30 years after Nobel Prize win, arts community celebrates Soyinka
Last Sunday remains a memorable day in the Nigerian theatre scene, as the Committee For Relevant Art (CORA) organised an Arthouse Forum in collaboration with National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN). The forum examined the influence of Death And The King’s Horseman, one of Professor Wole Soyinka’s classics, on the Nigerian and African dramatic writings and theatre scholarship in 40 years since the play was published.
Held at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, the forum had Ben Tomoloju, moderating, Dr. Tiunji Azeez of Lagos State University, Ojo, Nollywood actor/ theatre practitioner, Francis Onwuche, theatre director/choreographer, Segun Adefila, Publisher of Shekere magazine, Temi Halim and theatre designer, Vincent Sina Ayodele discussing ‘40 Years Of Death And The King’s Horseman’.
Taking a go on how the concept of death in the play has changed the texture and nature of African drama and theatre in the past decades, Azeez noted that the concept has brought an evolution in the African dramaturgy because it introduced a philosophy of the African worldview of the past, the present and the future that have something in common with the present. It deduces, he noted that, life as a continuum.
According to him, Soyinka conceived a theory of the fourth stage through the mystery of Ogun to the birth of Yoruba tragedy, adding that it has defined what African tragedy is, adding that other African playwrights have tolled his path.
Onwuche noted that the play is intriguing and touches the various levels of human conflict in life, and stressed that the person that has been dedicated to die must have had all the privileges of a good life, knowing that he has been so destined to die. To him, Elesin Oba deserves to die, as he had all that was due him while on earth.
Still on the concept of death, Ayodele noted that the play brings to the fore the tragedy of the noble, the tragedy of the common man and the communal tragedy, which makes it a total theatre.
On what ideological bloc, if any, the play belongs, Azeez said none, stating, however, that though in 1975 when the play was written it was the vogue to either belong to the Marxist’s bloc or remain a pariah. He said the play has nothing to do with a revolution. Rather, it is an exposition of the African culture because Elesin Oba’s son is educated, having studied medicine in England, only to return home to relate with his people. The theatre academic noted that the play exposes the hypocrisy of the Western world and opened the idea of self-sacrifice.
While juxtaposing the play with extreme nationalism happing across the globe, particularly the Brexit and Trump, the U.S. President-elect, who is toying with the idea of sending non-Americans, especially Africans, out of his country, Halim said the play should not be seen from such narrow perspective. She explained that it is more of a Yoruba play, preferring the Yoruba version to the English language translation. She, however, queried if really Death And The King’s Horseman is a tragedy. She stated that Soyinka’s translation of what informed the play from Yoruba to English language made him to use words that are nearest to the meaning of the original words in English. She demanded what the Yoruba meaning of tragedy is, adding that the play should be seen from the perspective of the Yoruba people and culture rather than expanding it, saying expanding the scope may make it lose its essence and meaning.
On the lessons of the plays, she asked if African societies have actually made any remarkable progress from the 1940s when the event that led to the play happened. She called on African leaders to explore African ideas, go back to African system of education that conditions the individual to be responsive and responsible to his/her society, rather than the individualistic nature western system of education and culture have created in us.
The forum marked part of activities to celebrate Professor Soyinka’s winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986 and the 40th year of writing the play. There was a command performance of the play, which had the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai
Mohammed, as special guest of honour.
Before the performance, Mohammed said, “Professor Soyinka’s literary creativity, ingenuity and contributions to the growth and development of literature and dramatic arts can easily be described as legendary. He has continued to play vital roles in the development of arts, culture and democracy in Nigeria and around the world. I want to say that we will continue to count on his support in our quest to develop and promote our country’s creative industry to enhance its contributions to the national economy.
“The creative industry and its important component, the performing arts, have been optimally and gainfully harnessed by most countries of the world, especially in Europe, America and Asia, to uplift their economies. Even countries in the African continent like South Africa, Kenya and Egypt have optimally harnessed their creative industry for the same purpose. Nigeria has a vast and rich cultural heritage, and if this is strategically re-positioned through increased investment and viable partnerships, it will further drive tourism and significantly lift the Nigerian economy.
“I am glad to report that our efforts to lift the creative industry have received support from President Muhammadu Buhari. Not only has the President rallied support for the sector, he has also directed that such support must reflect in the budget of the Ministry of Information and Culture in 2017. We will leverage on such high level support to further our plan to develop our country’s creative industry and also enhance its contribution to the national economy.”
He highlighted part of the steps government has taken to support the creative industry by reaching out to organisations that have the capacity and that can utilise their business knowledge, network and technical expertise to assist the ministry in the development of the creative industry. He revealed that government has signed partnership agreements with the Tony Elumelu Foundation and the British Council to promote and support the sector.
“An innovative part of the collaboration is the plan to convene a Creative Economy Task Force to map the creative industry to provide a better picture of what is happening on the ground and help inform policy development,” he concluded.
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