Moj of the Antarctic, the production brought to Maitisong by the British Council last Thursday and Friday, is not simply a story about slavery; it also speaks on climate damage.
“The western world must have something to burn,” Mojisola Adebayo, the play’s writer and the sole performer says. And slavery was an aspect that fuelled this need.
Cotton was to be picked by uncompensated men and women held against their will for gallant dresses to be won, just as a baby in the oil rich Niger Delta is choked by methane gas, for the production of petrol to have a BMW driven about shown off on the streets of Gaborone.
Mojisola, who is also a director and teacher, crafted the story based on a real story about Ellen Craft, one of the most famous escapee slave women who bore a striking resemblance to her father, the owner of her slave mother.
Ellen cross-dressed as a white man in 1848, while her husband posed as her slave. Her story was well publicized by slavery abolitionists.
Mojisola’s character, Moj, works in her master’s house, her master also fathered her, she reads his collection of books yet is fearful of being caught since reading and writing by slaves was a dangerous and illegal act.
She eventually escapes, cross dressed as a white man, after her lover and teacher, May, is killed by her master after a poem Moj wrote for him is found. Reading the poem, being his crime.
Moj then escapes alone but her journey takes an interesting turn when she takes a similar route as Ellen Craft, who headed for England fearing that her freedom would be ended.
However, Moj heads for Antarctic still posing as a man on a whaling expedition. Whaling, Mojisola says, was hugely important in Britain’s industrial revolution, which was synonymous with slavery.
The by-products of whaling were corsets, umbrella ribs, hoops for women’s skirts and fishing rods made from whale bone, and the oil from blubber, and whale sperm made into oil for oil lambs, candles, soaps, perfumes.
Moj of the Antarctic is dedicated to the memory of Ellen Craft, who, ironically, after such a brave feat, had to sit in silence as her husband recounted the story of their escape because, as a black woman, finding a public voice was impossible.