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LAWAL, Hameed Olutoba: Cultural Aesthetics in Nigerian Video Films

Cultural Aesthetics in Nigerian Video Films: A Critical Reading of Sikiru Adesina’s Ogunmola – Basorun Ibadan

Hameed Olutoba LAWAL

Department of Theatre Arts

Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo

Oyo State, Nigeria



Before the advent of the video culture in Nigerian Theatre Industry, arts of the theatre were the veritable means of exhibiting the aesthetics in culture. These were dramatized in acting, language, costuming, songs, dances and setting. With the relegation of the stage and the celluloid film to the background, the tradition of promoting and preserving the rich cultural heritage has been sustained with epic video films that serve the dual purpose of recalling the past to guide the present and project into the future. It is in furtherance of this tradition that, this paper expounds the cultural aesthetics in Sikiru Adesina’a epic movie, Ogunmola – Basorun Ibadan which dramatizes the exploits of Ogunmola in the war of supremacy between Alaafin Atiba and Kurunmi. In the enactment of the settings, war scenes, language, songs, dances, costuming and chants, cultural aesthetics embedded are expounded.

Keywords: Culture, Aesthetics, Video films.


Culture is in the words of E.B. Tylor, that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of Society (Wikipedia).

            As a defining aspect of what it means to be human, culture is a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of phenomena that are transmitted through social learning in human societies. The word is used in a general sense as it evolved ability to categorise and represent experiences with symbols and to act imaginatively and creatively. This ability arouse with the evolution of behavioural modernity in human around 50,000 years ago. This capacity is often thought to be unique to humans, although some other species have demonstrated similar, though much less complex abilities in social learning. It is also used to denote the complex networks of practices and accumulated knowledge and idea that is transmitted through social interaction and exist in specific human groups, or culture, using the plural form. Some aspects of human behaviour such as language, social practices such as kinship, gender and marriage, expressive forms such as music, dance, ritual, religion and technologies such as cooking, shelter, clothing are said to be cultural universals, found in all human societies. The concept material culture covers the physical expression of culture, such as technology, architecture and art, whereas in material aspects of culture such as principles of social organisations (including, practices of political organisation and social institutions), mythology, philosophy, literature (both written and oral), and science make up the intangible cultural heritage of a society (Macionis 53).

            The word, “aesthetics,” on the other hand, is derived from the Greek word aesthesis, which means perception. It was introduced by the 18th century German philosopher, Alexander Bauingarten to denote what he conceived as the realm of poetry, a realm of concrete knowledge in which content is communicated in sensory form. The term was subsequently applied to the philosophical study of all arts and manifestation of natural beauty. Aesthetics is therefore, conceived with understanding beauty, particularly as it is manifested in art, and with its evaluation (Alamu 39).

            Aesthetics has it root in many disciplines philosophy, psychology, linguistics, arts, sociology, architecture, theology, culture etc. This is why its study and application is complex, as a result of almost limitless boundary, coupled with it consideration of attitude, beliefs prejudices and human experiences. Furthermore, the perception of ‘good and beauty’, which is the concern of aesthetics, is different from one culture to another.

            Creativity and originality are derivatives of aesthetics. For creativity video film production which is the focus of this discourse, technology is indispensable. Film, being a complex medium, requires technical innovation to enhance filming, recording and editing. Technical innovations and scientific discoveries have opened up for film new hitherto unsuspected dimension of reality, captivating objects from unusual angles or combining phenomenon never before seen together. All these are tapped by producers to enhance their creativity and originality.

            Cultural aesthetics are therefore the depiction of material, immaterial, tangible and intangible aspects of culture that enhance the content of the video film in focus. This is discernible in use of language, clothing, ritual, religion, music, dance, kinship, shelter, architecture mythology and principles of social organisation. Captivating scenes of these elements of culture blended with cinematographic skills of angle of shots constitute aesthetics of the film.

Culture and the Arts

The symbiotic relationship between culture and expressive arts is aptly captured in this tenet of sociology of literature (a very important division of literature studies). Society produces and influences a writer and his work, and the writer in turn, through his work influences society. The right hand is made to wash the left, and the left hand is made to wash the right thereby rendering both hands clean (Ebewo 60). This tenet is applicable to all expressive arts which are namely the literary arts, plastic arts and performing arts under which drama, music, dance and film falls. Artists involve in these expressive arts do not create from a vacuum but with inspiration from aspects of culture in their environment. In the process of this creativity, aesthetics of culture is promoted and preserved.

            In dramatic literature, Ola Rotimi’s Kurunmi and Ovonramwen Nogbaisi deal with traditional beliefs about kingship in the Yoruba and Benin cultures respectively. Zulu Sofola wrote Wedlock of the Gods to reveal the Aniocha’s people’s belief in a wife’s duty to mourn her dead husband, and disastrous effects this may bring if the rites are not sanctimoniously observed. Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman and Wale Ogunyemi’s Ijaiye War and Kiriji deal with Yoruba historical themes as well.

            In musical arts, while some songs and dances celebrate aspects of culture, musical compositions of some Nigerian musicians are rich in language fused with proverbs, imageries and metaphor aimed at edifying the targeted audience. Cultural songs and dances are discernible in Obitun dance, Sango dance and masquerade festival of the Yorubas, Atilogwu dance and new yam festival of the Igbos, korotso dance, Sharon dance and durbar festivals of the Hausa/Fulani. Mention must also be made of captivating Swange songs and dances of the Tiv in Benue state.

            The plastic arts are those which use solid materials- wood, stone, metals and so on. One important medium of the plastic arts is that of pottery. In Jos, for instance, there is an important museum containing a collection of all the various kinds of pots we have in Nigeria. The striking thing is the way in which these pots are moulded and decorated for visual appeal. In architecture, all those styles of roofs that we see are not necessary for functional purposes but aesthetics for sense of sight (Irele 54).

            The visual and audio appeal of these expressive arts in promotion and preservation of culture are more captivating in the audio, visual of television, celluloid film and video films. The aesthetic is enhanced with technical devices of visual effect, sound effect, angle of shots and digital editing. Television series that typify these aesthetics include Things Fall Apart, Magana Jari ce and Kootu Ashipa on the network service of Nigeria Television Authority in the 1980s. In celluloid film medium, Hubert Ogunde’s Aiye, Jaiyesimi, Ayanmo, are epitomes of cultural films laced cultural aesthetics in setting, costuming, language, song, dances and properties. Other celluloid films that exemplify cultural aesthetics are Ola Balogun’s Amadi and Adamu Halilu’s Shahu Umar.

Nigerian Video Films and Cultural Aesthetics

After the advent of video films format in 1990s the promotion and preservation of cultural aesthetics with expressive arts was strengthened in particularly historical films and films with traditional setting in Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo sectors of the Nigerian video films industry. In these epic films, historical events and characters are enacted to portray aspects of culture for edification and entertainment. These historical events and characters are sometimes metaphorical statement on current socio-political events.

            Films, such as, Goldenlink’s Efunsetan Aniwura and Oranmiyan, Sikiru Adesina’s (Arakangu) Basorun Ogunmola, Even-Ezra’s Sango and Remdel’s Afonja and Basorun Gaa are films that expound aesthetics of Yoruba culture in kingship, political organisation, social institution, beliefs, clothing, architecture, dance, music, language religion and ritual. For instance, Efunsetan Aniwura presents the tyrannical wickedness and oppression of Efunsetan, a former Iyalode (a women’s leader and a chief-in-council) during the reign of Aare Latoosa, a traditional Chief and Ruler of Ibadanland in the 19th century. Efunsetan subjected her slaves to inhuman treatment and torture. Singlehandedly, she killed twenty-eight male and thirteen female slaves including Adetutu and Itawuyi. The former had become pregnant for the latter, an abominable offence punishable by death in Efunsetan’s ‘empire.’ For the mere fact that she had refused to heed the warning of the traditional council and instead became more audacious, the people, led by the traditional ruler, had to confront her in a battle when it seemed she had become so defiant to constituted authority and consequently was out of control. After she had been overpowered, she later committed suicide to cover her humiliation.

            In the Igbo sector of the industry, epic films that depict cultural aesthetics in traditional beliefs, kinship, marriage, family life, political organisation, clothing architecture, language, music, dance, religion and ritual include: Igodo, Egg of Life, Ojadike, Eye of the Gods and Ijele. Basically, these films attempt to re-enact the past as well as our myths and legends to guide the present and project into the future.

            In the film, Igodo, across the mountains of Amadioha, a child was born and dedicated to the god of thunder. The fact that, the child is destined to be Igwe attracts the envy of his father’s contemporaries, who conspire and kill him. The child (Ihekwumere) eventually escapes into the bush and hide on top of a three to avoid assassins, when he cannot run again, he nestles on a tree. A hunter sights him and adopts him as his own son. The hunter trains him in act of hunting. He grows up and becomes wealthy.

            The hunter he looks up to as father dies and the age mates of Ihekwumere become jealous of his rapid progress and wealth. They thereafter conspire to frame him up. The conspirators hide the Igwe’s staff of office and plant it in his homestead. After searching and discovering the staff in his compound, he was taken to the palace for trial. After his conviction, he is escorted with kicks and slaps to the forest to be buried alive. As he is being buried, he cried out intermittently that; ‘you kill an innocent man, it shall be paid for.’ The entire town of Umuoka thus bears the guilt as Amadioha weeps for his son. Ever since then, the giant tree that houses Amadioha keeps vigil on the town. Each of the conspirators but one died a mysterious death. A knife to cut the giant tree is to be sought at the hills of Amadioha. Failure to atone for the abominable act will lead to death of first sons at home and abroad. The deed done by seven can only be atoned for by seven.

            As the thematic focus of most Hausa video films is love, marital affairs and family issues, cultural aesthetics that can be deduced from these films are virtues and vices of love, marriage family, beliefs and religion. Films that explore the aesthetics in these social practices include: Kishiyata (rival), Zumunci, Ali, Bingyel, Baraka, Shamsiya and Inda So Da Kauna.

            In the film, Baraka, patience as a value to surmount tribulation of constant nagging and provocation from women at the home front by men is dramatised with scenario in different household. To give insight into the characteristic traits of women in marriage in one of the scenes, a pregnant wife suddenly wakes the husband in the late hours of the night to demand ice cream for the baby in her womb. When she persists in the demand for the ice cream amidst sob, the husband decides to take the risk of going out to look for ice cream at odd hour. On his way out, the security men confront him and try to arrest him for wandering but he manages to escape and returns home to meet the wife still pestering him for ice cream. In another scene, at the home of another couple, the husband returns home to cold reception from the wife, Zubaida, who is engross in making-up in front of the mirror. She only cheers up when he brandishes money for the foodstuff.

The Film, Ogunmola – Basorun Ibadan

Produced by Sikiru Adesina, a.k.a ‘Arakangudu’ and directed Monsuru Obadina in 2008, Ogunmola – Basorun Ibadan could be described as the film version of the play, Kurunmi by Ola Rotimi but with the heroic rise of Basorun Ogunmola from an Ifa priest to a warrior emphasized. Ogunmola – Basorun Ibadan dramatises the historical tragedy of the 19th century constitutional crisis in Oyo Empire in Nigeria. In 1858, to be precise, the Alaafin of Oyo, Alaafin Atiba, sensing that he was about to die, broke tradition and made his heir, Adelu, the Alaafin. The tradition before then required the heir apparent to commit suicide on the death of his father. Kurunmi, the Are-Ona Kakanfo of the kingdom, vehemently opposed Alaafin Atiba’s relegation of tradition, insisting that Prince Adelu should commit suicide and be buried with his father, as tradition demanded. When Kurunmi could not stop the installation of Adelu as Alaafin, he decided to attack Oyo and reinstate decadent tradition. In opting for this solution, he had the support of the Egba people while Alaafin Adelu had ally in the people of Ibadan. Top actors and actresses who humanise the major characters in the historical film are Sikiru Adesina (Basorun Ogunmola), Fatai Adetayo, a.k.a Lalude (Kurunmi), Lere Paimo, a.k.a Eda (Alaafin Atiba), Adedeji Aderemi, a.k.a Olofa Ina and Samson Eluwole, a.k.a Jinadu Ewele (Iba Oluyole), Bukola Lawal (Mosadiwin) and Mulikat Adegbola (2nd wife of Kurunmi).

Cultural Aesthetics in Ogunmola – Basorun Ibadan

Cultural aesthetics in this historical film are discernible in cultural nationalism of Kurunmi, the lead actor as he strives to defend the tradition with the last drop of his blood. Like in Rotimi’s version of this play, Kurunmi belongs to the first phase of aesthetic which is characterized by individual heroism, royalty and cultural affirmation (Shaka 186).

            In the filmic recollection of events enacted with shuttle of scenes between Alaafin Atiba’s palace, Ogunmola’s house, Kurunmi’s homestead, Oluyole’s house and the war scenes captivating aesthetic of culture are unfolded in language, use of charms, incantation, praise poems, chant, costume, songs, dances, local delicacies, set, use of herbs for medicinal purposes, non verbal communication in symbols, family life of chieftains, prosecution of war with charms and incantations, relevance of festivals to celebrate successes and appreciate gods.

            The film open with a portrayal of sensibility of Africans to history to recall the past to guide the present and project into the future as the emergence of Moses Omilani, the narrator is heralded with praise chants of Alaafin Atiba. Omilani continues with relish the praise chants of Oyo Empire and goes on to chronicle the list of past Alaafin and their historic battle to defend territory and protect tradition. This include Alaafin Sango, Alaafin Ajaka, Alaafin Aganju, Alaafin Ladigbolu and Alaafin Adeyemi just to mention but a few. Embedded in this praise chants, songs and poem are the high esteem in which kings and chieftains are held in African society. They are also necessary tonic to celebrate and spur them to action as dramatised whenever action shift to Alaafin’s palace and Kurunmi’s homestead.

            Closely allied to this, is the use language laced with proverbs, imageries riddles, local, idioms, parables and metaphors. Like in the stage version, Adesina succeeded in blending such traditional performance elements like chants, incantations, parables, proverbs, raw native witticisms to heighten the tension and suspect among the warring parties. This language of the play which is richly embellished with condiments of orature, is racy and most fitting for the unpredictable moods of war situation (Shaka 188). An instance of this beauty in use of language is when Kurunmi vehemently opposes the idea of Adelu succeeding Alaafin Atiba with these words. “Go Tell the word: Kurunmi will never prostrate to shoot a deer with a father one morning, and then squat with the son in the evening to shoot a goose...” to dismiss the emissaries from Ibadan camp. In the same vein, in trying to preach to the towns folk about the potency and importance of tradition in a society, Kurunmi attests through a proverb that: the day the tall Iroko tree loses its root is the day the baby ant shits on its head.

            These spoken words loaded with meanings in the film are backed up with non verbal communication in symbols. The symbolic object or collection of objects called ‘Aroko’ in Yoruba are usually parcelled together and sent through a messenger to another person for the purpose of conveying message to be decoded by the receiver. Ogundeji observes that it is a traditional means of communication that existed in a predominantly pre-literate Yoruba society and usually sent by hand through a courier or messenger. In the film, this aspect of traditional Yoruba culture is portrayed on several occasions. An instance is when Kurunmi sends a crude piece of white cloth Smirched with okro soup to Adelu – a symbol of stained honour to despise him. later in the film Ogunmola sends to Ibikunle ‘a dead black crow’ – a gift symbol appropriate to a man who hides among his many wives in time of battle. The first symbolic object symbol is a response to Adelu's message of war and peace symbolically represented with water and gun powder. Kurunmi chooses gunpowder to set the tone for confrontation. It is pertinent here to note that these traditional means of communication is a boost to screen requirement of narrating in action than words.

            However, the war scenes are more of pandemonium than real war situation with the attendant uncoordinated, movements and clashes with hands and weapons. Added to this is the inadequacy of angle of shots that would have made up for the staccato in movement and use of arms. This set back in visual communication is covered in speech with incantations and charms employed to subdue opponents. This is enacted in the hilly part of the war front, warriors from opposing camps clash with the characteristic physical combat, use of dane-guns, incantation and charms. Warriors on horses shuttle from one terrain of the frontline to another. The movements are however more of transposition from a foreign movie.

            The essence of consulting the oracle for victorious outing in wars is enacted in the camps of Kurunmi, Ogunmola and Ibikunle. Kurunmi’s sentimental attachment to Ogun (god of iron) is not hidden as he regularly worshipped and appeased symbolic representation of the god conspicuously placed in his compound for spiritual fortification before each outing. In same vein, on discovering that, Kurunmi’s soldiers are gaining upper hand as the war, rages, Ogunmola consults an Ifa priest, Kudejo. The priests recommend mystical influence and eventually hypnotize Kurunmi and his soldiers as they cross River Ose and meet their water loo. This also affirms the traditional beliefs that are still competing with modern religions of Christianity and Islam.

            The use of dance and music in the film are cultural phenomena – part and parcel of people’s tradition: and they are being exploited in the expression of the communal ethos and pathos, apart from serving a recreational desire. This is seen in the celebration of Bebe festival which is characterised with singing dancing and merry making to the delight of all present. To make the festival unique like the name implies, Alaafin Atiba rides on a cow. The death of Alaafin shortly after the festival is announced with fraternity dirge. Ogunmola’s victory over Kurunmi and is subsequent installation as Basorun of Ibadan is also celebrated with songs in praise of his valour in war, dances and merry making. An elated Ogunmola acknowledges the accolades.

            Local delicacies which African people relish is typified in Kurunmi’s munching of roasted bush rodent in between sips of palm-wine to rejoice and celebrate pregnancy of Mosadwin with his two other wives. While being detained as a war captive in Kurunmi’s homestead, Ogunmola reveals his expertise in Ifa divination and herbal medicine by secretly preparing the herbs that cure Mosadiwin’s barrenness. The two cultural elements still complement modern religion and medicine in solving spiritual and health problems today.

            Capturing the period in the dramatic universe of film is aided with cultural costumes, make-up architecture and properties. The costume for men jumpers, gowns and trousers made from Aso Oke (weaved cloth). This is enhanced with neck and wrist beads for the chieftains. That of the women is native blouse and wrapper made of Aso Oke with neck and wrist beads for the wives of the chieftains to reflect royalty. The costume of the warriors is armless jumper and short of black material laced with charms and paraphernalia of war. The design is to facilitate movement of the warriors like that of dancers. The make-up of the actors and actresses is basically highlighting their natural look with native eye lashes, powder and tribal marks for identification. Tribal marks which are fast going into extinction were a major cultural identity in the past.

            In architecture and properties, the buildings are made of mud and sand with thatched roofs. They are furnished with weaved mats, local stools and moulded and carved cooking utensils as captured in Alaafin Atiba’s palace, Kurunmi’s homestead and Oluyole’s house and Ogunmola’s abode. Cultural aesthetics in the setting and properties lies in the fact, there is no trace of modernity apart from the visit of the missionaries on peace and evangelistic mission.

Summary and Conclusion

In this paper elements which constitute culture as way of life of a people are identified. These are namely material and immaterial aspects of culture that includes, namely, language arts, beliefs, law, custom, political and social organisation, architecture and taste of fashion. The concept of aesthetics is expounded to guide in deducting cultural aesthetics in the film in focus. This is backed up with an examination of the symbiotic relationship between expressive arts and culture. While aspects of culture remain a major source of ideas for expressive arts, in reciprocity aspects of culture are better promoted and preserved with expressive arts. Strengthening of this promotion and preservation of aspects of culture through expressive arts on video films is affirmed with a sampling of epic films that typified cultural aesthetics in film.

            From the foregoing, we can conclude that, the video films remained veritable means of promoting and preserving our cultural heritage. What gives it an edge over other expressive arts is its audio-visual effect which makes for easy edifying and entertainment. In these days when reading culture and oral documentation are waning, the film medium remains the best platform to inculcate aspects of culture that are threatened by extinction on the young ones.

            The much talked about cultural tourism can be effectively realised through the film medium because of its advantage of reaching a larger audience at short time. Government intervention in the industry is therefore a welcome development to create enabling environment for Nigerian cineastes to redeem the country’s image through cultural tourism of exportation of films that portray aesthetics in cultures of Nigeria. This could attract tourists to Nigeria for a firsthand knowledge cultural aesthetics exhibited in the films. The American, Indian and Chinese film industries that have been projecting their culture globally for over 50years are good examples to emulate.

Works Cited

Alamu, O. O. Aesthetics of Yoruba Film. Osaka: Research Institute for World Languages, Osaka University, 2010.

Ebewo, Patrick. “Culture and Literature.” Culture and Civilization. (Eds.) Lloyd Thompson, Dapo Adelugba & Egbe Ifie. Ibadan: Africa-Link Books, 1991: 58-66.

Irele, Abiola. “Culture and the Arts.” Culture and Civilization (Eds.) Lloyd Thompson, Dapo Adelugba & Egbe Ifie. Ibadan: Africa-Link Books, 1991: 52-57.

Macionis, G, & Linda, J. Sociology. 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada, 2010.

Ogundeji, P. A. “The Semantic and Communication Contexts of Aroko among Yoruba Symbol Communication Systems.” African Languages and Cultures, 10(2), 1997: 145-156.

Shaka, Femi. “History and Historical Play: A Radical Study of Ola Rotimi’s Kurunmi, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi and Hopes of the Living Dead.” Cross-Currents in African Theatre Austin Asagba (Ed.). Ibadan: Kraft Books Limited, 2001: 181-198.

Wikipedia, the free Encyclopaedia. Accessed on 17 June, 2015.

Select Videography

Baraka Parts 1 & 2. Dir. Awwal Abdullahi. Hamza Talle Maifata, 2011.

Efunsetan Aniwura. Dir. Tunde Kelani. DVD. Goldlink Productions & Communications, 2005.

Igodo: Land of the Living Dead. Dir. Andy Amenechi & Don Pedro. Ojiofor Ezeanyaechi, 1999.

Ogunmola: Basorun Ibadan. Dir. Monsuru Obadina. Sikiru Adesina, 2008.