Ester, a young Shona woman at the center of Danai Gurira’s play The Convert, leaves behind her ancestral traditions to avoid becoming the youngest of an old man’s many wives. It is 1895, and she is able to find refuge in a recently founded Christian mission. This strategic move becomes a new identity, as she falls in love with the Christian faith. When violence breaks out between white colonialists and the Shona, Ester is caught between two worlds.
In our secular society, we quickly discount religious claims in our ethical judgments. Looking back on the history of Christian mission efforts, it is clear that they supported the expansion of European colonial power, and with it the denigration and exploitation of African people. In this moment of the play, however, the choices are not so clear. As a deeply faithful woman, Ester does not follow Christianity as an abstract set of laws or as the customs of a foreign culture. She truly loves the Church, and has made a commitment to it that is just as strong as her relationships with her family and her people.
In February, we invite you to join us to see The Convert. Gurira has been praised for refusing to give us easy answers. We cannot root against the white colonialists; they never appear on stage. We have to attend instead to the diverse and complex responses of Gurira’s seven native African characters, and especially to Ester’s difficult work of weighing a love against a love.