Friday, 24 July 2015

Rousing Ijegba forest beings for Soyinka at 81

By Anote Ajeluorou

For the second year Ijegba forest beings were stirred awake in moonlight-like performance enactment to salute the solitary human occupant Wole Soyina who recently turned 81 in Abeokuta. Although there were no women clad in white who held aloft oil lamps like last year to lend eerie feel to the forest and light the way for the invaders of this forest, the slight rain early in the evening rendered the narrow bush path slippery and cagey. It ensured that the audience-invaders of the 80-capacity Ijegba Forest Amphi-Theatre who had come to see the performance of Kongi’s Harvest shared with Soyinka what it felt to live well apart from others in constricted city spaces.
  Indeed, remarks by Soyinka’s son Makin, who also spots a mane almost comparable to his father’s, and echoing his inimitable father, said only a madman like Alhaji Teju Kareem would conceive the idea of carving out a theatre out of the forest and that only another madman would think of staging Kongi’s Harvest in theatre carved out of a forest and a valley. And it didn’t come as a surprise, especially in an environment in which ideas seem in abundance but short on execution on account of a myriad of real or imagined challenges that plague many in Nigeria’s social space.
  But Kareem has carved an enduring theatre melded into a sloping, undulating forest landscape that challenges the imagination, or in fact, on which imagination soars, as the actors did, especially the Organising Secretary (Akrah Joy), who, as the sustaining soul of Kongi’s power mongering, bestrode the entire stage rampant with fascinating ease and delivery until her guile is thwarted at the moment of triumph for her boss Kongi and things go awry. She has to take to her heels to avoid the rage stirred by the attempted assassination of Kongi.
  And just like A Dance of the Forests staged last year when Soyinka turned landmark 80, Kongi’s Harvest couldn’t have found a better stage magic than the one Zmirage Multimedia Ltd conjured for it at Ijegba Forest Theatre. Although while the costumes for A Dance of the Forests lent themselves better and melded with the stage carved out of the Ijegba forest on account of the other-worldly beings that peopled the play, the same forest setting actually lent Kongi’s Harvest the primal ambience of power manipulation, power theft and power usurpation and its dark, ritual transfer from the true owners to pretenders to the throne through devious subterfuge.
  That was the magic of Kongi’s Harvest on the night of Soyinka’s 81st birthday celebration expressed in Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE) by the duo Kareem and Prof. Segun Ojewuyi, former students of Soyinka who have turned the symbolism of the global icon into a yearly cultural fiesta and tourism item that draws people from far and near to Abeokuta in celebration.
  Set in the era when power usurpation was rampant in parts of Africa, including Nigeria, Kongi’s Harvest

EARLIER, Samson Apata opened the evening soon after the rain petered out with his Yoruba ewi poetry chant that stirred the audience. Then came Efe Paul Azino, whose deft spoken word poetry delivery left many breathless in its precise articulation of the Soyinka mystique. Titled ‘Storyteller,’ the piece encapsulates the Soyinka essence as a storyteller both in the literary and literal senses of his engagement as a writer blazoning words across the horizon and his pursuit of justice and sane society.
  Co-Executive Producer of Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE) 2015 and Head of Directing at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, U.S. Prof. Ojewuyi bemoaned the crass idiocy masquerading as leadership that strut Nigeria’s landscape and how refreshing it is that a personality like Soyinka is at the forefront of putting things right with the noble ideals he represents and expouses.
  According to him, “We live in a country where we have a barrage of negative things obstructing our country. But we still have people who have vision and are ready to move the country forward. Soyinka isn’t just a Nobel laureate; he is the embodiment of our humanity”.

ALSO, Soyinka in his address to the 81 students that competed in the yearly essay contest titled ‘To the July 13 ‘Class of 81’, bid the children welcome to his home even in his absence. The poet and dramatist still harped on the missing Chibok schoolgirls and asked the young ones to stand up the barbarism the Boko Haram extremists stands for and reject it in its entirety.
  As he put it, “Whether we choose to admit it or not, we are assailed by one of the most ruthless enemies of humanity that the nation has ever known. It must be an extremely lucky individual among you from several parts of the North who has not lost a family member, a friend, a mentor, or even acquaintance to the forces of death and destruction known as Boko Haram.
  “Islam is a religion that is famous for its love of the Book, indeed, the early followers of that faith were known as ‘the people of the Book’. Famous Islamic scholars have stood guardian at the portals of institutions of learning such as the Library of Alexandria. From time immemorial, they pushed forward the frontiers of learning, authored timeless works that today fill the vaults of the famous libraries of Timbuktu which barbarians like Ansar Dine have sought to destroy. Islamic scholars are leading lights in that mission of expanding the mind, a mission that has resulted in your coming together from all corners of the nation, fostering the togetherness of youth across gender, faith, and accident of birth. These pioneers confronted and denounced diverse apostles of ignorance and divisiveness, upholding the exhortations of great Islamic teachers such as Abbas Mahmoud El Akkad who declared that “applying the mind is an Islamic duty”, and that using one’s mental faculty is an obligation for all Moslems”.

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