Bamaga Productions will take the cultural lead on a new Indigenous theatre production that will bring to life an age-old Saibai Island children’s story and be told in the Torres Strait Island language of Kala Kawa Ya (KKY) as well as English. It is believed to be the first time a major mainstream theatre production has been scripted in KKY.

Biw a Githalay (aka The Crab and the Mangrove Tree) will have its world premiere at QPAC as part of Clancestry Festival in 2021. A proposed regional tour, which will include First Nations and Saibai communities, is also slated for 2021.

Biw a Githalay is a collaboration between Bamaga Productions (whose Managing Director Nancy Bamaga is a Saibai Island woman) and longest leading First Nations theatre company in Australia, ILBIJERRI, under the direction of ILBIJERRI Artistic Director, Rachael Maza.

It will feature a script co-created by Brown Cabs producer and director John Harvey (himself a Saibai/Torres Strait Islander man), and life-size puppets from internationally acclaimed puppet and special effects designer Joe Blanck of A Blanck Canvas.

Bamaga Productions Managing Director Nancy Bamaga said being able to share this much-loved ancestral story with wider audiences was ‘extremely meaningful’ for a community as remote as Saibai Island, and whose traditional language is under threat.

“Saibai Island is the northern-most island in the Torres Strait and since the 1940s our people have settled in many mainland regions, with the largest communities outside of Saibai now being in Brisbane, Bamaga and Cairns.

“One of the joys of this production is we are consulting with the Elders, aunties, mothers and grandmothers in the communities–people like Leonora Adidi in Bamaga and Aunty Marina Babia on Saibai Island–to bring their cultural knowledge to the script and staging. Our most-senior Elder Uncle Milton Walit has agreed to act as linguist to ensure the KKY language is correctly scripted and spoken.”

Ms Bamaga said the production will also source four young actors to make their stage debut and they will come from the four communities.

“This kind of production, which is created in community by community for community, will show how cultural traditions and language can be respectfully preserved and presented, and be an entertaining and exciting piece of children’s theatre,” she said.

Bamaga Productions was one of 16 artists and organisations awarded a funding grant under Arts Queensland’s First Nations Commissioning Fund. The grant will help finance a five-week pre-production and rehearsal block for Biw a Githalay next year.