By Anote Ajeluorou
FOR a university that does not have a Faculty of Arts or College of Humanities that offers such courses as English, Literature, Theatre or Classics, the example of Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State last Saturday is worthy of commendation and emulation. The university that trains scientists and engineers in various fields had time for the humanising treat of a dramatic performance to cap its convocation ceremony.
And the play chosen, James Ene Henshaw’s This is Our Chance, is a telling symbol of the bridge education offers out of between stiff-necked, wrong-headed traditions to progressive modernism. Also instructive is the message the play has for inter-communal relationships, which only the enlightenment of education can bring.
The two villages of Koloro and Udura are embroiled in a conflict resulting from cultural difference. While the two village heads stand in stiff opposition to protect their different ways of doing things, their two children (Princess Kudaro of Koloro and Prince Ndamu of Udura), had met in the city as students and fallen in love. But confronted as they were with the communal conflict between their two villages, they then perfect a plan to elope and seek their own happiness in a faraway place from their feuding villages over irrelevant customs and traditions that have trapped them in the backwaters of Koloro and Ndura.
A priest foresees the dark shadows or ill winds soon to blow over Koloro to interrupt Princess Kudaro (Deborah Olonade) session with the bombastic, verbose village teacher, Bambulu (Felix Komolafe), who prides himself as some scientist and innovationist. From his alchemy, he has concocted a vaccine against snake and insect bites, which he gives to Princess Kudaro. This concoction would prove most decisive later on. Meanwhile, Bambulu had interrupted Princess Kudaro ranting to her maid, Ayi (Jumoke Okesipe), about the backwardness of Koloro village, and how trapped she feels being away from the township she’d schooled. As the only child, Kudaro feels the burden of being made her to her father’s throne and forever remaining a prisoner in the jungle that Koloro represents.
But Princess Kudaro has plans with her lover, the Prince of Ndura, Ndamu (Muyiwa Coker), which she confesses to her maid, of their plans to elope and be far away from their two feuding fathers, who are locked in a fierce conflict over what appears meaningless and unprogressive to the two youngsters. But luck runs out for them when their plot is found out. To make matters worse, the two lovebirds are not only caught in the act, they fall prisoners to opposing sides – while Ndura holds Princess Kudaro prisoner, Koloro holds Princes Ndamu prisoner. At this point, the play gathers cataclysmic pace.
The die, it appears, has been cast. War is imminent between the two villages, as elopement and inter-tribal marriage between the two villages is a forbidden act that attracts death penalty. Coming from another person might have been forgiven, but not from the household of the king, as one of the counselors grimly reminds King Damba (Cornel Igbokwe), Koloro’s village head.
Meanwhile, King Damba blames teacher Bambulu for corrupting the mind of his daughter in going against established traditions, principles and customs. For that he reminds Bambulu in prison. At the same time the battle for the soul of the two villages is being wagged in Damba’s court. His two senior counselors – Enusi (Makanjuola Darlington) and Ajugo (Okere Wisdom) - are at each other’s throat, as to whether tradition should be held more sacred over human life and reason. Ayi, too, joins the great debate, and is even more eloquent in arguing against the perils of war and the fruitlessness of the antagonism between the two villages.
They are at it when Ndura Ambassador (Ayo-Ajayi Tobiloba) first walks into Damboa’s court to imperially announces the dire fate that awaits Princess Kudaro for violating the traditions of Ndamu. He leaves with the same aggressive tone to show also that king of Ndamu, like his Koloro counterpart, does not value the life of his son in the balance in the name of tradition.
King Damba’s dilemma is worsened by news of his wife’s death. She’s been ill, but sad events of her only daughter’s plight in the hands of a foreign, aggressive power and her failure and inability to prevail upon her husband to avert the impending war between the two villages become too much for her to bear. Unable to bear what is coming at them, she succumbs. This devastating news numbs King Damba, who, at the same time, is facing the charge of weakness for not declaring war soon enough on Ndamu.
As the tradition he so stoutly defends demands, he is to die for drinking a hemlock offered by Enusi. But just when he is to commit the act, Ndamu’s Ambassador walks in with Princess Kudaro in tow. He then tells the remarkable story of Bambulu’s antidote, which Princess Kudaro administered to a child when all else had failed to revive a dying the child. For this singular act of saving the life of a child, king of Ndamu could not go ahead to execute her; he releases her instead to reunite with her family.
At this happy turn of events, Damba is spared death by committing suicide. He releases Prince Ndura and teacher Bambulu. For his insistence in upholding tradition at the expense of the king’s daughter’s life, Counselor Enusi is made to drink from his hemlock so he could taste his own bitter pill. There’s happiness and celebration in Koloro. Education and progressive thinking have rescued two villages from age-long bitterness and conflict. The two youngsters are happily joined in marriage to further seal the newfound peace and harmony between the two villages.