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Advocating gender parity, empowerment in Jagagba

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A scene from the play

Men have often overlooked the subtle power women wield in their quest to undermine the female gender and place them perpetually at a lower spot. This is evident in all almost all aspects of life. Such scenario is currently playing out in Aaye in Ifedore Local Government Area of Ondo State, where a young lady, Princess Taiwo Oyebola Agbona, presides over the community as regent pending when a suitable male is found and crowned king!

Why is Princess Agbona fit to act only as regent and not be eventually crowned queen for her people? Is it because of the absence of an heir by the last king? Why should such lapse be held against her and other women when it is the man who decides the sex of a child? Why should women be so brazenly marginalized in this day and age of women empowerment for no fault of theirs?

These are some of the questions that Abdul-Qudus Ibrahim’s prize-winning play, Jagagba, tangentially sought answers to when it was performed recently at MUSON Centre in Lagos, produced by Bikiya Graham-Douglas. Jagagba (crown) won the second edition of Graham-Douglas-inspired Beeta Universal Art Foundation’s Playwriting Competition 2019. And so while men seemingly pay lips-service to their promises of empowering women, the women on their own have become wiser and are not waiting for the fulfillment of such promises. They are ready to deploy the subtle artistry of their inner strength to appropriate and wrest power from men at their most vulnerable point.

King Adewale’s (Kunle Coker) harem is bursting to the seams, but he has only female children. In spite of how much he exerts his loins, no male child is forthcoming from his many wives and he is getting on in age. In Ile-Rere kingdom, only a man in the bloodline can wear Jagagba, the crown, except in rare cases when a special cleansing ceremony is carried out to induct an outsider into the royal line. Angry at his failure to scion a male heir, King Adewale orders the execution of all his wives and female children.

Thereafter, he takes a young wife, Abebi (Lami George/Bamike Olawunmi) who, unknowing to him and everyone else in the kingdom, has some claim to the throne, her father having been earlier ill-treated and thus forced to abandon what would have rightly been hers. What is more, Abebi has some supernatural powers and a coterie of female devotees to assist her stake a claim to the throne. She is the tortoise of a woman; Abebi bids her time. When King Adewale dies, she sets her plan in motion.

First comes the young man who King Adewale took into his arm and had been grooming to replace him. But he needed Baba Ifa (Omololu Sodiya) to perform the necessary rites of cleansing to purify and turn his ordinary blood into blue blood of royal refinement. Unfortunately, King Adewale does not last through the duration of the refinement process; he dies, leaving young Adebola in limbo where he is required to undergo Ija Jgagba (royal fight) and contend with others before he can ascend the throne. Adesupo (Kelvinmary Ndukwe) is the first to step forward to contradict Adebola’s right to the throne. Adesupo is King Adewale’s brother who he banished for some offence, but who has returned to claim what rightly belongs to him.

Abebi who has designs for the throne favours Adesupo over Adebola and instigates him to fight Adesupo. She inspires Adesupo to win the royal fight (Ija Jagagba) and the right to the throne. But Abebi is a woman on a mission to royal entitlements ordinarily denied her by circumstances. When Adesupo kills Adebola and is set to be crowned king, Abebi comes up with her load of demands for assisting him gain victory over his rival. She wants a seat in the royal council. Adesupo is angry at her temerity. He rejects her request outright; she can only be consigned to his harem as one of his wives. Abebi is done with such ordinary, regular role for women; she wants something higher for herself and for playing a major part in deciding who becomes king. Having lived in the palace, she knows more than most men and is ready to deploy her craft to some good return.

Disappointed that her deal with Adesupo has failed, she sets about propping up another man for the throne. She turns to Balogun (Olarotimi Fakunle), a prominent palace council member and ruler of a major quarter in Ile-Rere. Although he’d earlier expressed his ambition, when Abebi makes him the royal overture, he is stunned. But he warms up to the idea and challenges Adesupo to ija Jagagba. Abebi gives him the charm with which he vanquishes Adesupo. But as usual Balogun dismisses and mocks Abebi for demanding a seat in the royal council; he does even take her as wife, but offers her to his third son.

Yet again, a disappointed Abebi turns to her powers. She approaches Baba Ifa who crowns kings to crown her instead of Balogun. A reprobate Baba Ifa reluctantly acquiesces to Abebi for fear of being exposed of his misdeeds. Just when Balogun is to be crowned, Abebi unleashes her female power and acolytes and a dazed Baba Ifa and the entire Ile-Rere watch aghast as he crowns Abebi instead of Balogun.

Ibrahim’s Jagagba is female empowerment and gender parity-sensitive play makes a strong case for the ascension of women to whatever height of excellence there is for both men and women to aspire. When curtains opened, Narrator’s (Mawuyon Ogun) alerts the audience to the ascension trouble in King Adewale’s palace and kingdom and the dramatic plot that needs to be resolved for Ile-Rere to have peace again.

With spare and austere stage, the director, Bunmi Adewale, deploys economy of resources but flamboyant stage artistry that makes a fine art out of the high politics characterized by intrigues, and feminine guile to accomplish a dramatic resolution. For Ile-Rere just like everywhere else including Aaye community in Ondo State, where a female regent is currently presiding temporarily, change is in the offing; a woman (Princess Agbona), too, deserves to be crowned queen!

Jagagba’s feminist flavour is not in doubt; King Adewale’s liquidation of his entire family of some 15 wives and 30 children is one of stage’s bloodiest events. It would have been unimaginable injustice for his adopted successor, another male, an undeserving Adebola, to ascend the throne. Indeed, it is poetic justice that having spurned and executed some 45 women, a woman still arises to replace him to sit on the throne he sought to preserve for masculine pride, whether deserving of it or not. Herein lies the success of Jagagba as a piece of dramatic art that corrects men’s narrow-mindedness in not seeing the world from rounded perspectives. It is what unleashes unimaginable monstrosities in society.

Had King Adewale sought to change the old tradition so anyone in line, whether male or female, ascends the throne, Abebi would not have resorted to her extreme measures. Through Jagagba, Ibrahim advocates for progressive social change that transforms societies where everyone gets equal treatment, men and women alike. Jagagba is a major stage victory for gender campaign. Both Ibrahim and producer Graham-Douglas deserve commendation for bringing it on stage and the world’s attention.


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