By Anote Ajeluorou and Greg Nwakunor
In tune with the theme of the 5th edition of Garden City Literary Festival (GCLF) 2012, the play Evil Blade by the late playwright, Amatu Braide, was presented by the Institute of Arts and Culture, University of Port Harcourt. It was Day Two of the festival and guests from Britain, South Africa and Uganda were just warming up to yearly literary feast.
Directed by a professor of Theatre and gender expert, Prof. Julie Okoh, the play resonated with the ever-changing social realities of modern day African society, especially with a heavy dose of influence from outside the continent. Also, the choice of Evil Blade as festival play perfectly amplified the festival’s broad theme, ‘Women in Literature’ that put women on centre-stage.
With an all-female cast, the dance drama piece was total theatre presentation that highlighted the plight of women in the face the menacing traditional practice of women circumcision in Africa’s patriarchal society, a practice foisted on women by men for reasons too hollow now to believe. The play highlighted the many evils and socio-cultural conditions women have had to endure for centuries: female genital mutilation (FGM)! While the practice is gradually easing off through education and enlightenment, it dies hard in some parts of the continent where it still remains a scourge.
With its well-choreographed movements, songs, dances and deft acting, the evils of female circumcision were brought home to the audience inside the Banquet Hall of Hotel Presidential, Port Harcourt. Ironically, the play also puts women are at the centre of the perpetuation of the evil practice, whose origin stems from men’s efforts to curtail women’s sexual expression. Indeed, fearful that women’s sexuality might cause disruption in social behaviour, men then devised a means to suppress and rein in women’s libido by causing them to be circumcised.
To authenticate this blatant fraud on women, men invented all excuses to hoodwink women into being the ones to wield the blade with which they chop off the sensitive genitalia that ordinarily affords a woman as much sexual pleasure as a man. Another myth invented to keep the evil tradition of circumcision is that should the head of the infant touch the vexed tissue or clitoris at birth, such child would die. Indeed, maintaining society’s sexual health from exploding in the face of men, it is also argued, is the reason offered for the practice; this was tellingly brought home to the audience.
But the hollowness of these reasons has long come to light and women are taking none of it any more, having seized on modern enlightenment, education, medical expediency, advocacy and even feminine militancy combined with a measure of intellectual disputation. These are women’s weapons to fight what has come to be seen as patriarchal fraud.
Evil Blade took the audience through the various tricks and harrowing consequences of circumcision practice that has crippled many women emotionally, having hampered their sexual urges, causing them pain that often led to Vagina Vesicular Fistula (VVF), infections from unsterilised blades used in circumcision, the incidence of HIV/AIDS in certain cases that result in death.
Called to question were the malefolk that require the practice, the older women who demand that their daughters or daughter-in-laws get circumcised and, who are also saddled with the ungainly task of circumcising their kind.
For these crusading women, the traditional practice is a social aberration that hurt women and which must be stopped by using all the tools of enlightenment, education and advocacy at their disposal. While the bible, for example, prescribes circumcision for men at the age of eight, men have come to prescribe it for women essentially as a weapon to control and subjugate women and so find ready excuse to keep them in their harems simply for their pleasure.
So, the women argue that circumcision or not, whichever women will be prostitutes or ashawo will be prostitutes or ashawo and that the practice has nothing to do with a woman’s waywardness or decorum. Collectively, they affirm the abolition of circumcision as a means of saving the lives of their daughters from the evil blades that dangerously clip a woman’s clitoris and her emotions, with its attendant unpleasant, fatal consequences.
Considering the urgency of the subject matter of Evil Blade as an advocacy play production, it’s message has far wider application and should also be presented in remote villages and communities where circumcision rites still hold sway. It’s a play that should be appropriated for enlightenment across the country. The Ministry of Information and the National Orientation arm of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism could work together to take the play further afield for the message to be taken to the grassroots to enlighten rural folks amongst whom the practice is still deeply entrenched.
That way the creative genius of the late playwright, Braide could be better put to use in highlighting one of the plights women face in a patriarchal society where the rule of male folk is supreme. Now, however, Braide is suing for accommodation and a place for women so they could exercise their fundamental rights of gaining sexual freedom through the abolition of female genital mutilation!