IBA… Homage to ancestors for UNILORIN’s convocation outing
The amphitheatre of the newly built 2000-capacity multi-purpose hall of the University of Ilorin has some limitations to delivery of classical theatrical performances, especially dance drama. The concrete floor appears hardened with tiles embellishment. Peculiar lighting devices are nil.
But such barriers couldn’t stop the National Troupe of Nigeria for the presentation of IBA (homage) as the curtain raiser for the week long convocation ceremony of the University of Ilorin with the marking of the 40th anniversary of the Ivory Tower as a major highlight.
The 45-minutes performance was not only well-delivered, it also evoked wide applause from the audience. Created by Prof. Ahmed Yerima in collaboration with the Troupe’s Director in charge of Dance, Mr. Arnold Udoka, the play celebrates worship as a fundamental bond between the ancestors and the living.
In the three-part production, the clan is summoned to worship as worshippers gather to pay homage to the goddess of fertility and beauty – Yemoja, in the grove of the altars of the ancients. And for endowing man with the ability to defend himself and maintain peace, homage is also paid to the god of war in the appearance of Iri-Agha and Egwu-Odum. The gods also heal man of infirmities and so homage is paid to the spirit of Boori.
Perhaps to lead the audience into the essence of the production, each part is heralded with a narration anchored by Arnold Udoka whose appearance on stage signalled the beginning of the presentation, although frenzy of drumbeats from the troupe’s team of drummers had calmed the nerves of the audience who had hitherto become agitated for the perceived delay in the start of the play.
The announcement was for the performance to commence at 4.30pm on Monday, October 19, 2015 and before that time, the hall had already filled up. But it didn’t start until 5.45p.m.
The excuse was that the Vice Chancellor, Professor Abdul Ganiyu Ambali who had unexpectedly travelled to Abuja that same Monday morning for reasons connected to hitch-free execution of the 40th anniversary and 31st convocation activities had called to express desire to be part of the performance evening.
Eventually, Prof. Ambali could not, but his deputy in charge of Research and Technology, Prof. Gabriel Olatunji later stood in for him.
Olatunji referenced this in his opening remarks saying, “this is the second in the series of our activities for the 31st convocation ceremony and the 40th anniversary. We thank God that we took off very fine in the morning (with film show) and we are now continuing with this play performance.
“Our VC, Prof. Abdul Ganiyu Ambali, OON, will join us in few minutes time. I thank you all for being patient for the slight delay in the proper take-off of the performance. But be assured that your patience will be rewarded adequately by the quality of the play we are about to witness this evening.
The National Troupe of Nigeria with which we have an MoU is a troupe that has international status. They are not local. They are not just national, they are also international. I assured you that what we are going to witness here today will make you sleep much better this night and you will never forget that you attend this event. Please enjoy the play.
Thereafter, the Artistic Director of the Troupe, Mr. Akin Adejuwon underscored what led to the performance and resources deployed to enrich the offering. The production, Adejuwon asserted, was to show the troupe’s strong attachment to the relationship it had with the university. “This is for no other reason than the fact that, all over the country, we haven’t found any university (and most honestly, this is not to massage your ago at all) that has accepted us so warmly as the University of Ilorin. I acknowledge without any doubt that university of Ilorin is better by far.”
The production, he said, was specially put together for the 40th anniversary celebration of the university, “because this is a milestone and we have to do this so that we can express our appreciation to the VC, Prof. Abdul Ganiyu Ambali.”
And for an excellent delivery, the troupe, he noted, went extra miles inviting, as guest artistes, “three of our best practitioners out there who passed through the national troupe, but have made a success of themselves wherever they are.” They are Adedayo Liadi described as one of the best “choreographers in Nigeria today”; Ayo Ewebiyi (she played Yemoja) who is renowned as “a proficient artiste with a powerful voice in praising the ancestors” and Vou Bala (lead character in Boori), “whom we had to fly in from Jos.”
And indeed, these artistes gave good account of themselves as they lifted the production greatly to delight of the audience.
Mr. Udoka, the narrator had captured the glimpse of the play, saying, at the start of part one, subtitled ‘Orisha Adulation, Yengbe and Akpekpe’ dances, “In all Nigerian cultures, the young respects the elderly, and men show respect to the gods. Good evening!
“The best kept secret of Nigerian cultures is the unalloyed loyalty to the myths of our existence precipitated by our forebears and to which we owe our understanding of the past and the present.
“We never cease to acknowledge these intangible yet concrete connections that give meaning to our very existence. And so tonight, as always, on the altar of the ancients, we have paid homage to the Pantheon of Yoruba Deities to whom man has gained the understanding of his spiritual and natural worlds.”
And some minutes later when illumination replaced the darkness that had enveloped the hall signalling the end of the first part, the narrator reappeared to introduce the second part tagged ‘Iri-Agha and Egwu Odum’ dance:
“The gods protect and guide us. They also teach our minds and hands to war, defend, protect, preserve and manage our lives.
“With the art of war, the gods have taught man how to deal with threats and fear in a world so unforgiving and unpredictable and in which man is perpetually at the mercy of contending forces. Man must always defend and protect his safety; always. Tonight, on the altar of the ancients, we pay homage to AMADIOHA the god of war.”
His third and final appearance as a prelude to ‘Boori’ dance was not only dramatic, the delivery was poetic and philosophical:
“The mind of man from where all desires, thoughts and actions emanate deserves the utmost of defensive armoury. If, perchance, the mind of a man is diseased, how healthy would the desires, thoughts and actions of such a man be? Can these aggregate to defend and protect or destroy the potentials of humanity? Your guess is as good as mine.
But the gods had foreseen that the mind and body of man are fragile and prone to diseases that can destroy man earlier than expected. So, the gods committed time, energy and knowledge to make available to man, methods of healing for the human mind and body.
“And so tonight, on the altar of the ancients, we pay homage to the healing spirits of BOORI.”
Overwhelmed with joy and going by the satisfaction displayed by the audience after the show, Adejuwon praised his team for “concise, presice and punchy delivery. That was what we did and we thank God that it was well received.”
He drew a correllation between the theme of the play, especially the white costume that dominated most of the scenes and healing processes being undertaken in the political and economic spheres in the country.
The colour white stands for purity and it is well represented even in the western marriage ceremonial costume up till this contemporary time. White is for the purity of the time which is required by the integrity and the change that is in the air represented by President Muhammadu Buhari,” Adejuwon said recalling that the same concept was explored by the troupe in its presentation during the inauguration ceremony of the president early June 2015.
During the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Troupe presented a situation where there had been serious illness, infection and malady in the body, in the land. You know, the body and the land is the same as every body is going to go back to the land. We all came from the land, and we all will go back.
“So, any time there is ailment or malady, there is need for spiritual and physical healing… and that represents what is going on today in Nigeria.
The country has got very terrible filth of sickness, infection of the system which had almost ended in catastrophe for Nigeria, and then, just by the grace of God, we now have some healing going on. We believe, after this healing process, fertility and rejuvenation will emerge as captured in the last segment of the performance.
He discountenanced the assumption that the Orisha worship scenes in the production might have negative impact on the religious sensibility of Ilorin people who are predominantly Muslims.
“One thing that is important is the fact that performing art primarily has to do with expression. And what the National troupe did with the play was to go out of normal cultural demands of the area.
The focal point of this production is to highlight the fact that the moving force for progress and development has to be from within. And it has to be deep, not profane or from immediate contemporary level. That was what National Troupe did with the production as we went down into our essence, our culture.
“You do not have to serve what people know or what they are used to all the time. You have to give them new thing from their own very background which they have noticed. And that is the work of the National troupe, reconnecting people with their roots.”