THE DRAMATIZATION OF HISTORY USING WOMEN OF OWU AND MOROUNTODUN
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1.1 Background of the study
The use of history as a robust resource material in the African literary creativity is as old as the advent of modern African literature itself. This trend re-affirms the inevitability of the convergence of history and literature. In the symbiotic relationship, history feeds literature with factual events of the past the same way literature brings fullness to bear on such facts. Be this as it may, it is viewed that the use to which history is put by literature has taken diverse shades under different literary phases and/or canons. While we have writers, predominantly within the foremost African literary coterie, whose employment of history revels in the conventional historiography of “render it and leave it at that”, we also have writers (predominantly in the emergent radical canon) who employ the resource of history basically for the purpose of its dialectical dissection. In this connection, this paper seeks to investigate the radical use to which history is being put by writers of the latter canon. The thrust is to unravel how the text has employed the instrumentality of the historical resource of the war in the ancient Yoruba Kingdom of Owu to vehicle its revolutionary message.
Across the globe, the relationship between literature and history, since time immemorial, has been that of inevitable convergence. As an art that enjoys the universal conceptualisation as a mirror of the society, literature is at times crafted to mirror in retrospect through a writer’s deliberate recourse to factual events of the past. Apparently, this is in recognition of the importance of history to the writer. Philip Bagu reports David Gordon as capturing this reality thus: “literature sources itself from such historical events the same way it seeks to affect the social realities of the present” (The Ker Review 44-55). This view also concurs with Fischer’s assertion, contained in Akachi Ezeigbo, that “literature is born of reality and acts back upon reality” (10). As a further corroboration of the interdisciplinary convergence, orthodox historians have also opined that the events of the past are taken into account for the primary purpose of connecting them with the present for common good. For instance, Arifalo contends that “history is part and parcel of the general philosophy of life. It is concerned with the unity of the past and present, not with the past for its own sake. In short, history is seen as an unending dialogue between the past and the present” (qtd. In Eds Oguntomisin and Ajayi 25). With this in mind, it will not be any surprise having a historical fact as the source or background for a literary output. The world over, this trend flourishes till date. A recourse to a genuine sense of history has revealed that the use of history as resource material for literary creativity in Africa actually predated the inception of modern African literature itself. This claim can easily be validated in the fact that orature which is part and parcel of the African people’s life has its resources drawn from individual heroic exploits, communal epochs as well as other events in the histories of the societies. All of these had existed long before the advent of the literacy culture, the harbinger of modern African literature. However, while modern African literature has been a collective beneficiary of the bounteous historical reservoir, the different canonical leanings kept by different writers who employ historical resource have influenced such writers’ diverse approaches to the socio-political and economic purposes such past events are made to serve. Hence, most of the African literary forerunners who have made use of historical events exhibit a penchant for merely celebrating the exploits of the dramatis personae of the epochs. In the circumstance, a celebration of individual heroism, part of which may even be negative human values, thrives. This literary paradigm concurs with the ideals of bourgeois historiography. In this category is Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka (1926) which is a fictional recreation of the epochal exploits of Shaka, the great king of the ancient Zulu Kingdom. Ola Rotimi’s Kurunmi (1971) is also cast in the mould; being a dramatic enactment of the Yoruba history as it concerned the rebellion staged against the then Alaafin of Oyo by his own generalissimo, Kurunmi. Also, closely knitted to this in history is Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman (1975) which poignantly dramatises the historical account of the undue interference of the then white colonisers in the Yoruba rites of passage particularly with regard to the cultural burial of the Alaafin in the Old Oyo Empire. The list is long. In all of such works, rather than delving into the socio-economic dynamics of the issues at stake at the particular epochs being recreated with a view to cross-examining contemporary realities, what we have is, in Osundare’s words, “an overwhelming nostalgia about the past, a helpless jeremiad about the present, but hardly a suggestion as to the way out of the wilderness, hardly a vision of tomorrow” (25). Coming on the heels of this literary canon are few contemporaries and many emergent ones whose use of history is from a sharply different ideological standpoint. The paradigm shift became noticeable when revolutionary writers came up with works which also draw resources from the historical reservoir but with a practically radical approach. Such works employ history like others but, beyond others, do a post-mortem on history along dialectical lines and even move ahead to show the way forward. In this wise, their use of history as a literary resource is imbued with a revolutionary tenor not witnessed in either of the cultural nationalist and critical realist canons. They heed charges like one posited by Ngugi, in his Writers in Politics (1981), that “the writer should not only explain the world, he should change it” (75). Little wonder, while Sembene Ousmane can be cited as the trail blazer of revolutionary writings that amply drew from the resource of history among literary forebears in Africa with the publication of his seminal novel, God’s Bits of Wood (1960), Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is another. His The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (1976) is outstandingly in this mould. Our target writer, Femi Osofisan, features prominently among emergent African writers whose radical employment of the resource of history is noteworthy. A leading protagonist of the radical literature in Africa, Osofisan is particularly renowned for his almost unparalleled experimentations in dramaturgy. Apart from demonstrating an uncommon skill in the use of history for its revolutionary effects, he has also excelled as a master metatextualist. Interestingly, his Women of Owu (WOO henceforth), our sampled text, enjoys the dual orientation of being a product of history on one hand and, on the other hand, an artistic creation modelled after a classical literary output, The Trojan Women (TTW henceforth) by Euripides. Definitely, this especial background of the text is capable of raising issues. In other words, how has metatextuality been truly made to bear on the dramatic piece? Are there allied experiences which have combined to propel the writing of the play and to make it a true product of history?
According to Agbasiere, Jullie (2011:26), African drama and theatre started to emerge in Africa continent when British came to make their affairs of life imposed on Africans. They came with ideas; religion, education, business transaction, making Africa a raw material place where their solid land was built up by it. Through this, African lifestyle changed and wore another garment because of the predicament at the advent of British. Though Africans had their normal dramatization (in form of folklore), their experiences for the coming of British always feature in the African drama and theatre that was inherited from Europeans.
The origin of African drama and theatre based on traditional, history, and contemporary dramatic forms in Africa which range from sacred or ritual performances to dramatized storytelling, literary drama, or modern fusion of scripted theatre with traditional performance techniques. The diversity in performances is as a result of massive spread of cultures and traditions in each country. A lot of these cultures have rich oral and ritual traditions, aspect of which survived into contemporary society. Thus, National boundaries do not usually reflect traditional territories. Therefore, traditional performances have been used as names of self- expression and empowerment by people facing hostile political or social circumstances (Bradbury, 2009: 12).
Another important element of African drama and theatre is its element that put in place in many play in order to showcase values of African culture and tradition. Modern African literature has been influenced to a remarkable degree by the continent’s long tradition of oral artistry. Before the spread of literacy in the 20th century, texts were preserved in memory and performed or recited. These traditional texts served many of the same purposes that written texts serve in literate societies—entertainment, instruction, and commemoration, for example.
Nigerian playwrights of the 1970s produced plays that were more specifically concerned with the social and moral effects of dictatorship than those by their predecessors. Bode Sowande explores the themes of corruption and exploitation in Afamako—The Workhorse (1978) and Flamingoes (1982). BabafemiOsofisan deploys Brechtian alienation effects as well as storytelling and role-playing to introduce revolutionary potential into plots based on traditions or legends: Esu and the Vagabond Minstrels (1991) (Elspeth Huxley and Margery Perham, 2010:5).
The history of drama during colonial period cannot mark out in the origin of African drama and theatre in relations to its influences in the African drama. Colonization led to the suppression and outlawing of many indigenous art forms, such as drumming and dancing even believes in the ancestral worship while Western missionaries sought to instill Christian values through biblical dramas pageant, Africans often adapted European dramatic form to their own satirical or political purposes. One of the most powerful and effective pieces of political theatre to be produced during this period was I Will Marry When I Want (1977), a play commissioned by the villagers of Kamiriithu in Kenya from two playwrights, NgugiwaThiong’o and NgugiwaMirii. The play focuses on indigenous exploitation and was performed in Kikuyu by and for the villagers in a theatre they built. In defiance of apartheid, black theatre artists collaborated with the white intellectuals in South Africa to develop new forms of protest drama (EmekaNwabueze, 2008:24).
History has often provided creative writers with source material. Historical drama portrays all dramaturgy-features of colonial experience that reveals past events in some society. It is regarded as the totality of how man creates and recreates himself. According to Micheal Etherton (2006:3), historical drama provides themes specific to the dramatist world-view, such as all human struggle for survival. Furthermore, the obvious transformation of history into drama uses history as a tool to achieve a drama of heroism in a more recent manner (P.50).In drama, the distinction between a mere historical reportorial drama and exciting historical drama lies in the technical ability to transform history into art. It is effort of critics to restore the health of Africans that lead to recreation of historical fact: into literary works. African writers have set for themselves the limited task of probing the ways and means whereby the Western imperialism has maintained its hegemony over African literature. It is those whom the history affects that can best explain the intricate of such history.
However ir 1918-1919, there was a devastating worldwide influenza that took greater number of South African races. According to Bradbury (2009:7), this Act drew attention to the poor conditions of African Urban accommodation since the health of the white neighbors were in danger (p. 58).It is seen now how 1921 history was found in 1970 drama that is functionally current with the present South African situation. This assertion was further supported by Tejumola who said that “the playwright talks about the past mainly as a way of talking about the present”. This is where and why Sizwe Bans/ is Dead is a historical drama which is used as a tool for conflict resolution and societal development. The artistic aesthetics in the above play deals with African setting both historically and dramatically as a reality. An example of such works in West Africa is Femi Osofisan’sMorountodun and Other plays whose historical setting is the Moremi legend and Agbekoya uprising of 1968. The Agbekoya uprising deals with ordinary farmers in the Western Nigeria, who rise up and confront the state. These farmers are illiterates who are docile, peace-loving, but suddenly took to arms and begin to fight the government for seven months. This war raged because government neglected them for a long time. Also Moremi is the wife or Oranmiyan in life. When Igbo raiders were attacking the Ife people, it appears the raiders were invincible. A solution for the safety of Ife is that Mormi goes to the god-Esinimrin anc. pledges her child in order that the goddess guides her anc-reveals the secrets of their enemy. However, the goddess agreed to the request in this play, Osofisan recreates pas event to reflect Nigeria socio political situation in Nigeria presently. Moremi legend is ageless-several years ago near the Yoruba civilization at Ile-Ife, this is to prove Tejumola: Who quotes Galileo and St. Joan the historical truth rejected for its implausibility, has the air of an antifact, where as the actual artifacts, the play has an air of truth … (p.97).The truthfulness of Moruntodun lies in the fact that what created Agbekoya uprising and Moremi legendary art-still happening in the present day Nigeria.
It is obvious from the study that historical drama is a critical work which involves choice of a subject, style, what one want to stress in the essay’s subject-matter. However, if one chooses, the subject on historical figure, the artist could decide to write on the characters inner conflict, why the character is in conflict with the society as in Ovonramwen Ngobaisi, Morountudun, Kinjeketile or areas of the outer history. In conclusion, the playwright also chooses their position in relation to existing biases. This the playwright does in interpreting history in such a way that the historical works becomes another artistic version of history, not history itself. In this vein, the historical material undergoes different scrutiny so as to suit both the demands of the stage and those of the playwrights. In the process, the history could be broken up into acts and scenes, thus historical chronology is necessarily tampered with issues of days, events, and places which are all compressed, improvisation, subtractions and additions are made where necessary. Dialogue is created, music, dance rituals etc, are incorporated for particular dramatic effects obviously, such events which cannot be expressed on stage-are either omitted totally or merely reported. The playwright chooses a plot, tension, suspense, climax, which is introduced for artistic aesthetic effects, and a statement for contemporary society is made where necessary, against the background of the historical events, so as to achieve c, greater plausibility. This means that the statement made against the background of history becomes like the history something true. In the end there exist something of a compromise of the true and the fictitious, something that could be assessed not by rules of history, but only by that of art. This becomes the case with the historical drama in Africa. So history as drama is all aesthetic representations of African realities as Ogunba and Irele observed that: Drama tends to flourish in a community with an engaging idea or general inferred which bothers on social, political, historical, cultural, and artistic and a responsive audience. The society and its ideas must meaningfully combine to create artistic ingenuity to rejuvenate or birth of a new experience (P. 65).
1.2 Statement of the problem
African literature emerged out of a need to fill a vacuum; that is the gap in African literature is centered on voicelessness. For many years, the discipline of comparative African literature has been overshadowed by the study of literary influences. This is because all African authors belonging to what is commonly called ‘Modern African Literature’ have come under the influence of Western-type schools of broadly two different categories namely; the study of analogy or literary affinities and the study of influences or indebtedness of diversity, language and culture has constituted a myriad of problem to African Literatures.
One of the key issues in modern African literature is language. The multi-cultural character of African language and the emphasis on the protection of individual people’s linguistic identity have emasculated the great dream of the total institutionalization of modern African literatures. The question of identity and dignity in African literature in the writings of regional and national writers persists because of the prevailing socio-economic and political conditions in the continent and among the countries of the continent. Meanwhile, the language of African literature is another area of interests that has raised a lot of devastating issues among scholars and critics.
The major problem encountered in the course of this research was the dearth of critical materials on the focus play. Whereas there are a plethora of critical opinions on Femi Osofisan and his plays generally, Women of Owu, published in 2006, has, comparatively, attracted very little attention from critics. The research had to rely on the general opinions and the few extant ones that are specific on the play to articulate a framework for a critical engagement with the text. The first task here is to examine the structure of the textual relationship between Euripides’ play and Osofisan‟s adaptation of it, for the purpose of determining if there is mutual enhancement between them or if one text is privileged over the other. The next one is to situate both plays within their respective cultural matrices to appraise the extent to which they, individually, reflect the realities of gender value and expectations within those cultures.
1.3 Objective of the study
The general objective of this study is to analyze “Women of Owu and Morountodun by Femi Osofisan”.
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