Rami Chuene. Picture: Supplied
Rami Chuene. Picture: Supplied

Rami Chuene brings E’skia Mphahlele novel 'Father Come Home' to life

By Kedibone Modise Time of article published Feb 17, 2021

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During the month of love, a star-studded cast pays homage to literary giant E’skia Mphahlele at The Market Theatre, where “Father Come Home (Tate Etla Gae)” will be performed in Sepedi.

South African actress and author Rami Chuene is responsible for translating the production from English.

The production is directed by Clive Mathibe.

The show centres around Maredi, a village boy, who grows up without a father.

When his question, “when is tate (father) coming home?” is not answered to his satisfaction by his elders, Maredi’s restless soul leads him to venture into strange lands to find him.

Tau Maserumule. Picture: Thandile Zwelibanzi

The award-winning Chuene, who is also the author of “We Kissed The Sun And Embraced The Moon”, said she was honoured to be part of the team bringing Ntate Mphahlele’s nostalgic body of work to life.

Elaborating on her first interaction with Mphahlele’s works, Chuene recalls: “I remember when growing up my parents had some of his books at home and they would encourage us to read them, but the English there! Yerrr!

“I think I was too young but then again, those who follow and know his writing, they’d understand. It was only in high school where I started reading his books.”

On translating and reworking “Father Come Home” in Sepedi, she said: “I had to consider that Sepedi itself has a lot of dialects.

“Someone from Bolobedu would not speak like someone from Ga-Mphahlele or Ga-Sekhukhune. I had to use the most universal and common dialect that wouldn’t throw people off.”

The production tackles themes of identity, belonging and the idea of fatherhood.

Josias Moleele and Marcus Mabusela. Picture: Thandile Zwelibanzi

“The beauty in Ntate Es’kia writing is his ability to tackle many issues by exceptionally weaving them into the story,” she said.

"He deals with all you’ve mentioned and also colonisation, land removal act, mining, religion and how that impacted ancestral beliefs.

“Unfortunately, we had to choose a few elements for the production, otherwise, the production will be extremely long.

“But the story is beautifully told without compromise.”

Chuene says it took her just over a year to translate the book.

“Of course, I had other work but what took long was the reading and rereading of the book first just so I could understand the heart of Ntate Es’kia.

“It was a lot of back and forth, drafts and drafts and treating the book with the same sensitivity Ntate Es’kia treated it with,” she admitted.

“A lot of things said in English are not how we would say them in Sepedi. I still had to tell it like it was without diluting or changing the meaning,” Chuene said.

On why South Africans should catch this production, Chuene encouraged: “It is a brilliant piece of work that gives the audience a glimpse into who Professor Es’kia Mphahlele is.

“It is a moving story that tells a story of a young boy longing for his father and it’s in the richness of the language that seals the deal for me.”

Mphahlele was a South African writer, educationist, artist and activist celebrated as the “Father of African Humanism” and one of the founding figures of modern African literature.

He was the recipient of numerous international awards the Order of the Palm by the French government for his contribution to French Language and Culture.

In 1998, former president Nelson Mandela awarded Mphahlele the Order of the Southern Cross, then the highest recognition granted by the South African Government.

“Father Come Home (Tate Etla Gae)” runs from Friday, February 19 until Sunday, February 28 at The Market Theatre.

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