Monday, April 14, 2008

biyi bandele's things fall apart

egbe belu, ugo belu

When this gem of a phrase first struck me a year ago, I asked a literary friend of mine what it meant and she told me that translated from the Ibo tongue, it meant "let the eagle perch, let the hawk perch also". The counterpart English aphorism would be "live and let live". Subsequently, I remembered having come across it in one of Chinua Achebe’s novels, either Things Fall Apart or Arrow of God.

The reason for this recall is that yesterday I happened to be at the Jos Repertory Theatre where I watched the thespians rehearse Biyi Bandele’s adaptation of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, perhaps the finest sociological novel Africa has produced. Its main character, Okonkwo, has engaged over the decades as the most tragic of humanist heroes and a fitting metaphor of Africa as a whole, both in terms of the tragic and the heroic.

It being 50 years since the book was first published, Nigeria is right held in celebrations of this golden milestone. Generally called the "Achebe Colloquium", amongst its details is the staging of this aforementioned adaptation by the Patrick Jude Oteh directed Jos Repertory Theatre on the 19th and 20th of April 2008 at the Cultural Center, Ibadan and Abeokuta respectively. The staging of the play is sponsored by the Ogun State Government and the Association for Nigerian Authors.

I watched the rehearsals in company of the ANA PRO, Alkasim Abdulkadir, the ANA Plateau Chairman, Allen Abduljabbar Omale, his wife and the up and coming Jos based writer, Barrister Redzie Jugo. By the end of the two-hour long production, the phrase "egbe belu, ugo belu" kept repeating itself in my mind. A complex but flawlessly controlled play told from the perspective of Obierika, Okonkwo’s friend, I found in it worthy obeisance to Achebe himself and to the emerging spirit in the Nigerian stage and literature.

Perhaps, being an Ibo phrase, it would lend itself to further construction? If the eagle perches and the hawk perches, it means that everyman comes into his own time, let no one hold the rest to ransom by snatching the trappings of forever. Perhaps we can say that no matter how long ugo {hawk} has slumbered, when it arises, its place is still there in the scheme of things, waiting to be claimed? Shall we not say that the generations of writers following in the trail blazed by Achebe and his contemporaries are coming into their own? Both Biyi Bandele’s generation who have adapted this novel and my generation, the players of Jos Repertory, who have brought it to life?

Among the most haunting passages in the drama adaptation, made if possible even more surreal than in the novel itself, is the point when Okonkwo finds that the cancer of the white man has spread so deep into the tribe that it cannot hold anymore, that the tribe, which gave him accolades through his life for his strength, had become attributed with the blemish of Nnoka his father, that of "effeminate" weakness. In Biyi Bandele’s adaptation, I still see Okonkwo looking to his fellows to follow his action and finding their backs turned to him, I see the deconstruction of truth work its way across his face and his heart, the superstructure of a broken tribe’s soul. I still see him, his face haunts me even now, taking off the cap of his title, the ozo, the toga, his machete once trusty now sterile, his life, placing all on the impotent earth of Umuofia. And Obierika’s ringing indictment, "That man was the greatest man in Umuofia; now he will be buried like a dog!"

Though I have been honored greatly to watch the rehearsals of the Jos Repertory, as it were, from the vantage of a private box, I am not merely a trifle sad that I shall not be in Ibadan to watch the premier from the public stands. I can only say that the shimmer of my sadness would be tempered only in the knowledge that my high regard for this production might draw even one more lover of literature to be there with his own eyes, to see and hear Nigerian progress for himself.

My musings end with the thought that every generation hears its own drummer, its own sound and it betrays or acquits itself by the sincerity of its dance to that thrumming. It has been our blight, this long period of time reversing itself. But we have overcome that blight, we have overcome the differences of an Igbo novelist adapted by a Yoruba playwright and played by a Northern Repertory because we realize that all these, all this, is uniquely and authentically Nigerian. We have come of age and have come to our own.

Egbe belu, Ugo belu.

No comments: