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Chapter one takes a cursory look at the general background to the study of drama and concepts adduced by different scholars in adjudging drama: There is the Eurocentric and Afrocentric views on the existence of drama in Africa and what constitute modern African drama. Also in this chapter, there is the view and treatment on the Statement of the problem, Research questions, Purpose of the study, Scope of the study, Significance of the study and Research methodology.
1.1. General Background to the Study
Drama as an art form thrives on performance because it involves the imitation of an action, an enactment or a re-enactment of a story in lifelike situations. In all these, action or imitation of an action is involved. The Aristotelian concept of drama with its emphasis on imitation, plot, dialogue, conflict and so on has generated much controversy on what constitutes drama in the context of African traditional performances, generally. Based on this, two schools of thoughts have evolved. Some scholars support the adoption of the Aristotelian thought either totally or with some modifications while others oppose it. Consequently, there are two schools of thoughts on the contentious issue. These are the relativist school of thought and the evolutionist school of thought. Some adherents of the evolutionist school like Ruth Finnegan and Kalu Uka believe that there is nothing like African drama, and they condemn drama in Africa for its lack of linguistic content, plot, represented interaction of several characters, specialized scenery, among others, in comparison with drama in the western axis which is said to be the source for drama in Africa.
The arguments of the evolutionist school are summed up as Eurocentric, while the arguments of the relativist school, on the other hand, are summed up as Afro-centric views. Scholars such as Akporobaro F.B.O. (62) assert that “…the nature and aesthetic basis of dramatic performances in the traditional African context are in many respects different from what obtains in the European context.” Consequently, this school of thought advocates the use of the African dramatic aesthetics in the evaluation of African plays irrespective of their contentious nature as argued by Iyorwuese Hagher (160). Nonetheless, the use of the African dramatic aesthetics is advocated against the universal western dramatic aesthetics. This is premised on the indisputable fact that drama is an important element in traditional African culture. In other words, drama in Africa is buried in its traditional and cultural personality (Michael Echeruo, 136).
Related to the position of Echeruo, Enekwe Ossie (154), a vocal voice for the existence of African drama who distinguishes drama in Africa from other forms of drama in the world, maintains that the closest form of drama to it is the Asian drama. He goes further to state that African drama is more presentational, stylized, ritualistic, participative, mythic, integrative, religious, metaphysical, sensuous, celebrative, and total because it combines many art forms such as music, poetry, dance, acting, miming, mask, painting, singing, dialogue, acrobatics, among others, which distinguish it from the mainstream European drama quite psychological, peripheral, metaphysical and intellectual. Further to this argument, some Euro-centric critics who condemn African drama borrow from it to bring back the lost dramatic glory of the western drama. This borrowing implies that drama in Africa has attained some uniqueness and distinction.
The Eurocentric view is summarized in the “evolutionist school” headed by M. J. C. Echeruo. To them, “Africa has no culture or history” or African history and civilization are nothing more than the story of European activities in Africa” (Ademola Ajayi, 10). Jude Agho (10, 11 & 12) notes that the Eurocentric stance was clearly portrayed in works of Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness) and Joyce Cary (Mister Johnson). Generally, the different Eurocentric socio-cultural and political misconceptions about Africa are well discussed by Felix Alao (13-18). These culturally demeaning euro-centric views on Africa generally extend to the literature in Africa (Ogundeji P.A., 211). These views imply specifically that there was no drama in Africa until the incursion of the colonial masters.
To buttress the above stance, Julius-Adeoye Rantimi (4) presents the Eurocentric views of three antagonistic scholars in the persons of Ruth Finnegan, Michael Echeruo and Richard Wallaschek. Finnegan argues that “there is no linguistic content, plot, represented interaction of several characters, specialized scenery in the African drama; Richard Wallaschek bemoans the meaninglessness of African drama as against the European’s meaningfulness in dramatic content; while Echeruo condemns Igbo ritual drama as lacking in dramatic content and argues that traditional festivals are not drama, but rituals. Echeruo insists that there must exist a story to be enacted or imitated for a performance to be classified as drama. They simply dismiss drama in Africa as mere ritual. Also quite noteworthy here is Ola Rotimi who hinges his argument on the presence of an imitation of action in the performance for it to be termed drama. He opines that “any ritual display which contains mimetic impulse ought to be classified as drama, not ritual” (Ogunbiyi, 7). In addition to the trio’s denial is Uka (1973), cited in Osuagwu & Affiah (2012) who states thus:
What is usually called traditional drama….is not yet drama.
It is the legacy upon which drama may draw and draw with
ever increasing returns….what some usually and glibly call
traditional drama is properly and essentially elements of drama. (6)
From the above quotation, drama in African did not exist until the incursion of the colonialists and consequently, their imposed education and civilization and even if drama existed in Africa, it was not full-fledged. In other words, there was nothing like drama in existence in pre-colonial Africa. Western civilization brought drama to Africa as far as the Eurocentric scholars are concerned. This school insists, therefore, that for any performance to be classified as drama, it must contain elements of an imitation of an action and a story to be enacted or re-enacted. They conclude that the ritual festivals in Africa must conform to the Aristotelian concept of plot as the soul of drama, to be regarded as drama.
However, as far as Osuagwu and Affiah (6) are concerned, Euro-centrism amounts to ‘de-indigenizing’ or ‘de-traditionalizing’ African drama. Furthermore, in reaction to Finnegan’s criticism, Osuagwu and Affiah (6) strongly state that Finnegan’s conclusion was nothing but mere swallowing of Aristotelian postulations on drama which were descriptive of what Sophocles had done, rather than being prescriptive.
Apart from the observation of Osuagwu and Affiah above, other counter-criticisms by Afro-centric scholars abound. These criticisms are aggregated in the “relativist school.” The view of the relativist school, championed by Ossie Enekwe and Adedeji J. A., is that drama and ritual are reciprocal in function and similar in structure, so one can easily lead to the other. It means that it is difficult to separate ritual and drama, therefore, drama exists in traditional performances. Supporting this view, Ogunbiyi (4) states that the origins of drama lie in the numerous traditional, religious and functional rituals. J. P. Clark (58-59), similarly, suggests that the origins of Nigerian drama which is a subset of African drama, is likely to be found in the early religious and magical ceremonies and festivals of the Yoruba, the egwugwu and mmo masques of the Ibo, and the owu and oru water masquerades of the Ijaw; dramas typical of the national repertory still generally unacknowledged today.
Nkala (1990: 7), cited by Okodo (132), argues that, “that traditional African drama exists is not in question”. Agho (2000: 1) clarifies this by stating that “the novel is the only literary art form imported and imposed over and above the development from an entirely native pattern.” Manjula V.N. (6) states that “traditional drama was being performed before the colonial era, and its many forms, still performed”. Jane Plastow (170) also categorically states that drama (both secular and religious) existed in Africa long before the emergence in the 1960s of modern African drama. Okodo (131) discrediting Finnegan’s derogatory stance on the existence of drama in Africa, argues that if the dramatic performance of Greek classical culture originated from ritual performances in honour of gods, Dionysius and Apollos, why would the ritual performances of Igbo gods, nay all the gods in Africa, be rejected?
Besides that, Finnegan’s derogation culminates in naming drama in Africa as quasi-dramatic phenomenon. Similarly, Manjulah (5) quotes Finnegan who says that “Africans like specialized drama”. This, in itself, to a great extent, implies that Africa had some form of drama felt not worth equating with western drama, perhaps, because of its uniqueness that distinguishes it from its counterpart. As further argued by Julius-Adeoye (3) and Ododo Sunday (2), what constitutes drama or theatre is culture-referent and all performances are culture-based. Okodo I. strengthens this argument by stating that no culture is inferior. Besides the fact that no culture is inferior, every culture tends to be the resource for literature. In other words, literature is a cultural production; by implication, drama is a cultural production. European literature is not in any way different in this case. Similarly, Schipper-de (56) says “there is no clear separation between oral literature and drama”. In other words, oral literature, which is an integral aspect of culture, contains elements of drama and is always at the same time drama in a way because performance is such an essential part of literature, just as in modern written drama.
As noted by Ajayi (24), an indispensable source for reconstructing the early culture and civilization of Africa is oral tradition. Though, oral traditions may take the forms of myths, legends, songs, folklores, proverbs, poems, epigrammatic sayings, popular history, and festivals, among others. Oral tradition is unarguably an integral aspect of culture. This argument further implies that oral traditions must have been the indigenous resources which had given drama in Africa its uniqueness. This Afro-centric stance in the words of some notable scholars, for example, Binebai Benedict (371) citing Nwamuo (2008) clarifies this by making reference to James Ene Henshaw thus:
The issue of sanctified space in African drama and the unique
idioms of mime, drama, ritual and drumming which characterized
the total African theatre today were first effectively woven into
written drama in English by Henshaw in Children of the Goddess. (264)
Ogundeji (211), who has argued that traditional performances should be seen as theatre and drama, sums the Afro-centric stance as “before the existence of the corn, the fowl had always had something to eat”, a translation from a Yoruba proverb (kàgbàdó tó dáyé, ó nihun tádiye n? je). This seems to find more strength in Chinweizu’s (1980: 4) observation cited in Osuagwu and Affiah (7) that “… African literature is an autonomous entity separate and apart from all other literatures. It has its own traditions, models and norms. Its constituency is separate and radically different from that of the European or other literatures” (Osuagwu & Affiah, 7). In the spirit of this self-defense, quite a good number of scholars have argued convincingly that it is in the pre-colonial rituals, festivals and other related performances that we can boast of indigenous theatre practice long before the intrusion of westernization, said to be the genesis of African drama. As further argued by Kafewo Samuel (198), ‘theatre and drama are the meeting points for all the “dormant” elements of culture.’ It means that there was actually drama in Africa before the incursion of the Europeans because drama is an intricate aspect of culture.
The incursion of the colonial masters has only brought about culture contact and conflict. This, however, helps in dividing African drama into two types, namely: the indigenous tradition which is sometimes called traditional or indigenous drama, and the acquired tradition, otherwise called literary drama, or the scripted play (Osuagwu & Affiah, 8). As noted by Ogundeji (2005: 213), what is considered traditional drama appears to have a fluid colouration depending on the meaning implied:
many scholars usually describe the pre-colonial theatre (and drama)
practice as “traditional”. The use of the term is usually contrasted with
“modern” theatre. Taking the componential meaning of the qualifier
“traditional” into consideration, we find it inappropriate for describing
the pre-colonial form because the new, “modern” and post-colonial form
is also a tradition and can, therefore, be suggested to replace it, since
“traditional” is often used to suggest the meaning it connotes. This
would have been useful except that the “modern” theatre and drama,
which drew inspiration from the pre-colonial forms in adapting the “new”
western forms, can also be described as indigenous and, in that sense,
appropriately referred to as Nigerian and African theatre (and drama).
Instead of dispensing with “traditional”, its usage should be properly
contextualized as a special one; a jargon that includes the meaning of
both an indigenous and an old form.
However, in spite of the ambiguous nature of the term “traditional drama” as noted in the observation of Ogundeji above, Manjula (6) divides drama (specifically, Nigerian drama) into two: traditional and modern. Michael Etherton in his book, The Development of African Drama analyses the causes that led to the development of drama as play-texts in Africa. According to him, there are three main factors such as the development of the study of drama in African Universities, the extensive influence of classical (Greek and Roman) and European form of drama on African playwrights, and the establishment of play-texts as the dominant mode of drama (Manjula, 6). Manjula goes further to divide modern drama into two: popular and literary. These two came about as a result of western education. This classification, in a way, shows the existence of drama in pre-colonial Africa before the imposition of western drama with its attendant effects.
One clear indication from the Eurocentric argument is the fact that the intrusion of the so-called universal western drama has, no doubt, created some indescribable impact on indigenous drama. Similarly, the imported universal western drama, too, must have been Africanized or indigenized like the English language, thereby resulting in a different drama genre quite far from the western drama. That the peoples of Nigeria and Africa, as a whole, had their civilization prior to any form of contact with the West is no longer an issue.
Ademola Dasylva (282) who examines western influences on contemporary Nigerian dramatic culture and tradition and classifies such into two (a combination of acceptance and rejection and nativization or domestication through appropriation or adaptation of western plays) agrees that western literary devices that characterize Shakespeare’s dramaturgy have wielded much influence on contemporary Nigerian drama in the area of topicality and form, characterology and historicity. Contrary to this is the argument put forward by Ogundeji (221) who argues that the crucial western elements of theatre practice, such as the use of the proscenium stage, the box office, an elaborate narrative plot, dialogue, a passive audience, have generally not influenced the “traditional” theatre practice.
Nelson Fashina (5-6) makes reference to Albert Ashaolu (1982) who discredits Ogundeji’s argument by revealing the ‘coincidence’ and ‘correspondence and the marked influence of classical and Elizabethan forms of tragedy on J.P. Clark’s Song of a Goat and The Masquerade, Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not To Blame; Sutherland’s Edufa and the mythic-ideological plays of Wole Soyinka ranging from The Bacchae of Euripedes, The StrongBreed and The Swamp Dwellers and Camwood on the Leaves (78). This is also supported by Crow Brian (29) who identifies “syncretism” in post-colonial African Drama- creative recombination of western and indigenous elements. In this case, A Dance of the Forest is described as a kind of African Midsummer Night’s Dreams by the Swedish Academy which announced the award of Soyinka’s Nobel Prize for literature (Jeyifo Biodun, 10). There is a distinct link here to indigenous ritual drama and Elizabethan drama.
Nonetheless, the cross-cultural influence brought about by culture contact is clearly reflective of the argument advanced by Afis Oladosu (145), “some aspects of culture are more relevant than others; some aspects may even be more destructive”. The culture contact to the Afro-centric minds culminates in severe cultural onslaught and imperialism against the rich African culture generally, and specifically, drama. The cultural contact, no doubt, leads to cultural development through borrowing and adaptation of new ideas. A culture must exist for it to have contact with another culture. For an existing culture to be self-sustaining, it must have a socio-cultural coping mechanism as well as some inherent means of self-development. However, the indigenous traditions that existed before western civilization have now been relegated to the backstage, and their popularity even in the rural communities which naturally ought to be the “home” of traditions has waned significantly.
In reaction to the above thinking, Ajayi (23) argues that “if it is true that the Africans had a rich history, culture and civilization, the pertinent question that arises is how the people have preserved their rich cultural past?” The implication of this cultural consciousness is that knowledge of this would help debunk the erroneous Eurocentric misconceptions and direct students and researchers’ attention to areas worthy of exploration in modern African drama. In this light, Kehinde Ayo (301) who argues that since literature is culture-bound, advises that emphasis should be placed on the reconstruction of indigenous traditions in works of arts. In other words, the urgent need to embark on cultural reconstruction has become imperative and indispensable. This advice reinforces Achebe’s earlier observation concerning the writer’s role. Achebe vehemently asserts that the writer’s duty is to help the society regain what it has lost by showing them in human terms what happened to them, what they lost. In other words, the writers are to engage in cultural nationalism. He comments on his stories’ serious reliance on indigenous traditions: “I have used such things. Before, and I will use them again. This is what I have set myself to do: to reconstruct our history through literature” (1990: 122). For Ali Mazrui, cited in Oladosu (245), “culture constitutes for our people the surest means of overcoming our technological backwardness and the most efficient force of our victorious resistance to imperialist blackmail.” This is borne out of the keen observation that the present-day African society is one that has the dominance of western influence in almost all the areas of her socio-political life. Another challenge from some scholars, according to Iyorwuese (160), is that “those that advocate a celebrated return to traditional roots commit the blunder of classifying ‘traditional’ as African and ‘modern’ or ‘contemporary’ as western. These are baseless assumptions that tend to consider as un-African plays written by Africans on contemporary issues in Africa, that is, such authors as Sarif Easmon in Dear Parent and Ogre, J. C. de Graft in Through a Film Darkly and Zulu Sofola in The Sweet Trap, among others, who treat diverse problems and issues ranging from urbanization to conflict among the educated.
Agreed that western drama exerts untold influence on African drama, Kehinde (302) discusses how African writers have reconstructed and are reconstructing the indigenous traditions of their continent in their individual works since the task of salvaging the dying culture and traditions of Africa rests on the shoulders of its writers. Writers are influenced by their societies, and they equally influence their societies. Soyinka’s comment is apposite here when he states that “the artist has always functioned in African society as the recorder of mores and experience of his society and as a voice of vision in his own time”. Chinweizu (1978: 309), cited in Osuagwu & Affiah (8), notes that writers like Achebe have “ever since eloquently insisted that any artist, and especially any African artist, must be consciously committed and accountable to his society in his works, and not to some so-called timeless, universal values which, more often than not, are nothing but the European cultural imperialists salesmenese for Western values.”
African writers invariably draw their inspiration from indigenous traditions because they are a source of strength for the writers. This informs their creative operations in life. This explains why modern African literature is being undergirded by African traditions. According to Kehinde, 303), Chinua Achebe goes further to add voice to this when he claims that writers use many sources, most of which are oral and what is most important is sustaining tradition of the people who can lay claim to about 90 % of such sources. Other scholars who agree on this and advocate a cultural reconstruction are Okpewho, 1979; Agho, 2000; Ogundeji, 2005 & Zargar, 2012, 85).
In furtherance to the above, Okpewho (1983) also has categorized into four the works of contemporary African writers who employ various indigenous traditions. These are:
iii. Traditions refined
As regard traditions preserved, Okpewho is hereby referring to those African writers who publish collections of traditional oral literatures. Examples of such African writers include J.P. Clark’s The ozidi saga, which is told in seven nights to dance, music, mime and rituals; J.P Clark’s ozidi (the play); Taban Lo Liyong’s ‘’The old man of Usumbura and His Misery.’’ These works preserved the thematic and stylistic purity of traditional oral literature.
In traditions observed, the writers in this group use the context (narrative-audience close relationship) of the oral performance as well as the matter (heroic figure of the oral tale) and the matter (of oral narration) to address moral issues.
The writers that refine traditions lean on African cosmology to dwell on socio-political issues. Soyinka’s Idanre and Other Poems, A Dance of the Forests and The Interpreters are perfect examples in this regard. In the texts, Soyin ka uses a mythic character/essence, Ogun (the god of iron), to negotiate socio-economic issues.
Traditions revised denotes the art and act of using the manner and Oral Traditions ‘’to negate, to indict the matter of Oral Tradition’’ (George 1997:109).
Therefore, modern African writers are integrating traditions into their works in different ways and intensities. However, they all work towards the same goal-domestication of imported genres in order to rehabilitate the African past, that is, the local ethnic tenets and philosophy, beliefs, attitudes to life and existence of precolonial Africa (Nwachukwu – Agbada: 2000).
Nonetheless, Emmanuel Obiechina wonders why Greek’s parameter should be used in the evaluation of drama in Nigeria. Scholars like Obiechina believe that “theatre is first and foremost an experience” and so should be experienced in different ways by people in different cultural milieu. We believe that drama, which is an art, is an outcome of a creative instinct. A creative person is an imaginative individual who is capable of impressing an audience with the product of his imagination. Traditional African drama and theatre are embedded in performances. These include, rituals, festivals, story-telling, masquerade poetry composed performances, music/dance, puppet shows and many other forms of performances. We also believe that for drama to exist, there must be an element of imitation of an action. Dialogue and unified plot structure should not be considered as obligatory in dramatic performance. However, in some traditional performances ritual and theatre are so interwoven that it becomes difficult to extricate the drama embedded in such performances (Ogundeji, 214).
1.1.3 Modern African Drama
In attempting the definition of Modern African Drama, it is important to take cursory look at what makes ‘’traditional’’ and the ‘’modern’’ African literature. This is probably useful in the sense that traditional African literature is something which exists in our indigenous languages and which is related to traditional societies and cultures, while modern African literature has grown out of the rupture created within our indigenous history and way of life by the colonial experience, which is naturally expressed in the tongue of our former colonial rulers. This distinction is useful because in their separate characteristics, both with regard to content and to form, the two kinds of literature do show clearly marked differences and derive from various different sectors of the African experience. More so, the fact that they relate to different moments and phases in the collective experience and consciousness of African peoples, gives to their present-day, side-by-side existence a certain historical and sociological significance. It suffices to say then that Modern African Drama is the emergence or creation of some literary works out of the rupture created within our indigenous history and way of life by the colonial experience which is naturally expressed in the tongue of our former colonial masters that also shows a propensity for an artistic reconstruction of indigenous traditions. It draws from the indigenous performance traditions and idioms of precolonial Africa. In the plays of some renowned African playwrights, such as Wole Soyinka, J.P Clark, Efua T. Sutherland, Ama Ata Aidoo, Ebrahim Hussein, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Micere Mugo, Serumaga, Kobina Sekyi and others, there is reasonable amount of evidence of borrowing from their traditional cultural milieux and all these forms that are artistically embedded in their plays, produce wonderful aesthetics. Most of the above mentioned playwrights belong to the early playwrights and dramatists who are cultural liberationists discussing nationalist ideals, cultural re-affirmation and historical re-engineering in their dramas. Modern African drama could be called the literary drama which is different from the traditional form of drama (J. P. Clark, 1981, cited by Ogunbiyi Yemi, 10). By and large, Binebai Benedict (371) recognizes James Ene Henshaw to be the first Nigerian modern literary dramatist because his first play was published in 1954. His play was in total protest against the cultural debasement of Africa culture. This makes him the first of the first generation.
Ramsaran (1970) testifies to the validity of the claim that modern African drama has been conditioned by the indigenous traditions of its enabling society. Adedeji (1978) also observes that the Alarinjo Theatre is a veritable source for modern African drama. He maintains that although some forces had committed the Alarinjo Theatre into antiquity, it is still a source for the modern African playwrights, most especially the Yoruba writers like Soyinka, Ola Rotimi and Wale Ogunyemi. Commenting on why Nigerian/African drama is full of cultural and verbal elements, Nwachukwu-Agbada declares:
If it were possible for a piece of Nigerian and African fiction to survive without oral tradition materials, its drama variant could not do without and verbal elements. Apart from the fact that Nigerians know of various dimensions of drama and dramatic enactments long before the writing culture, drama is a performance which is implemented before a live audience and which can only authenticate itself if it is an ‘’elegant imitation’’ of what the theatregoers can identify with (2000:76).
Modern African Drama can be grouped into three major language regions in Africa, namely: the Franco-phone, the Anglo-phone, and the Luso-phone. The Franco-phone deals with the drama of the French language-speaking region. On the other hand, the Anglo-phone deals with the drama of the English language-speaking region, mostly in West Africa; the Luso-phone deals with that of the Portuguese language-speaking region. These classifications can be subdivided into smaller geographical subcategories such as Anglo-phone, West African, Nigerian and Ibo drama and so on, taking one geographical typology into cognizance.
In addition, modern West African drama as a subset of modern African drama can be said to be compartmentalized into three major phases which are almost intricately related. This is what many literary scholars posit and classify as the era of paradise on earth, paradise disturbed and paradise regained. In furtherance to the above, Oyin Ogunba (1977) has also identified as three broad categories into which modern West African plays can be placed: propaganda plays, involving politics and ideology; plays expressing culture-naturalism, or plays expressing preference for the new cultural integrationist vision; and finally, the satiric plays. The relevance of this classification is limited to its time, the early 1970s when it was made because of the evolvement of new dramatic forms identified to be of contemporary dramatic relevance by scholars.
The pre-colonial period also termed by some writers as the era of paradise on earth was predominantly characterized by a communal life pattern. During this period, virtually every activity was done in the way of the people that lived in that particular community, despite the fact that many of these communities were different in terms of population, physical and fiscal endowments, and linguistic variations and so on; one distinct factor which was tradition characterized their life pattern.
The next stage which was the colonial era and sometimes referred to as the era of paradise disturbed is a period in which various innovations like western education, religion and western tradition were introduced. Though, these factors collectively undermined tradition, the common denominator that served as a bond among the African people. The colonial era, therefore, marked the beginning of the subtle vandalism and subjugation of African tradition which had hitherto held Africa together. This position is affirmed in Achebe’s (1958) Things Fall Apart with this apparently terse symbolic lamentation: he has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart (162).
The last of the phases termed post-colonial era is subject of controversy, as many writers dispute the term post-colonial and prefer call it neo-colonial,post-independence or paradise regained era. This phase is regarded as the period of social, cultural and traditional renaissance. This is the period in which the African literary writers now resolve to reassemble the components of that common unifying factor called tradition that was smashed by the colonialists throughout the years colonialism thrived in Africa. These components are what could be referred to as traditional elements or indigenous elements in African drama. As stated by Iyorwuese (158), immediately after independence, they resorted to African drama by deserting the landmarks of western drama. In this light, J. P. Clark wrote Ozidi Saga; Efua Sunderland wrote Edufa and Foriwa and Anansewa. Similarly, Elvania Zirimu and Nuwa Sentogo infused traditional elements into drama in East Africa. Both the western and African critics became confronted with a metamorphosis of drama and started seeking other evaluation criteria for analyzing African drama.
Modern African drama is, in essence, a pot-pourri of traditional and modern dramatic elements. This is seen through the dramatist’s use of materials drawn from western culture and from a broad of African cultural spectra which include folktales, proverbs, myths, dance and songs, rituals, incantations, taboo, inheritance, etc. These are examples of traditional elements that constitute a rich oral repertoire from which the African dramatists explore to enrich their dramatic performance. Iyorwuese (159), while dismissing the early drama like J. P. Clark’s, noted that Soyinka was the only outstanding African playwright who could be exonerated from complete reliance on western dramatic style and form because of the synthesis of western and traditional elements in his works. His plays like A Dance of the Forest, The Road and Madmen and Specialist utilize quite fascinating traditional elements that endear him to his fans across board.
1.2. Statement of the Problem
Quite a good number of researches on African drama have concentrated on the artistic product, thereby ignoring the means of production. The means of production for African drama are basically culture and oral tradition generally. As far as the Afro-centric scholars are concerned, these should form the basis of evaluation for African drama, rather than the use of universal elements derived from Aristotelian aesthetic elements. Afro-centric scholars have, therefore, disagreed on the use of the universal elements in appreciating African drama in as much as drama is culture-specific and dependent. To them, the use of such accentuates the Euro-centric argument against the existence of drama in Africa before the intrusion of colonialism. As noted by Osuagwu and Affiah (7), judging African literature by standards other than those found within its cultural context shall amount to invalidating indigenous African drama which antagonism has been founded on the faulty assumption and misconception that there is one and only one absolute dramatic standard or dramaturgy – Western dramatic standard. As further argued by Etherton (33), the modification of the Aristotelian aesthetic elements of drama ended in questions as: whether ritual or festival observed in performance provides a new definition for drama? Ogundeji (215) strengthens this argument by stating clearly that the “formalistic western concept of “art-for-art-sake” is not applicable in the African cultural context because art has always served, and still serves other utilitarian purposes other than aesthetics.” Similarly, the formalistic school cannot be used in the appreciation of Modern African Drama because it is basically rooted and watered by African tradition and culture.
Thus, the validity of indigenous African drama must be rooted within the context of African culture. Once this validity for Africa is established, then it is automatically valid per se. The evaluation of African literature must be based on the aesthetics which are dependent on African culture and world-view. Osuagwu and Affiah (6) further argue that much time and energy need be invested in conceptualizing and operationalizing indigenous African drama as well as identifying, crystallizing and re-iterating the defining characteristics of indigenous African drama as basis for the analysis, understanding and appreciation of African plays.
Based upon the above argument, this work intends to take the above cultural challenge to dwell on the indigenous elements in modern African drama through selected plays of Soyinka and Zulu Sofola. This would help in establishing the extent and efforts African writers invest in reconstructing their cultural identity through literature in contemporary times. This is in line with the dictates of ethno-dramatic theory and its concept of afro centricity.
This is borne out of the fact that most critiques of African plays by these two playwrights have centred on culture conflict and contact, as well as feminism. Good examples are Ahuama Chika (2011) who hinges her work on the conflicting point between the traditional and western culture in The Lion and The Jewel and Oloruntoba-Ojo and Oloruntoba-Oju (2013) who concentrate on the theme of feminism in the works of Sofola, among others. In the words of Iyorwuese (160), it is logical while searching for an African dramatic aesthetic to go to African oral tradition in analyzing the plays of Soyinka and Sofola. Only Zargar Sara (85-89) has attempted to use Afro-centricity in analyzing Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel and The Road.
1.3. Research Questions
1.4. Purpose of the Study
Giving the fact that many writers have written and contributed immensely to this particular area of research, it is imperative to fill up the scholarship gap which is yet unfilled in evaluating the traditional contents in modern African drama through some selected plays of Wole Soyinka and Zulu Sofola. This is in pursuance of the African dramatic aesthetics of evaluation of African plays towards establishing the fact that drama is actually culture-specific. In doing that, it shall be of importance to this study to dislodge the use of the monolithic universal elements in the evaluation of drama quite beyond the cultural shores of western geography.
More so, the study points out the cultural significance of the utilized traditional elements that give drama in Africa its cultural identity in contemporary times. Finally, it intends to justify how plausible it is in applying the African aesthetics in appreciating African exoglottic drama claimed by scholars like Iyorwuese (160) that the same tenets of Afro-centricity cannot be employed in analysis. Other objective of this study is to contribute to the knowledge of students of literature most especially African drama which is unique and distinct from other forms of drama in the world. Also, this study straightens the argument against the non-existence of drama in Africa as well as disprove the use of western dramatic evaluation model in appraising African drama. To establish this, the traditional contents in African drama through the plays of Wole Soyinka and Zulu Sofola are explored. This study specifically analyzes the extent of indispensability of traditional elements in modern and contemporary African drama.
1.5. Scope of the Study
The choice of two Nigerian African playwrights (Wole Soyinka and Zulu Sofola) is to balance the gender equality of male and female writers within the Nigerian literary space and this work is limited to some of their works and to the evaluation of traditional elements in Nigerian drama, a subset of African drama, using sampling technique through some of their selected plays (Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, The Strong Breed, The Lion And The Jewel; and Zulu Sofola’s Wedlock of the Gods, King Emene, and The Sweet Trap),as these texts are uniquely embellished with a lot use of traditional elements.
1.6. Significance of the Study
This study would help to draw significant attention towards traditional elements as indispensable resources for cultural identity and creativity in not just modern but also contemporary African drama. Evaluation of African drama within the arguments of ethno-dramatics and its localized theoretical equivalent, Afro-centricity, would no doubt, be quite indispensable to the pursuit of reconstruction and re-utilization of oral tradition and culture by playwrights in an era much given to cultural imperialism.
Therefore, this study will accentuate the use of indigenous elements beyond modern African drama. Students and scholars of African drama would be given the scope within which African drama should be appraised. It helps to establish the need or otherwise for not using the universal elements in adjudging African drama like other dramas. And above all, the study would establish the existence of indigenous African drama through the use of African culture, custom, tradition and their carry-over significance in contemporary African drama production, criticism and scholarship. Importantly, this work would serve as the basis for adjudging African drama in world where cultures are converging and submerging in contemporary times.
1.7. Research Methodology
The research method adopted in this study is the content analogy type, that often relies on secondary research such as reviewing available literature and/or data. On the other hand, the data collected from literature review are used in text-analyzing some selected plays of Wole Soyinka and Zulu Sofola in line with the objective of this study.
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