IT was Williams Wordsworth, the late English poet who said, ‘life is divided into three terms — that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future”. Ladepo Duro-Ladipo might be acting on this truism, when he revisits one of his father’s works, Ajagun Nla, and putting itup for theatrical performance. It is also for people of other climes to know about the struggles of the Yoruba.
It captures some of the events that happened in the 16th and 17th centuries, and tells how the Ibariba terrorized and humiliated the Yoruba in its territorial expansion and possibly to impose its government on them. When they realise what they would face if they lose their independence, Yoruba warriors, under the generalissimo of Ajagun Nla, fight them back, and defeat them and take back what belongs to them.
With this victory, the people had peace and good governance. But while the peace lasts, the Ibariba re-strategise and attack the Yoruba again; this time they use internal forces to upset a well-fortified army.
The play shows that till date the Yoruba have not been able to recover from that assault, but that instead the defeat created rancour and discord that has continued to tear the Yoruba nation apart.
At the epicentre of the whole crisis is Ajagun Nla, who despite the traumatizing challenges he faces at home, manages to stabilise the polity and assigns different responsibilities to his lieutenants. Ajagun Nla’s dynamic leadership calls for emulation, not only among the Yoruba people, but also any group that wants lasting good success.
The 98-page play published last year by Back-To-Mbari publishers depicts Ajagun Nla as an epitome of a good leader, whose qualities such as selfless service to his nation, team spirit and gallantry helped his subordinates to fight and conquer their archenemy, the Ibariba.
Apart from the war, the play highlights some of the forgotten Yoruba culture like matchmaking (alarina), belief in the oracle (Ifa), moral chastity, discipline, rewarding good deeds among others.
However, the old culture of using women as gift item to reward good deeds is condemnable. The play projects this, when Onikoyi gives her daughter, Omolola, already betrothed to Kode, to Ajagun-Nla for his gallantry in the war. Though an aspect of the then Yoruba history, the playwright should have given this aspect another dimension – show the anger of the deprived.
Why Duro-Ladipo intends not to raise emotions with Ibariba’s assault, he hopes to use the play to call on Yoruba leaders to reflect on the common history of the people with the aim of drawing from the various happenings, antics and the unity that existed to unite the people and chart a way forward. Although he adds some fictional elements to fill what was missing in the earlier story by his late father in terms of form, content and dramaturgy, the play serves as a thermostat to regulate the actions and inaction of the Yoruba people with the aim of creating a better society.
Portraying other themes apart from leadership and governance, the play dives into culture and belief. It brings out that Esu, (Yoruba god of mischief), tagged as the Devil/Lucifer by Christians and the early Europeans, is really not so. Rather, he is a benevolent god, a messenger of Olorun (the Almighty). Here, the play projects him as a god who takes offence whenever his words are not obeyed. Esu shows this when he cleverly uses an enemy to thwart the orderliness and good governance of the nation. Esu is instrumental to the warriors coming together to fight and defeat the Ibariba and Esu gets annoyed when his advice through Ifa oracle (divination) is ignored and the Ifa priest openly slighted.
While the book makes a good read for those interested in Yoruba politics, Duro-Ladipo would be advised, perhaps in consequent edition, to correct the syntax, sentence construction and punctuations. For instance he says ‘to fight a course,’ whereas it should be ‘to fight a cause.’ Also, the cognomen of the gods should be properly looked into with the aim of using the right word to represent the personality of the gods. Referring to Irumole as a god is not proper; these creatures are fairies.
Misgivings like this need to be put in order because, as a play, any group, irrespective of tribe, could perform it, and in so doing would assimilate everything in the book to be the truth.
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