The Eyes of Marege

Telling the extraordinary story of a young indigenous man's journey to Makassar at the turn of the 20th century, artists from Sulawesi's most dynamic contemporary theatre company, Teater Kita Makasaar and some of Australia's leading Indigenous performers, including Djakapurra Munyarryun (Bangarra Dance Theatre) collaborated with APE to celebrate the history of trade between the people of Northeast Arnhem Land and the Makassan fishermen of Sulawesi. Shortlisted for the prestigious Patrick White Award, The Eyes of Marege by Julie Janson draws on the tradition of cultural exchange that goes back hundreds of years, fusing text, traditional dance, ritual and the haunting songs of the sea in a powerful contemporary theatre work. The Eyes of Marege opened the inaugural OZAsia Festival at the Adelaide Festival in September 2007, followed by a sold out season at the Studio at Sydney Opera House.

The Eyes of Marege, is a love story between cultures and across oceans. It tells of an incident in the 1905 when a Makassan fisherman steals an Aboriginal sacred dillybag while trading on an island in the Arafura Sea. In the ensuing fight, a proud young Aboriginal Yolgnu man, Birramen kills the fisherman. Birramen’s close Makassan friend and brother-in-law, Ahmad saves his life on condition that he sails to Makassar to be tried in a Makassan court. Ahmad’s brave young Yolgnu wife, Dhalawal laments his departure. The Makassan fisherman voyage back to Sulawesi, rejoicing in returning to their families and homeland. Birramen likewise finds himself mesmerised by the sights, sounds and culture of Makassar. After 5 years imprisonment, Birramen voyages home, “dressed like a sultan in woven sarong and silver bangle” and profoundly enriched by his experience of the Islamic music, culture and peoples of this vibrant sea-faring city.

In October 2003, writer Julie Janson and Sally Sussman travelled for their first meeting and workshops with Teater Kita Makassar. In August/September 2007, the artists came together in Sydney to create the piece, building on the striking visual, symbolic and physical performance style of Teater Kita Makassar and the evocative voice, drum and strummed music of Islamic southern Sulawesi. As a traditional Yolgnu songman and dance man Djakapurra was able to draw from a vast repertoire of specific songs and dances telling the story of  the Makassan-Indigenous relationship which had been going on for over 400 years and never seen before out of traditional ceremonial context.

Project details
Premiered Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre as part of OZASia Festival 2007. Season at Sydney Opera House October 2007.

Writer: Julie Janson
Co-Director: Sally Sussman
Co-Director/Performer: Asia Ramli Prapanca
Musical Director/Musician Arifin Manggau
Assistant Musical Director/Musician: Solihing Bin Dorahing
Set Designer: Ishakim Rumu
Choreographer: Bernadette Walong
Lighting Designer/Production Manager: Simon Wise
Costumes: Ishakim Rumu/Julie Janson
Cultural Consultant/Dancer: Djakapurra Munyarryun
Dancer: Aaron Nalkuma Burarrwanga
Musician( Didgeridoo): Leon Wanambi
Performer Birramen Rod Smith
Performer Dhalawal Lisa Flanagan
Performer Ahmad Muhamad Ishaq
Performer Nud/Makassan Soldier/Fisherman/Court Official Hamrin Samad
Musician: Efendi Jaenudun
Project/Tour Manager: Sam Hawker
Production Interpreter/Facilitator: Arif Hidayat

“A beautiful simplicity illuminates the complexities tackled by The Eyes of Marege in movement, music and words… The smoothness with which they mingle different cultures, languages and performance styles is remarkable and invigorating...”
Jill Sykes, Review in the Sydney Morning Herald