace among the Motu people through a marriage feast. The play gave Nora the opportunity to use oral history of her own people to tell a contemporary history unfolding in the postcolonial Papua New Guinea.
Nora Vagi Brash’s aim is to conserve the oral traditions of the Motuan society. The publication and performance of Taurama is a landmark in modern history of drama in Papua New Guinea. Through stage art and careful usage of written historical records and oral versions of the Taurama massacre, Nora reconstructed a local history of her society on stage.
The Taurama massacre in Motuan history remains important to its people. Nora assumes the traditional role of individual storyteller by telling the story of Taurama using the genre of drama. As a result of her western knowledge and her inheritance of the finest oratory skills learned from her traditional culture Nora has re-enacted the story of Taurama in a medium many people saw and appreciated. She is an artist with remarkable artistic skills, able to fuse two cultures—her own culture and the written Western culture to create a new perspective and vision of the society she inhabits as well.
Taurama epitomizes the art of retelling historical accounts in a new way. The play was intended at the time of its performance for the celebration of Papua New Guinea’s Ten Anniversary of Independence. The play was a success in many ways. It carried the message of peace, reconciliation, and unity among tribes and different groups of people in Papua New Guinea. Its performance was the highlight of the Independence week. Several performances were held. The play contributed in a significant way to the written culture of Papua New Guinea.
Nora Brash’s understanding of her society’s history and the dilemma it faces in the changing times of Papua New Guinea are transmitted through her plays. All her plays address a particular dilemma in contemporary Papua New Guinea. Nora Brash satirizes Papua New Guinea in her other plays, but in Taurama she veers from the hilarious, comical, and satirical tone.