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Hyarima, the miracle play, for south audiences

The trinidad Guardian / In FEM Hosein’s 1931 Author’s Apology to introduce the script of his play, Hyarima and the Saints, the then mayor of Arima shyly recalls the label of “poet” applied to him by Lady Hollis, wife of the colonial Governor Sir Alfred Claud Hollis.

It is a claim the playwright resists “without mock-modesty”, since, as he wrote, “I can say I am skilled neither in the art of versification nor the science of dogmatic theology.”

He does however confess to open, unrestrained candour: “I have written what I feel, and I hope that in so doing I have done no harm.” In the end, there is both poetry, lots of it, and a bold exploration of a sparsely documented period of the history of T&T.

The play, which recalls the battles of the legendary Nepuyo (Carib) chief, Hyarima – who stood defiantly against 17th Century Spanish colonisers – flows at the pace of Milton’s Paradise Lost with equal poetic intensity in recording the battle between good and evil.

The dramatic piece was at the time branded by colonial Trinidad’s Surgeon General Dr K S Wise as a “miracle play” – a dramatic genre reserved for the stories of saints.

Director, Victor Edwards, fully embraces the notion of Hyarima’s saintly status in presenting it to audiences at Naparima Girls High School from November 17 to 19.

It was first staged at Santa Rosa Park on August 26 in partnership with the Santa Rosa First Peoples’ Community of Arima and was the first professionally produced version of the play.

The 1931 preface by Hosein admits to no “pretensions to strict historical accuracy … since that history, it is true, was meagre. But it was the most that could be had … and from that little I feel that I am justified in placing Hyarima in the limelight.”

“That little revealed that he was altogether too big to be lost,” wrote Hosein, who was an Oxford educated lawyer, politician and mayor from 1929 to 1931.

The play looks at tales of Amerindian resistance to Spanish settlement and rule, including Hyarima’s legendary attack in St Joseph.

It opens with the arrival of Christopher Columbus and his crews to the south coast of Trinidad and moves quickly from the triumphant songs of the new arrivals to Hyarima’s poetic lament: “What evil hap is this which brings us all/Thus low to serve as menials to a foreign/King who lives across the ocean wide/And does not come to see and know his people!”

That Iere Theatre Productions has chosen student audiences for part of this installment of the production betrays a concern as much related to the preservation of dramatic historiography as it is with presenting a genre not readily evident on the local theatre stage.

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