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Indians first came to South Africa 150 years ago as indentured labourers. The Coolie Odyssey celebrates that long history.
AN extraordinary typing monkey tells the story of Ramlal Kilhari in the play, The Coolie Odyssey, running at the Market Theatre.


PlaysThe actors immerse themselves in the characters“Its plot unfolds as the storyteller – a monkey, with memories of previous human incarnations – types up his story on an old typewriter. His story unveils the life of Ramlal Kilhari, an indentured labourer, who arrived in Durban in 1888,” says Rajesh Gopie, the writer and producer of the show.

With exciting stage sets and costumes that transport the audience to another era, the actors immerse themselves in the characters.

The story begins in the 1860s, when the poverty-stricken Kilhari family decides to risk life and limb, and head off to the promised land. Natal, they are led to believe, is a land of honey and milk.

Along with many other Indians, Kilhari left the land of their birth, hoping for a better life. They came to Natal as indentured labourers to work in the cane fields. To entice them, they were promised a safe place to live with their families and proper food.

However, on the ship Kilhari found that conditions were not as pleasing as he had imagined they would be. He was separated from his pregnant wife, raising doubts in his mind about the journey.

Arriving in South Africa, Kilhari was greeted by sour milk. It was much different from what he had expected, and life was not as golden as promised. He had always dreamed of being a writer and a dancer, but in this new land his dreams faded away and he lost himself in alcohol.


Colourful costumes characterise The Coolie OdysseyColourful costumes characterise The Coolie OdysseyThe play’s background music is sung live by the Mumbai star, Anuraag Dounidyal.

“The show is wonderful,” said Londiwe Dube, a regular at the Market Theatre. “I liked the music. The acting is superb. It also helped me with a clear understanding of the Indian culture as well as their background.”

The Coolie Odyssey, which is also directed by Gopie, celebrates the 150th anniversary of Indians arriving in South Africa. The first Indians in the country came as indentured labourers to work the cane fields towards the end of the 19th century. Since then, India and South Africa have been closely bound.

Gopie also wrote the multi-award winning play, Out of Bounds, which debuted at the Market Theatre in 1999. It told the story of a South African Indian family during and after apartheid.

On at the Market until 8 May, tickets for The Coolie Odyssey are available at Computicket as well as at the box office. On Tuesdays, they are R66; for shows on Wednesday and Thursday, tickets are R95; on Fridays and Saturdays they are R160; and on Sundays they cost R120.

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