Fringe Binge: Djuki Mala

When I was 13 years old living in Pakistan, our school had an “Around the world in 80 days” themed fete. Each homeroom class was assigned a country to base a week worth of humanties classes on leading up to the event. The idea was to introduce students to the many different cultures that exist around the world. Our class was assigned Australia and I distinctly remember how disappointed some of my classmates were that they didnt get assigned “Amreeka” (America).

“Australia mein kangaroos key ilawa aur kuch bhi nahin hai!” (There’s nothing in Australia but Kangaroos and desert) we whined.

We really, really wanted America as our class project.

Now, before you jump and start pointing accusing fingers at 13 year old me might I remind you, dear reader, this was a time before internet was widely accessible to people in Pakistan. The only way to research anything was by poring through battered old Encyclopedias in the school library. And truth be told you cannot blame us 13 year old kids for our lacklustre attitude towards the task ahead when we were exposed to American life through cinema and cable tv on a daily basis while our only reference to Australia was Rockos Modern Life. The encyclopedias in the library had 3 pages on Australia and majority of it was about the weather, the animals and how it was “settled” as a penal colony.

Fast forward to the opening night of Djuki Mala. I sat less than a metre away from the stage in the beautiful Aurora Spiegeltent under the blood moon, with a frog in my throat.

As I watched the Djuki dancers take the stage and open the show, I felt an incredible mix of emotions sway over me. I was in awe of the wide variety of dance styles showcased throughout the show, particularly how the choreography seamlessly blended traditional dance movement with modern dance styles such as tap, jazz, hiphop and breakdance. The dancers were agile and incredibly energetic. As audience members we often forget logistics behind dance performances such as dancers being able to catch their breath between numbers particularly if they are high energy songs. Well, the lads had clearly had their Weetbix that morning because they danced one high energy number after another while barely breaking a sweat. My favourite number was of course the Djuki dancer’s rendition of a Punjabi dance number. Having seen this number performed at weddings back home, it was bittersweet to see their take on it.

My father, a Pashtun man of the Esapzai tribe, has always said that our stories keep our cultures alive. Dance plays such an integral part in how Indigenous people all around the world tell the stories of their Land and their heritage. It is a universal language that crosses cultural boundaries and helps us find an understanding of each other. Hearing the stories behind each dance, about the journey the dance troupe has been on since their inception while witnessing the stories unfolded on stage was incredibly moving and humbling.

I have lived in Australia for 15 years now. I have spent equal years of my life on my ancestral lands and in my adoptive home. Over these years, particularly last night, I replayed the memory of my school fete many times

“Theres nothing in Australia”

“Australia was settled as a penal colony”

I am incredibly sad for my 13 year old self and for those kids back home who had the opportunity to research and learn about one of the worlds richest and oldest surviving cultures yet were let down by the way history was told and continues to be told in history books. I am incredibly grateful to be in the position to be able to attend performances like Djuki Mala to expand my understanding of Australia’s true history.

Djuki Mala is a life changing experience. An important and beautiful insight into the history of Australia’s First People and a joy filled ride through the world of dance.

Djuki Mala is playing nightly at Perth Fringe Festival till the 25th of Feb. You can buy tix here

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