Nu Ikons Production are pleased to announce the latest chapter in their “Voices of Black Folk” series-“Black Voices in Britain Before The Windrush.”
Whereas there has been much focus on The Windrush in the past year, and that influx of Afrcian Caribbean people coming into Britain, one might get the impression that this was somehow the introduction of black people en masse into these islands.
However the missing pages of British history- that which is never taught in schools or academia- presents a whole different narrative. The truth is that African people have always been present in these islands, and there is a rich body of scholarly work to substantiate this, though conveniently ignored by mainstream education.
This production written and directed by Khareem Jamal-one of the creators of Black Heroes in The Hall of Fame-uses drama to shed light on some of the characters that are missing from the annals of British history.
Black Voices in Britain focuses on three main characters, and Jamal gives us a peek into the fascinating lives of Septimius Severus, Queen Philippa of Hainault and Ottobah Coguano.
Mico Simonde plays Septimius Severus, who although Emperor of Rome in 193 AD, spent much of his time based in England, in Eboracum or York as we now know it, where he actually dies in 211 AD.
His presence here in Britain-much of it fighting the Picts and Scots in Caledonia-alongside thousands of other Africans in the Roman legions, is one example of the early black presence here in Britain.
Oftentimes it is not the name of the individuals which are missing from history but their true identity, such is the case with Queen Philippa of Hainault, the second of the characters, played by Misie Goode.
Who having endured a medieval vetting process, in which she is given the “once over” by Bishop Stapledon, the trusted aide of King Edward II, she becomes the wife and consort of the future Edward III, they were married in the city of York in 1328.
Interestingly in that vetting process the Bishop ends his report by describing Philippa as being “brown of skin all over, much like her father, and in all things she is pleasant enough, as seems to us.” Philippa is said to descend on her mother’s side from Mara Takla Haymanot, the Negusa Negast (King of Kings) of Abbysinnia.
She gave birth to 14 children and was much loved by the English people for her sense of justice and kindly disposition, Queens College Oxford was founded under her direction.
The third character is Ottobah Cogunao who was born in 1787 in Ghana from whence he was kidnapped at age 13 and taken to the Caribbean island of Grenada. Once there he was bought and enslaved on a plantation for almost a year before being purchased by an English merchant and brought to England, there he was given his freedom and baptized in the name of John Stuart.
In time Coguano became one of the leaders of London’s long established black community, he was one of the first identifiable Afro-Britons engaged in the fight against slavery, working closely with Granville Sharp and Olaudah Equiano in the pursuit of abolition. Coguano was uncompromising in his rhetoric and once called William Wilberforce a hypocrite for refusing to support the campaign to end slavery in the British Empire.
Voices Of Black Folk is on at the Theatre Peckham from 2nd May until the 5th May, this is a show for all the family, an experience entertaining and educational, not to be missed.