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In Mma Udoma, Ukpong deconstructs colonial history

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
17 September 2021   |   1:17 am
It was the venerable poet-dramatist, Prof. John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, of blessed memory, who wrote after the Nigerian Civil War that in every war, casualties usually outweigh the real fighters in the battlefield.

It was the venerable poet-dramatist, Prof. John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, of blessed memory, who wrote after the Nigerian Civil War that in every war, casualties usually outweigh the real fighters in the battlefield. This is why every war causes great harm not just to the soldiers and warlords at the warfront, but to a great number of people including women, children and others, who are relations or dependents of the warring parties.

Like The Trojan Women, Lysistrata, Rebellion of The Bumpy Chested and Women of Owu, Charles Ukpong’s Mma Udoma reminds the reader of pains and anguish inflicted on women during the colonial era.

A brief history:
At the end of 1929, when government had begun to congratulate itself on the successful introduction of direct taxation into Eastern provinces, riots broke out in Calabar and Owerri.

The rumour, thus, ran all through the locality in a few days, spreading anger and dismay, which were all the more intense because the price of palm-produce was falling, and new customs duties had put up the cost of several imported articles of daily use.

In a place called Oloko, Owerri province, a warrant chief, Okugo, under instructions from the district officer, was making a reassessment of the taxable wealth of the people. In this, he attempted to count women, children and domestic animals.

Okugo, continuing, reluctantly, to carry out the district officer’s orders, sent a messenger to count some of his people. This man entered a compound and told one of the married women, Nwanyeruwa, who was pressing oil, to count her goats and sheep.

She replied angrily, “Was your mother counted?”
A meeting of women was called and Nwanyeruwa recounted what happened that day. A palm-leaf, which, it appears, is at once a symbol of trouble and a call for help, was sent round to all the women of the neighbourhood.

From the province, women poured into Oloko and proceeded, according to custom, to ‘sit’ upon the man who bad tried to assess Nwanyeruwa. All night they danced round his house singing a song quickly invented to meet the situation.

Using the traditional practice of censoring men through all night song and dance ridicule (often called “sitting on a man”), the women chanted and danced, and in some locations forced warrant chiefs to resign their positions.

The women also attacked European owned stores and Barclays Bank and broke into prisons and released prisoners. They also attacked Native Courts run by colonial officials, burning many of them to the ground. Colonial Police and troops were called in. They fired into the crowds that had gathered at Calabar and Owerri, killing more than 50 women and injuring over 50 others.

Ukpong’s Mma Udoma is an attempt to reconstruct this history in a dramatic form. Using the six Aristotelian elements of drama, plot, character, thought, diction, spectacle and song, he explores the theme of displacement.

He engages modern tragedy through the eyes of women, and like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the play is about poor individuals, who have been emotionally touched and intellectually challenged by alienation.

Its main mode is empathy and pity for women, who are the victims.
Ukpong’s account of the riot (or is it war?) regales the never-been-told legendary exploits of Madam Adiaha Edem Udoma in the solidarity and resistance of Ibibio women nationalists against the oppressive colonial tax regime of 1929 in Opobo district (now Ikot Abasi).

A mascu-feminist drama, Ukpong deploys women as force of resistance to foreign domination. Resistance forms the base upon which the play interrogates wrongful use of authority and concludes that an abusive use of power leads to an end of power. it is best explined with the expression, tragedy of the ruled.

Like in modern tragedy, it has more than one central character. In the classical tragedy, the protagonist is typically from a wealthy, noble or royal family. The story is about ordinary people and their ambitions, problems, and aspirations; thus, making their stories more realistic.

In modern tragedy, the traditional tragic flaw remains intact. Using an uncelebrated woman, the author raises her to the stature of a national heroine worthy of being immortalised.

The author sets out to correct the erroneous and misleading impression that the women’s war of 1929 started in Aba.
Led by their iron-clad leader, Adiaha Edem Udoma, women nationalists from Bonny, Kwa (Ibibio/Anang), Ogoni, Nkoro Ibo and Opobo (Ikot Abasi” staged an anti-colonial revolt to redress tyrannical, insensitive and oppressive taxes on women.

The women shed their blood to bring to an end the oppressive tax regime against women. The play is written in simple language, with a good deal of proverbs, songs and dances to depict the mood and strong determination of the warring women to stop the tyranny of the colonial master

The sterling qualities of leadership, integrity, courage, honesty, honour and strength of character are evident all through the play.

The narrative technigue is simpleAccording to Keshinro, “Art is communication at a very emotional and elemental level and Art means everything to an artist and therefore my dream is to promote Arts and that is why I decided to build a company called NK Art showroom whose mission is to promote and sell art, establish vibrant links with the citizens to make people aware of their national and universal cultural heritage and the necessity of the arts as vitally important element for economic and intellectual development of both the individual and society.”
and the story is carried from beginning to the end.It is well constructed and a good read for its audience.