SOAS University of London

Africa Section, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Surviving (with) Theatre: A Brief History of Cultural Troupes in the Eritrean War of Independence (ELF and EPLF)

Dr Christine Matzke (University of Bayreuth)

Date: 21 February 2014Time: 1:30 PM

Finishes: 21 February 2014Time: 3:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B111

Type of Event: Lecture


During the Eritrean war of independence against Ethiopia (1961-1991), culture played a prominent role as a means of creative self-definition, but also as a medium of entertainment, education and socio-political control. In this lecture, I will trace the history of performance culture in both liberation movements – the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) – starting with the much-neglected cultural troupes of the ELF, and continuing with selected aspects of EPLF performance culture, largely after the Strategic Retreat in 1978.
While I will enquire into the ‘functions’ of performance in relation to mechanisms for survival, I will also examine the dangers coming from theatre practice itself. These include actors being shot on stage by fans or attacked off stage by outraged spectators; audience members fainting or fleeing after taking performances ‘for real’; or the hazard coming from substances artists had to work with for lack of appropriate materials. Survival (with) theatre also included the necessity to instantly switch from costume making to sewing gas masks. Life was immensely hazardous in the liberation war and did not allow for a sharp distinction between culture, creativity and combat.


Dr. Matzke joined the University of Bayreuth in spring 2011. She taught literature and theatre in the Department of New Literatures in English at Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main (2001-2003) and the African Studies Department, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (2003-2010). She studied at Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main and Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, and holds degrees from the University of Leeds. She is a member of the editorial board of Matatu: Journal for African Literature and Culture ( Together with Anja Oed, she co-convened the 9th Janheinz-Jahn Symposium, ‘“Beyond ‘Murder by Magic”: Investigating African Crime Fiction’, at Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz in 2008. She has researched and published extensively on Eritrean theatre. Her research and teaching interests include African theatre and performing arts (with a focus on the Horn of Africa, particularly Eritrea), British Drama since 1890, Anglophone African literature, popular literature (esp. crime fiction), women’s writing, concepts of diaspora, and historiography.

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