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At oral literature conference, experts chart nuanced narrative for Nigerian films

By Omiko Awa
12 November 2017   |   3:44 am
“Film is a very strong medium to export culture, influence people and create change. We can equally use it to export our culture because art works aim at imposing an order, influencing people and calling for change.”

Prof. Leticia Mbaiver (left), Dr. John Iwu, Prof. Gordini G. Darah, Professor Hygenus Ekwuazi and a panellist, at the 5th Nigerian Oral Literature Association (NOLA), held at University of Ibadan (UI).

Experts of oral performance and academics of humanities from different tertiary institutions across the country, including publishers and art critics recently held the 5th yearly conference of the Nigerian Oral Literature Association (NOLA) at the Department of Arts, University of Ibadan, Oyo State. With ‘Performance, Popular Arts and the New Media’ as theme, the keynote speaker, a professor of broadcasting and film studies, Hyginus Ekwuazi, used Yoruba films and culture as medium to explore the Nigerian movie industry, otherwise known as Nollywood. According to him, the industry, which before now had no government’s input, has grown to a phenomenal level that cannot be ignored across the globe.

In tracing Yoruba film culture to the Alarinjo (travelling) Theatre, Ekwuazi noted that apart from having contributed so much to the making of modern films in the country, the sub-culture sector has served as a platform for exposing Yoruba culture in terms of gesticulation, songs, fashion, poetry, beliefs and other narratives about the people.

While dwelling on the sub-theme ‘The Word — And The Scattered Performance,’ Ekwuazi noted that common forms of oral literature are panegyric poetry, elegiac, religious poetry, special purpose (hunting, etc) poetry, lyric, topical and political songs, and children’s songs and rhymes. According to him, Yoruba films and traditional performances draw heavily from Yoruba culture, which cannot be divorced from its prose narratives, which include animal stories, stories about people, myths, legends, historical narratives, proverbs, riddles, and oratory. He noted that critics, who do not understand the culture and ethos of the people, would find it difficult to critique Yoruba films, adding that the dances, drum languages and drama that go with the films have depth in meaning, as they tell who the people are, the event or occasion and the essence of the event.

He noted that many a time, critics do not do justice to Yoruba films because they mostly use Western parametres and standards to assess these films and other Nigerian films that deal heavily on soliloquy and body language. The academic stated that Nigerian films do not tally with western films in mode, audience, events and technology and as such should not be evaluated using the same criteria. He further stressed that films produced locally are different because of the country’s cultural diversity and they should be seen from that angle.

Although he conceded that this was the age of modern technology and films should reflect this, Ekwuazi said there was no need to introduce cultural ‘curtains’ into films, but rather a way of including those aspects of local culture on which emphasis should focus on. He noted that Hollywood and western culture were influencing Africans and eroding their value system through the use of films.

According to him, “Those things they know that we do not accept in principle or concrete terms, they make them into films to affect our sub-consciousness and with time we begin to accept them.

“Gay or same-sex marriage is unAfrican. Our governments disagreed with them, called their bluff, but today, it is part of us. This they have been able to achieve through films. They put those things in films and send to us to watch. And after watching, we begin to rationalise why it should be practiced or not practised and even begin to practise them on our individual grounds.

“Film is a very strong medium to export culture, influence people and create change. We can equally use it to export our culture because art works aim at imposing an order, influencing people and calling for change.”

EKWAUZI also stated that the emerging forms of oral literature include the new media/screen and its’ various platforms: the large screen, small screen, smaller screen, and the much smaller screens of emerging content Apps. According to him, some of the consequences of the emerging forms of oral literature include paradigm shift in performance, scribal and the electronic medium with infinite possibilities for the world outside and the pictures in the head.

He called on NOLA members, the academia, filmmakers and other stakeholders that use oral literature as a medium to embrace these new media to reach out to their audiences. He stressed that these forms of expression have come to stay, and the world is keying into them, adding that for our oral literature to be for the next generation, we need to go the same way, too.

On why some local films do not always fit western standards, the broadcasting and film studies teacher said Nollywood was a creation of traders, who are in the business to make money and who used any means available to them to tell their story and achieve their aims. He called on professionals keen on going into the business of filmmaking to learn the theories and laws of filmmaking, but advised that one was not constrained to keep them, as they could be broken if one has the reason for doing so. He stressed on the need to always think outside the box for innovative ways of adapting to new trends. He frowned at some local filmmakers, who he said break filmmaking laws without any reason for doing so and end up messing what would have been a good production.

He noted that the motivation for producing quality films with good storylines did not lie with the Censor Board, training or registrations, but with the audience, adding, “It is the audience that make the filmmaker to change and not the Censor Board. The very day the audience begins to demand for high quality films, the filmmaker will change. This is so because the filmmaker makes a film to make another –– it’s for economic reasons.”

ANOTHER lead paper presenter, Professor Leticia Mbaiver Nyitse from Benue State University, Makurdi, who spoke on ‘Blossoms in The Desert: The Sprouting of Female Composers and Performers’ hinged her paper on Tiv oral literature. She revealed that Tiv oral literature, especially the poetry is very fecund, but was for a long time considered a male art. She noted that Tiv oral literature’s appeal has been in its occasional nature as songs composed and performed for various purposes.

Nyitse highlighted the roles the church has played to rejuvenate Tiv oral performance, saying Christianity, which has been accused of being partly responsible for silencing women in most spheres of endeavour, has helped to unveil the creative energies of women composers by providing the much needed tutelage and occasions for these women to practise their art. According to her, these once-invisible female composers were now emerging from the shadows as the desert now blossoms with female voices, both as composers and performers.

Nyitse said, “Intentionally or not, the church has, in this regard, served as a moderating influence on patriarchy in Tiv society by providing platforms for female poets to contribute to church and national advancement through performance.”

She commended colonialism for introducing western education and literacy into Tivland, noting that the major shortcoming is that it encouraged written arts in English language at the detriment of oral performance in Tiv, which has led to the near extinction of knowledge of Tiv language and culture, especially among the youth. She averred that one of the changes colonialism brought was the loosening of the controls, which traditional leadership, especially the elders, exerted on members of the society, especially women.

Nyitse commended the Universal Reformed Christian Church for helping to unveil three young Tiv women –– Deborah NguzanBem, Becky Dekor and Nguungwan Abuul and said the church has provided the traditionally ignored Tiv women with opportunities for training and mentorship to engage in poetic compositions, and transforming them from mere consumers to producers of the poetry.

Other speakers were Professors Ahmed Yerima (Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State) and Nkem Okoh (University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State).

After the various presentations, the speakers were grouped into sub groups to deliberate on topics like Popular Music and the New; Media; Performance, Oral Literature and the New Media; Festivals, Popular Arts and the New Media; Performance Arts and the Mass Media; Performance Arts, New Media and Education; Drama, Theatre, and the New Media; Performance Arts, Film and Nollywood/Movie Traditions.

Others were Performance Arts, Stand-Up Comedy and the New Media; Dance, Mime and Popular Arts; Languages, Linguistics, and the New Media; Performance Arts, Religion, Philosophy and the New Media; Visual/Creative Arts and the New Media; Children, Cartoon Stories, Comics, Animation Arts; History, Anthropology, and the New Media; Gender, Performance Arts, and the New Media; Popular Arts and Entrepreneurship; Performance Arts, New Media and Governance; New Media, Human Rights, Crime and Security; and Globalisation, Performance Arts and the New Media.