Cultural and Ritual Aesthetics in Nigerian Theatre: Implications for Nollywood
Kelechi Stellamaris OGBONNA
Department of Theatre Arts
Alvan Ikoku University of Education
Owerri, Imo State
Despite the challenges posed by urbanization and alien ways of life, culture and ritual elements are still part of the life of Africans. These helped mankind in Africa in the time past not only to survive but to also do so very meaningfully. Hence, ritual and cultural elements are integral parts of many African literary works and performances. Its aesthetics of using African values to modulate revolutionary aesthetics is a measure worth tapping by Nollywood in order to infuse into motion pictures a conscientization towards socio-cultural renaissance and nation building. This work adopts the sociological-analytical methodology in x-raying cultural and ritual elements in Nigerian drama. The works are studied here both as play texts and as performances. It is admonished that conscious efforts be made to give unbiased interpretations to ritual and cultural elements in African plays and Nigerian films. These elements are to the African, if we can use this analogy, what the shell is to the snail – even in foreign habitats, the snail does not leave its shell behind. They should also be adequately adopted by Nollywood filmmakers, especially in the area of security and policing of the nation.
Theatre is said to have evolved from the Grecian ritual in honour of Dionysus. In recent times, theatre historians have also traced the history of the theatre to the rituals in honour of the Egyptian god Osiris in what is known as the passion play of Abydos. Inferably, drama and theatre are offshoots of ritual and culture. These genres of literature function in different capacities towards the enlightenment and development of man and the society. Drama and theatre (hereafter referred as performance) point towards behavioural change through audience/readers engagement and interactions with the characters, their actions, and embedded aesthetics. The example of ritual and cultural aesthetics is apt in this discourse given that they are the skeleton upon which the dramatist fleshens the plot of action.
Performance is dead without the conscious patronage of the audience/reader. Thus, the writer, performer and/or director will be failing in her duties if she ignores the informed choices, judgments and awareness her crafts have to impress on the audience/reader. Performance, therefore, is a tool that is emotive and pedagogic, that transports the audience/reader into the refracted world from which the audience is re-engineered to weigh and assess situations, problems, people, families, issues and trends. This art is ideological because it expresses the mood and mentality of a people through images, events, beliefs and issues of the era.
Ideally, film functions as a twin sister of theatre and to some extent share similar characteristics. The film industry in Nigeria, Nollywood, has done a great service of filling the gap which theatre and cinema have created due to insecurity. It has taken theatre to the door steps of Nigerians and beyond, and has taken with it the rich cultural heritage of Africans to those in Diaspora. However, recently, it appears that Nollywood is beginning to recycle ideas and have concentrated much of its aesthetics in the areas of entertainment and little of sociological engagement. Hence, there is a lacuna in the proper handling of revolutionary aesthetics for sociological effects, which is why this paper advocates that Nollywood borrows from the theatre; the traditional revolutionary aesthetics as prescribed in Nigerian plays some of which are studied in the work.
The plays, Toni Dunuaku’s A Matter of Identity, Kalu Okpi’s Echoes, and Emeka Nwabueze’s The Dragon’s Funeral, will be x-rayed as performance texts within the parameters of action codes and cultural codes as embodied in the play texts and reflected in their stage performances. The plays are pointers towards change. However, often times these pointers seem to be silent and are the missing links not incorporated in the drama texts. Perhaps, they are not obviously vivified in the drama texts, which is why Macherey posits that: A book is not self-sufficient. It is necessarily accompanied by a certain absence, without which it will not exist. A knowledge of the book must include a consideration of this absence. This is why it seems useful and legitimate to ask of every production what it tacitly implies, what it does not say (85).
Reading these absences in the play is of great importance and orchestrating it into performance as a way of elucidating and advising that the critical absences be filled as imperative. Hence, topicality is one of the reasons for the choice of plays. Another is cultural semblance and cosmological homogeneity of the locales of the select plays. The cultural idioms of the select plays are pointers that if used and highlighted in film will not only create awareness of the abominable acts that are ongoing in the society but will educate the youth and public on what are sacred, taboos and their consequences.
The keywords for this study are culture and ritual. Hence, they would be defined and explained before we go on. It may be right to note, ab initio, that even though “all definitions in the various fields of art are misleading because they are too narrow” (Boulton 143). Dictionary definitions will be the first point of call in discussing these keywords; and then followed with vivid explanations. Before then, it could be right to state that these indigenous traditions (culture and ritual) are to the modern African writer/dramatist what the shell is to the snail – even in a foreign habitat; a snail never leaves its shell behind.
Culture is the total way of life of a people. It embodies their language, beliefs, mores, ethics, general conceptions, and perceptions of life. It is the established practices generally accepted and shared by a particular society. The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language defines culture as, “the sum total of the attainments and activities of any specific period, race, or people, including their implements, handcrafts, agriculture, economics, music, art, religious beliefs, traditions, language and story” (314). Scholars have advanced different definitions of culture, of which Uwa shares his viewpoint from the Igbo context to mean those: Significant socio-cultural mannerism that specifically distinguish them from others: that is, the unique characteristics they exhibit and their system of carrying out functions such as rituals, worship or other social duties in day to day living environment (19).
Thus, culture is the collective expression of a people or group that distinguishes them differently from others. Stated elsewhere, “it is the cultural ethos and values of a society that marks them differently from others” (Utoh-Ezeajugh & Ogbonna 16). The conceptual understanding of culture is well stated in the Cultural Policy for Nigeria as follows: The totality of the ways of life evolved by a people in their attempts to meet the challenge of living in their environment, which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, aesthetic, and religious norms and modes or organization thus distinguish a people from their neighbours (3).
The Policy’s concept of culture captures the philosophical, creative and institutional aspects of culture. Ayakoroma details these aspects in the following words: The material aspect refers to artefacts like tools, clothing, food, medicine, utensils, housing, etc. The institutional deals with the political, social, legal, and economic structures erected to help achieve material and spiritual wellbeing of the people; the philosophical is concerned with ideas, beliefs, and values; while the creative concerns a people’s literature (oral or written) as well as their visual and performing arts, which are normally moulded by, as well as help to mould other aspects of culture (5).
Put simply, this means that people are culturally identified through what they do or say, how they do it, what they wear, how they live and what they believe. Utoh-Ezeajugh and Ogbonna affirm that culture embodies the aspirations of a people, their attitude and belief, spiritual, emotional and material alignment (17); while Duruaku observes that, This collective expression of a people’s way of life is recorded in their hopes and aspirations; practices and beliefs; their creative output, language and traditions; all which make that society different and distinguishable from other societies (25).
Therefore, culture is that way of life that is unique to a particular people, universal, transitory and dynamic. Culture functions as catalyst towards social change because in the realm of performance it is a motif that burlesques with itself in order to lampoon the king, ridicule the government or satirize a character. An African writer scribbles from the consciousness of his environment (culture) and according to Ahmed Yerima, “theatre feeds on the culture of the society” (13) upon which it originates.
Ritual in a work of art has been variously misconstrued and often perceived in the negative as fetish or an act of diabolical means or witch crafting. Viewed as a repeated set of actions or rather, a formalized activity, scholars have advanced varied definitions in attempt to understand the meaning of ritual. Prior to the scholastic views of what ritual is, an elementary understanding of ritual will suffice from The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language which defines ritual as “a prescribed form or method for the performance of a religious or solemn ceremony; also a book setting forth such a system of rites or observances” (1087). Thus, ritual is methodical, sacred and performative. To Victor Turner, ritual is a “prescribed formal behaviour for occasions not given over to technological routine, having reference to beliefs in mystical being or powers” (19). While this definition excludes non-religious rituals, Barbara Meyerhof opines that “ritual is an act or action intentionally conducted by a group of people employing one or more symbols in a repetitive, formal, precise, highly stylized fashion” (cited in Enekwe 25).
Analogically, the above definition is inconclusive because it does not include the information that ritual deals with religious beliefs and practices. An exploration into Uwa’s concept of ritual reveals it as “a place where people integrate short-term pragmatic goals and the longer-range mythic values of a culture, where they can replace personal alienation with an affirmation of personal identity” (20). This goes to say that ritual is a process of action that evolved with man for the benefit of the individual and the society at large. It includes those values, beliefs and actions that man practice in order to better his environment and reaffirm his identity. Uzoma Nwanaju captures the image of ritual as “a stylized repetitive pattern of behaviour associated with religious beliefs and practices in some sense deemed to be sacred” (260).
Ritual is both religious and secular. It is pleasurable, utilitarian, and is used to celebrate communal living and explore meanings in the society. In African cosmology, ritual is viewed as sacred, regenerative and redemptive. Dele Layiwola agrees with the assertion that ritual forms an integral part of any African community because “it ensures that society survives for generations to trail behind it” (4). It is a common belief amongst Africans and especially the Igbo that ritual – be it fertility ritual, cleansing, appeasements, or ritual of sanctification- strengthens the bond between an individual and his maker as well as the society.
The grouse of this discourse is to look at the sub-textual interpretation of ritual and cultural codes in the select drama texts and how effectively Nollywood can utilize the ideas and thematic preoccupations of these texts to contribute towards social change. This buttresses the assertion that: The drama that is most meaningful and pertinent to its society is that which arises from it and is not imposed upon it... the dramatic experience becomes a natural extension of man’s life both as an individual and as a social being (cited in Eko 332).
African performance therefore foreshadows change, x-rays identity and a paradigm towards national development. Roland Barthes refers cultural codes as “all references to the common fund of knowledge produced by the society” (160). The question here is, how has these common funds of knowledge been able to point towards behavioural change? How has the audience engagement with the action codes been able to transform them into social action? Action codes are “the messages portrayed in the actions of the characters” (Odey 169) in the select plays.
In the area of socio-cultural criticism, theories are replete with ideas and approaches as guidelines to understanding and interpreting a text. While the social critics deal with the content and thematic preoccupation of the texts, the formalists dwell on the structure and internal organization of the text. This study requires a theory for its analogical discourse and understanding. For it was occasions like this that prompted Elechi Amadi’s assertion that “even when the readers (audience) are enthralled by the most dizzying fantasies, they still bug unconsciously for familiar havens at which to pause, ponder and re-establish a series of reality” (Amadi 35). This reality is consequent upon many factors. Therefore, textual/performance interpretation from the perception of the reader/ audience is determinate on the authority of the playwright, the concept and approaches of the director, the historical knowledge of the audience as well as the milieu of both the play and the production. Scholars and critics have propounded theories and critical approaches through which the creative resources can benefit the writer and its audience/reader. Hence, the Reader-Response theories with the varying branches of Hermeneutics (Friedrich Schleiermacher – 1768-1838), Phenomenology (Edmund Husserl), Reception Theory (Wolfgang Iser), Horizon of expectation (Hans-Robert Jauss) and Interpretative Communities (Stanley Fish) are in agreement towards the essential need for interaction between the reader and the text. Investigations reveal that Reception Theory was spotted in the late 1960s from the German axis and by 1980 when: It spread across the intellectual circles of Europe and much of the Western word.... It was at that time forms of literary criticism in academic circles, and was often also known as reception aesthetics” (Wise Geek 1).
The chief idea of its many proponents is that, Cultural background, education and of course the reader’s native language all play a role in his or her understanding and emotional response. The theory suggests... that the reading experience activates and engages pre-existing experience and memories (Wise Geek 1).
The reader/audience’s engagement with the text is therefore facilitated by a methodical analysis of the separate parts of the play, understanding of its cultural codes and a summation of the entire action codes. For this is what MacManus observes, in Wolfgang Iser’s contention, that “the text in part controls the reader’s responses but contains “gaps” that the reader creatively fills” (McManus I). These “gaps,” as Iser observes in MacManus, are same Macherey’s “certain absence,” which this study seeks to apply. Fluck explains further that: The true purpose of Iser’s theory of reading is not to know the text.... but to experience ourselves as active, creative, and free agents.... in this sense, the aesthetics of reception embodies “some straightforward hedonistic values” (cited in MaManus 1).
In performance, therefore, these elements and their sub-textual meaning are discovered and highlighted to aid the audience to “understand such necessarily accompanying absence without which work of the art lack existence (Ihentuge 90). Thus, theatre before an audience is presented for its functional value which is to intervene, correct and heal the society while entertaining. Film performs the same function and reaches a wider audience. The onus lies on Nollywood to begin to adapt into cultural and ritual elements as device to discuss and highlight socio-cultural and political issues that will advance humanity and sustain developments.
Synopsis of Select Plays
The Dragon’s Funeral is Nwabueze‘s piece on Aba Women’s Riot of 1929. The play is a social commentary on colonial administration and its socio-cultural consequence. Nwabueze weaves together the domestic contributions of the women of Eastern Nigeria, their collective struggle and supportive roles to their families and community. The play identifies the reactions of a repressed gender when driven beyond their limits. The issue of taxation on women becomes far too much for the women to bear since they are equally contributors towards their family’s wellbeing.
In the play, Nwabueze exemplifies the character of Chief Okeugo, an Igwe, a custodian of the people’s tradition and how his alignment with the colonial administrators to usurp the people’s rights and privileges sinks the community into disarray. Cook, a Colonial District Officer fails to comprehend the unity and harmony that exist among the people. To destroy the communal peace because of his materialistic and capitalist orientation, Cook instructs that the Warrant Chiefs should take a census of the community; both male and female, yam, cocoyam and all farm produce as taxable materials. Consequent upon this, the women unleash their frustration on Chief Okeugo, the Warrant Chiefs, the colonial administrators and their husbands as well. In furtherance, the women, processing with cassava leaves, and in front of the District Officer’s apartment, demands for an abrogation. Satisfied that women will not be taxed, Adaugo breaks the staff of authority of Chief Okeugo as the women rubbishes the Igwe’s (Okeugo’s) cap on the floor, marching on it as they sing and celebrate their victory over oppressive rule.
It has to be mentioned in the passing that some scholars are of the view that the Aba women riot did not take place in the town of Aba. Emenyi Imoh Abang is one of such scholars and he posits that the incident took place in Opobo Province. In his exact words, The incident generally known as the Aba Women’s Riot or War of 1929 in Nigerian history does not recognise women in Opobo Province as those who fought the colonial authority and paid the supreme price in a town in the present Akwa Ibom State called Ikot Abasi. The panel of inquiry into that uprising sat in Aba yet most of the women who died were Ibiobio not Igbo women. However, there were riots in Aba and Bendel but neither of these had the kind of disaster recorded in Ikot Abasi. Ibibio... scholars advocate a distinction between Aba Women’s Riot of 1929 and Ikot Abasi Women’s War of 1929 (81).
It is not within the confines of this paper to resolve this controversy, it must be noted.
A Matter of Identity is Tony Duruaku’s cultural statement on alienation, identity and the eroding culture of the Igbo since after the Biafran war. The storyline tells that the gods have suspended the celebration of the annual Festival of the Rising Moon until the people are able to redirect their steps in the right direction. Through consultations with the Chief Priest, the oracle specified the two people that are worthy to embark on a journey to the Never Never land and the urgent need for a communication between the living and the ancestors. To embark on this journey, a ritual is required and failure to do so means doom to the people of Umukwenu. Obiocha, Ocheze, Ntagbu and Mbagwu; representatives of their communities, prepare the specified two: Okoli and Nkechi to embark on this journey on behalf of the community. On arrival at the Never Never land, the spiritual encounter between the emissaries and the gods; Eke, Orie, Afo, and Nkwo reveals that the people of Umukwenu have forsaken their culture and now adopts betrayals, corruption and immorality which as a result keeps the people undeveloped and irresponsible. The gods agree that adaptation of other suitable cultures may help Umukwenu to achieve a progressive development, but that total adoption will lead to their destruction.
The third work, Echoes, is a socio-political drama. It is Kalu Okpi’s statement on socio-cultural institutions and political transactions on-going in Nigeria. The play orchestrates events that take place within familiar settings. In Echoes, we see how Innocent Nwoke stole money from the church coffers in Amaukwu village before running to Lagos. In Lagos, Innocent Nwoke becomes prophet in a white garment church, graduates into an armed robber and returns back to Amaukwu village where he is conferred with a chieftaincy title. The play satirizes the way and manner chieftaincy tittles are given, heavy donations are accepted by Priests and Pastors. It also questions the use of thugs and policemen by ‘eminent citizens’. Okpi’s theatrical ingenuity serves progressively as the Igwe’s (Ezeogo) cap falls off his head and the villagers march on it while the Igwe grovels for Innocent Nwoke’s money.
Culture, Images and Rites in the Select Plays
In The Dragon’s Funeral, the play beings with storytelling at the market square, the imageries, rites and cultural representations in the play serve aesthetics value and also for elucidation. The cultural elements are: names, language; amadioha, agwu, animal skins, Orie market, proverbs, storytelling, wooden figures, feathers fern, traditional akwete attire, beads, kola nut calabash, udala seed, “mbem” tune, mgbologwu oji, ofo, songs, dances, war songs, cooking pots, market place, fire wood, yams, cocoyam, fresh cassava leaves, cap, staff, and incidents.
To further articulate these cultural ingredients into a performance, with an overriding metaphor, Nwabueze provides images and rich cultural information in a stage direction which starts on page 73 and continues on page 75 thus: In front of the district officers lodge. A crowd of women carrying fresh cassava leaves are chanting war songs demanding audience with the district officer…. The women continue to sing war songs. Nwaugo raises her voice and begins an elegy in celebration of Okeugo’s apparent overthrow. The women join in unison. Nduka emerges with Okeugos’s chieftaincy cap as well as his staff of office. Adaugo takes the staff of office and breaks it across her knee. The women shout in ecstasy. They then pounce on the cap and tear it to shreds. They tie all of them together and began a funeral procession (75).
To oust a tyrant and his abominable deeds, the people resorted to a means that is efficacious and familiar to them. Nwabueze is aware of the traditional potency of the ritual rites and thus speaks through Adaugo: “Adaugo: our role as women is to cleanse the society of pollution. Whether the pollution was caused by our husbands or children, or even strangers, does not matter” (73). Also the use of Igbo language in The Dragon’s Funeral serves as, “Aesthetics of the Theatrical Vernacular” and its effect is obvious in the colouration it gives to the play through the rendering of certain proverbs. This affirms Rasheed Adeoye’s explanation that, “Theatrical Aesthetics of Campus Vernacular” is “a decimation of English Language. However, the reality is that Campus Vernacular has come to stay and it has relatively enjoyed popularity among the Nigerian students” (123). Hence, the use of vernacular in the play gives it a linguistic colouration and cultural identity. This is evident in certain Nollywood films that have Igbo locales. The use of Igbo language in such films relays the message better. The use of proverbs in the play, especially of Igbo extraction, elucidates, enriches and elaborates the subtext. It elevates the oral culture of the Igbo. It teaches communication skills, oratory, helps to recall and vivify the images.
The market symbolizes activities of buying and selling, and a relationship between the living and the dead. In the market are bags of memories of those that have passed on, and that of the living. The Orie market as used in the play is a synecdoche for other market days. Market can also stand for the survival of man. It also reminds us of the passing nature of human life. Hence, the Igbo adage: “Uwa bu ahia. Onye zuchaa, oburu lawa” (the world is a market place with its comings and going). It is at Orie market that Ekwedike and the women relive the historical event:
Ekwedike: Wait daughters of my ancestors. I will tell you all. But I will begin the story in the manner of our ancestors…I shall start with the traditional proclamation. I shall embrace the custom of our people, the oath that compels the storyteller… (10).
Another cultural art in the play is folklore. It is an ancient art associated with re-enactment of hunting games and the primordial adventures, Nwabueze uses this ancient art as “Ekwedike intones the traditional opening glee with folklorist excellence” (8). In the village square in most African communities, storytelling sessions, and folklores, are used to re-enact ancient myths and legends, to teach and preserve the norms and values of the community. Also songs are signs of communal nostalgia and contain collective emotions of the community. The dance art is another cultural element that depicts the communal spirit. It is a harvest of the community’s spirit, myths and identity.
Fresh cassava leaves are used by women at rare occasions. Carrying fresh cassava leaves in the play to protest against forced labour and taxation is a sign that the women are not in agreement with the policy of taxation. It goes further to say that they will vehemently oppose it. Cassava is to the typical woman what yam is to the titled man in Igbo cosmology. Once the woman goes to the length of using the leaves of this highly revered crop in a protest, it shows her resolve in such a matter. Reference to Ofo in the play by Adaugo asserts that ‘it is Ofo that gives rainwater the strength to cut the earth” (21). This proverb illustrates the sacredness of Ofo. Ofo in Igbo cosmology is the sacred staff of authority with which rituals and offerings are made. The use of Court (Courtroom) in the play as a place to acquire judgment is a British culture alien to the Igbo. It was a new phenomenon to Ngwa community at the time of the historic event. It was an English ritual process of obtaining judgment.
A Matter of Identity is Toni Duruaku’s stagecraft spiced up with the following cultural and ritual elements: Calabash of palm wine, dance, Festival of the Rising Moon, drinking gourd, leaf cup, breaking of kola nuts, shrew, Never Never land, fresh tongue of a lizard, the oracle, Eke, Orie, Afo, Nkwo, aboshi plant, ogirishi plant, tender palm leaves (Omu), broad leave, white raffia, folk songs, ululations, masked ancestors, Ngelenge music. The thematic preoccupation of the play is reflected in the title of the play. It is also enshrined in the plot as the play begins with preparation for the annual Festival of the Rising Moon. It is this festival and its preparation that preoccupies the entire play. Duruaku embraces cultural elements and ritual rites such as kola nuts, palm wine, dance, and songs to make impressions on African culture. In a gathering of elders in Incident Two, Duruaku accomplishes the Igbo cultural belief that wherever and whenever elders gather; for good or bad, there must be an exchange of kola nuts. Kola nut is always presented and each situation dictates the type of prayer offered. This, the playwright re-establishes through Igo-orji (blessing of kola nut), he fosters this tradition through one of the elders praying that:
Mbagwu: Kola is like a dance: It brings in abundance
A good long life ...A piece of kola nut,
Is also for a brother, not only for the visitor.
This coming night, Answers to our plight
We hope to get. Community suffering
Like community offering, weighs heavily on the leader.
As together we share, so do we together fear
...As we chew this kola, May the gods hear our holler
And chew on our plea... For this we give a share (drops a piece).
All: Isee! (Duruaku 21).
The kola nut ritual contains the prayers, the plights, beliefs, and collective aspirations of the people. It is from this ritual that the mood of the play is piqued. It sets the platform for the elders to ginger all parties involved to prepare themselves towards the required cleansing of the land.
In Echoes, the playwright uses the first three scenes (Prologue, Scene One and Scene Two) to lay the background and prepare the audience for the actions in the remaining four scenes. In the fourth scene, the major pre-occupation of the play is laid bare- the abuse heaped on the traditional institution in many societies. Having been familiarized with the person and character of Innocent Nwoke (Prophet), it becomes a rude shock to the audience (just as it is to the Elders and Chiefs of Amaukwu in the world of the play) that Ezeogo, the Eze of Amaukwu, could ever propose him (Prophet) to be honoured with a chieftaincy title. Hence, the playwright made effective use of cultural elements to drive home his point.
The meeting between the elders-in-council and the Eze started with the presentation and blessing of the kola nut. The social, cultural and ritual essence of the kola nut in Igbo cosmology cannot be over emphasised. First, the kola nut is a sign of acceptance in Igbo culture and such acceptance is usually expected to be extended even to the enemy. Hence the age-long saying “oji bu isi omume” (kola nut is first in every gathering). Again, the kola signifies tolerance, communal living, and contentment. Trust is another thing signified by the Igbo kola. Some lobes of the kola are usually joined together naturally. Each number of lobes joined together has something it signifies to Ndi Igbo. Ipso facto, a kola nut that is made up of only one lobe is called “Oji ogbu” (dumb kola nut) and usually not eaten in many communities.
The cultural aesthetics of Echoes is give prominence from the fifth scene (Scene Five). The scene showcases the controversial installation of Innocent Nwoke (Prophet) as a chief of Amaukwu. The playwright takes some time to explain some influences of materialism and borrowed culture visible in this scene saying: A Chieftaincy Installation Ceremony. It is within the Ezeogo’s compound which has been spruced up noticeably: There are now plastic chairs in place of the benches in scene three. There are four beautifully carved wooden chairs in place.... (33).
This shows a rapid transformation of the King’s palace. Such materialism is the cause of the king’s downfall in the play as over reliance on borrowed culture and the false hopes they give pushed Prophet Innocent to his doom. This is typified by his attachment to his “wand”. In the installation scene also we see the abuse of tradition. Suffice this dialogue between Ezeogo and Prophet Innocent:
Ezeogo: .... (The Ugoeze whispers in his ears). That is true. Prophet where is your wife?
Prophet: (Coldly). This is my chieftaincy installation and not my wife’s. Please go on. (Ezeogo and Ugoeze exchange worried glances. Ezeogo shrugs visibly).
This is pure aberration. In traditional Igbo society, such elevated positions as chieftaincies are reserved only for those who are seen as responsible. One’s marital status is one of the ways of determining how responsible one is. But in recent times, the abuse of the traditional institution has extended to awarding such positions to the unmarried with reckless abandon.
Another cultural element of note in this play is the crown. All the paraphernalia of a titled man are symbolic. Of them all, the crown commands more respect. It is the synecdoche of the titled institution and as such not placed on every head. The result is the removal of the king’s crown by the gods, and the trampling on it by the people. The implication of this action is instantly voiced out by the crowd in the following words:
Villager I: Chei! Look Ezeogo’s crown. It fell.
Villager II: It fell on the ground?
Villager I: Yes and people’s feet trampled it.
Villager II: Tufiakwa! It is an abomination. (She throws down the money in her hands and runs off. Others follow suit. The Ezeogo, now on his feet, and the Ugoeze stare at the crushed crown in silence) (40).
The scenario can be compared with the disposition those on whose heads we place the caps and crowns of leadership in the present political dispensation. Most of them have had these crowns trampled upon during their fights and other unholy activities in the hallowed chambers. Yet they are tilted men and women in their traditional and religious circles.
Implications for Nollywood
The select plays have undergone the processes of production at various times at the theatre of the Alvan Ikoku Federal Collage of Education Owerri Imo State, now Alvan Ikoku University of Education. The productions enjoyed great audience patronage. The directors of the performances (Achor Akowe for A Matter of Identity, Kelechi Stellamaris Ogbonna for Echoes and The Dragon’s Funeral) used contemporary theatre contents and cultural guidelines. Coincidentally, both directors experimented on the plays using popular theatre format. While projecting into the future, each of the performances utilized cultural and traditional norms to break the bridges of current existential dilemmas, insurgences and parasite cultures. This is where Nollywood comes in, to use the cultural patterns as motifs to raise the masses consciousness towards socio-political issues such as corruptive leaders, bad governance and the state of insecurity in Nigeria.
In A Matter of Identity, the director highlighted the metaphysical scene where the emissaries meet with the gods/ancestors to appeal for the return of the Festival of the Rising Moon. To the audience, the scene is an exposition of the various ways nature, culture and tradition has all been abandoned for alien ones. And this calls on Nollywood to take the message further to Nigerians in Diaspora calling for a re-awakening in restoring the positive cultural values of Africans even in foreign lands not forgetting the earlier snail and its shell analogy. It emphasizes that the appreciation of who we are will unveil the hood that blindfolds us into believing that our culture is barbaric, paganish and backward.
In Echoes, the director emphasized the scene where Ezeogo’s cap fell off his head as he grovels for money. The crowd (the masses) marching on the cap is a socio-cultural statement that questions the validity and sacredness of Ezeship. Such a scene, vivified in performance, condemns, cautions, and re-assesses the traditional stool and its functions. It calls to mind what the Ezeship stands for and the dire need to restore its sacredness for the good of the community. What other medium is more apt to elucidate on this cultural images other than the motion picture? Its advantage over theatre enables Nollywood to have access to millions of Nigerians home and abroad and its message will sink positively because most audience believe that whatever is showcased on television is true, real and authentic. With the penetrating lens of the camera, the film industry has the capacity to re-write the Nigerian culture which has been bastardized over the years by Eurocentric imperialism.
The aesthetics of revolution through culture and ritual elements is a mild device from which theatre and Nollywood can orchestrate actions that will facilitate behavioural change, enhance peaceful co-existence and improve human conditions. Speaking to Nigerians subtly through Nollywood will help to create a consciousness in governance, an awareness of the need for change and conscientization of the masses towards their contribution to a sustainable development. Nollywood should overcome the dearth of ideology by borrowing from the theatre ritual and cultural elements as aesthetic devices. For most of the films to impact vividly in our security situations, borrowings from the revolutionary aesthetics of the plays rich in cultural and ritual elements is admonished. Such tabooed acts as murder, kidnapping, sexual abominations as incest and rape, and stealing should be adequately treated and not merely glossed over. They should be properly handled with reverence without belittling their corrective essences.
It is also admonished that the adaptation into films, African works that are classics in their own merits classics (plays, and novels) will also see such work further brought to youths in this audio-visual friendly generation. In attempting the recommended adaptations, one must give works a directorial thrust in presentations that will balance the ideas projected by the playwright. Most Nigerians and Africans especially those in Diaspora watch Nollywood films because they see it as a window of nostalgia, which Victor Akande describes inter alia:
Nigerians who are based abroad and their African brothers patronize Nollywood movies. The basis is obvious; Nigerians abroad and indeed Africans in general desire feeling of a home-away-from-home, and this is understandable because most Africans in Diaspora, the only link between them and their motherland is seeing the Nigerian actors playing the native wrestling match, or rendezvousing at the village square over kegs of palm wine; or resolving communal conflicts with elders who speak in big parables and interpret matter through idioms and proverbs (22).
It reminds them of what they have been away from and it is a greater opportunity to instil in their minds African values and its tenacity for truth and justice.
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Kelechi Stellamaris OGBONNA hails from Nnentu Village in Aba South Local Government Area of Abia State, Nigeria. She studied at the University of Calabar where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) and a Masters Degree in Theatre Directing. She also holds a Post graduate Diploma in Education and is currently researching for her PhD. Ogbonna, who currently teaches at the Department of Theatre Arts, Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, is a Playwright-Actress-Performer with research interest in African values.