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24 September 2014

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A Slave's Story

BBC presenter Johanne Hudson-Lett reflects on her role in an emotional new play about the slave trade - A Slave's Story.

Recording 'A Slave's Story' for Melting Pot

Recording 'A Slave's Story' for Melting Pot

A story of pain, tears, and brutal punishment, but above all this is a story of hope and most importantly - freedom!

Playing a character called Blessing for over a year has made me readdress who I am, why I’m here and where did I really come from? 

There is no fluff in this story as it follows over six generations of females from the time they were stolen from their homeland in Africa to the present day.  You see how they learnt to be devious; so as to avoid the beatings and rapings by outsmarting their masters.


This year is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery.  A Slave's Story is not just for now, but something to be shown time and time again to help people understand what pain and heartache still runs through the veins of the descendants of slaves.

Just playing the character of a slave has truly made we question what human beings are really capable of.  To write and research a play like this would have sent me insane, so why?  I asked the Milton Keynes writer/director Yaw Asiyama why?

"The impact of slavery has always intrigued me since I was eight years old. I have often wondered what the world would look like today if the slave trade had never been. What would have been the shapes of families and communities in Africa? Would the effect on the west have been the same? The shape of the currency of respect for other races? The burden of the guilt, as an African, on whether or not my family were implicated in this nastiness of history.  The burden carried by the descendants of slaves. The fact that blacks of a lighter skin tone were given more respect and more readily accepted.

"I looked out of the windows of Africa to appreciate the achievements, despite adversity, faced by the descendants of slaves in the west, and realised the great brain drain that slavery had been. I observed the mistrust at times between the descendants of both sides of this coin. I wondered how much of this was a political tool as opposed to the natural reaction to buried memory. Tribes in West Africa who still have issues with each other, which contradict their individual histories. Who helped or turned a blind eye when the raiders came along. Who gained financially from those deal? As the ships left, the cursed that may have been rained on families on and tribes from the morbid cargo. Are these the scars that Africa carries now? Are these the burdens that the descendants carry?

"As I travelled more, I was fascinated by similarities in culture. Choice of colours and rhythm. Taste in foods and spices. Styles of dance and laughter. The fact that I could recognise the origins of some West Indian folk. The fact that at times, I could recognise the tribal origin of a face in Montero Bay, New Jersey or Kent, only to be told these folk were not African. At times, while in Africa, I would hear of the return of an American who had traced their roots back to a small family in Ghana. The natural rhythms of the embrace as they met. Bodies that recognised each other in movements and mannerisms. Family resemblances that time and pain had not shifted.

Johanne Hudson-Lett

Johanne Hudson-Lett

"Those reunions had their own eloquence. Both sides gained. Every one was forgiven and freed. And everyone left. Walking taller, feeling freer. Breaking curses and losing shackles” explained Yaw.


The play ends with the curse being lifted and the window of opportunities slowly beginning to open for blacks.  An member of the audience said, "I have never been taken on such an emotional roller coaster.  My heart feels physically bruised and battered by what I have seen today.  My tears are tears of not just sadness but of joy that we are strong enough never to give up on hope!"

This amazing play will be showing at The Milton Keynes Theatre on 29th June 2007.

Hear for Yourself

A recording of 'A Slave's Story' has been especially made for BBC Three Counties Radio's Melting Pot programme, as part of it's coverage of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.

You can listen to the play using the links below:

last updated: 27/06/07

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