Africa rejected Sierra Leonean orphan Michaela DePrince. She was denounced as a ‘devil child’ because of the rare skin condition vitiligo which causes black skin to lose its colour. She was ranked as no 27 in the orphanage. The last, the least favourite, the one that no one would want to adopt because of her condition.
Born Mabinty Bangura, a picture of a ballerina on the front of a magazine inspired her to dream of becoming a ballerina even though at the time she did not even know what a ballerina was. It seemed an impossible dream for a Sierra Leonean orphan. However, by a bizarre twist of fate, she was adopted by Americans, Elaine and Charles DePrince from New Jersey, and taken to live in the USA.
In due course she would share her dreams with her adopted mother. It was to become the start of a journey that would lead her to becoming that fairytale ballerina. This is part of her story and the trailer to her book; Taking Flight: From War Orphan To Star Ballerina.
The journey was not without the challenges that come from being in a classical world where black ballerinas are a rarity. In an interview with DanceTabs she says that “I think that artistic directors like the corps to look homogenous. The corps is the backdrop to the story, a forest, a snowstorm, a flock of birds or a field of flowers. One red poppy in a field of yellow daffodils draws the audience’s eyes to the one poppy.” Today, Michaela DePrince performs with the Dutch National Ballet.
There are traditions and part of African culture which are worth hanging on to and should be protected; the dance, the ceremonies, the celebrations of life, death and the afterlife. But Devil children? Witch children that should be put to death? Do they have any place in a modern 21st century world? Are there some cultural beliefs that are holding Africa back? Or is it simply the case that with improved education, infrastructure and technological development, those type of things will simply fade away as they have done in other advanced societies. It is very difficult to say. Many Africans in the diaspora, hold on to those beliefs even in western societies which have no time for what are branded superstitions of a relatively primitive thinking people. This short excerpt from the UK Daily Mail from a couple of years ago captures the spirit of the environment. The feeling goes that if there was any real merit in the beliefs, the societies holding on to them would be a lot better off than they are now. Time to move on.
As for Michaela DePrince, hers is an inspirational story.
Image credit:Michaela DePrince via Facebook