Adhi Dimple Bani was the eighth chief of the Wagadagam tribe on Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait. It’s an island that only a few hundred people call home.
Sadly, Dimple Bani passed away during the extended development process for My Name is Jimi, an 80-minute piece produced by Queensland Theatre that premiered in Cairns last year. It has arrived at Belvoir for a short season, as part of the 2018 Sydney Festival. It’s a work created by Dimple Bani’s son, Jimi, and Jason Klarwein, with conversations between the three having been the genesis for much of the show’s content. My Name is Jimi is an exercise in preserving the ancient customs and culture of Wagadagam.
These efforts to protect and to share the traditions of the tribe take the form of a relatively relaxed but structured storytelling session, led by Jimi. Joining him on stage are family members across four generations who speak three languages. Those family members are Agnes, Jimi’s mother; Petharie, Jimi’s grandmother; Conwell and Richard, two of Jimi’s brothers; and Dmitri Ahwang-Bani, Jimi’s 15-year-old son. Jimi is a graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and, as an actor, he has a slew of TV and theatre credits to his name, including the acclaimed ABC TV drama, Redfern Now, for which he is probably best recognised. Needless to say, he’s an able storyteller in this forum.
Jimi will be the next chief of the Wagadagam tribe and is acutely aware of his duty to ensure culture and traditions continue to be passed on through the generations. The importance of active efforts to do so are perhaps brought home to Jimi most substantially by looking at his son, who has a strong affinity for contemporary Australian culture and will, one day, himself be the Wagadagam chief, faced with Jimi’s same responsibility.
Throughout the show, several stories are shared, music is featured and dance pieces are performed by members of the Bani family. One of the most impressive and memorable aspects of the piece is the telling of traditional Wagadagam stories by utilising beautiful dioramas, which are filmed live and projected onto central screens to allow the spoken word to be accompanied by wonderful visuals. It’s a hugely effective modern device that enhances the impact of customary storytelling. There is acknowledgment of the most troubling times Wagadagam’s inhabitants have faced and a sombre moment to remember Dimple Bhani but, at the same time, sanguinity about the future of Wagadagam is on show.
Jimi is a magnetic storyteller with a fine sense of humour who leads us engagingly through the exploration of Wagadagam culture. While some of his participating family members may not exhibit the same confidence, each of their contributions to the work offers another insight, and a sense of pride in culture is uniformly evident. This is a family eager to share their stories with an audience. Their interactions reinforce the urgency that exists in the drive to transmit heritage from older generations, that have been the gatekeepers, to a more assimilated younger generation. Language preservation is everything. Without the language, the culture is diluted and the chain of ownership threatened. Forums and productions like this are vital to raise awareness and appreciation of the original cultures.
My Name is Jimi is an experience unlike any other you will have in a theatre this year. It’s a chance to learn about the history of a tribe you will not know and an opportunity to take part in the preservation of its cherished culture.
MY NAME IS JIMI – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 21 January
Venue: Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir (25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills)
Tickets: belvoir.com.au or by phone on 02 9699 3444