Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Tarzan Monologues… Men’s Turn To Tell Their Own Tales

By Anote Ajeluorou

When some years ago, Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues hit Nigerian stage, it caused a stir, not least because of its no-holds-bare expose of the female anatomy and the complex nature of women, with a cry for men to relate fairly and better with the ‘weaker sex’. The all female-cast dramatic offering reaches out to men and makes a strong case for the womenfolk, that although they live in a ‘man’s world’, they also have a stake in that world and brutality of any sort (battery, rape) from men isn’t the way to go. More than anything else, it also tasks women on self-belief; that the tag of ‘weaker sex’ is a ploy invented by the male folk to keep them perpetually in the ‘kitchen’ status to deny them aspirations of their own.
  The Vagina Monologues’ brutal delivery and verdict of no-confidence on men is instructive if only for righting century-old wrongs men have perpetuated against womenfolk the world over. But its performance in Lagos, Nigeria, elicited no less a frank, brutal male narrative of equal dramatic impact.
  It, no doubt, threw up a challenge to the male folk, which Renegade Theatre’s boss, Mr. Wole Oguntokun, was to take up soon enough. So, it seemed to him, women do have issues they need to resolve with men, not so? What about men? Don’t they have issues of equal or far higher weight to tackle women for as well? Aren’t there issues that tend to stand between healthy relationships that women so often overlook or fail to take account? Have men’s story been properly told to an unheeding world? Isn’t the ‘man’s world’ mantra some bobby-trap designed to cage men, when, in fact, they are mere beasts-of-burden, who trudge on in unspeakable conditions of misery weighed down by society and women’s expectations of their manliness?
  So what are men’s real, burdensome issues in life, in relationships, with women? These formed the thematic preoccupation of The Tarzan Monologues, a play that shared a spot at Lagos Black Heritage Festival (LBHF) 2015 that ended last week. It was performed at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, last Friday, not surprisingly to an audience largely made up of women, young and old. Was it by design or coincidence? Whatever it was, the play made a deep, lasting impression on the audience, which engagingly responded to every aspect of the issues raised. Interestingly, the women audience was more vocal in responding to the message. Perhaps, its impact weighed heavily on the women who were being spoken to in a language relationship crises often made difficult between the sexes.
  For instance, how does a young man in his late 30s or early 40s explain to his mother that he hasn’t achieved as much as Yakubu Gowon achieved at age 29 by becoming Nigeria’s head of state because she hadn’t sacrificed as much as Gowon’s mother did so his son could afford a soldier’s uniform? Or how can a man to make his wife understand that he can’t always make his ‘little’ man get up all the time she wants ‘it’ because the stocks have crashed and his fortune is at stake, or because the children’s school fees haven’t been paid? Or that the rent is hanging and the landlord will show up any time soon? That, indeed, a man’s state of mind necessarily affects his sexual performance and when that happens his woman should be patient and not jump to conclusion that her man has lost his ‘power’ to perform.
  And, why can’t a man be allowed to navigate his path to success on his own terms and not be stampeded by the demands of society and women to succeed at all cost? Inevitably, this leads to injury that subverts social values, like corruption from which Nigeria is currently reeling. But the monologues do not spare women in certain areas that affect both men and women. For instance, why do wives not believe their husbands in their quest for a son to validate their marriages? Why do women think that bearing a son necessarily guarantees their hold on their husbands, especially when such decision poses danger to the particular wife’s life? After six daughters, why would a woman still try for the elusive son even when doctors advise otherwise for the sake of her health? Countless women have died from such stubbornness. And who are usually the people that count the six girls, as amounting to no children at all because there’s no boy child yet, that prompt such woman to self-suicide? Fellow women in the family, of course!  Fellow women crucify their kind for her inability to breed boys, who would own the family, even when the man is indifferent about such societal demand!
  What about old, sexy grey, who, in his advanced age, becomes the ladies’ man on account of his wealth that charms the women, especially the young ones? It wasn’t always so, especially when he was a struggling young man; the women of his day promptly avoided him. But not now anymore that he’s made; with a snap of his fingers, the women come running to massage his libido! And then why can’t an old man marry a girl in her 20s if that’s the direction their passion is headed?
  What about the sexual abuses young boys receive from older family female members that stick with them all their lives, as they are unable to snap out of the act and properly love other women afterwards? Or how beastly and unmanly men’s act of rape is and is so duly rapped out to even the deaf among men. This is the world of The Tarzan Monologues telling the woe-tales of men, and their triumph, too. It is the world of men as defined by their friction with the women that pepper their lives.
  Indeed, The Tarzan Monologues is a deft dramatic performance that explores the psychology of the male, as a totally misunderstood being largely because the world is wrongly interpreted to be his. It also explores women’s psychology in relations to men’s and how that narrow psychology necessarily affects a healthy relationship between men and women. For a man to truly own the world, he over-exerts himself to meet society and a woman’s expectation of him. Guess who is first to sprinkle the ashes at his graveside when his exertions to succeed cause his heart to fail and he succumbs to the inevitable? The dear wife, of course! So, men, beware what prompts you to success.
  A six-man cast – Taiwo Tekleko, drummer; Joshua Alabi, Austin Onuoha, Rotimi Fakunle, Sunkanmi Adebayo and, of course, Wole Oguntokun, who produced, directed and played old, sexy gray. The dialogue is fast, furious, exciting and spiced with popular, appropriate songs and dance-steps from current Nigerian music to fit the mood of narrative.
  The Tarzan Monologues is the sort of play that should be exposed to a much wider audience on account of its psychological treatment of family, men and women, issues that easily make for better, healthier relationships in communities. But lack of funding support poses a challenge, and therefore restricts its outreach to occasional, yearly outings like Lagos Black Heritage Festival 2015. It’s a sad thing that hinders theatre’s inability to permeate society, as it should, a cultural production offering real time value.

LBHF 2015… Echoes of Sambisa forest, The Tragedy of King Christophe

By Anote Ajeluorou

Echoes of Boko Haram terrorist hideout, Sambisa forest in Borno State filled the exhibition hall at Freedom Park last Saturday as the yearly Lagos Black Heritage Festival (LBHF 2015) took off on a sober mood. Also, the despotism that characterised many African leaders soon after independence had its origins projected from the Haitian example in the dramatic expose of The Tragedy of King Christophe performed on day two of the festival.
  Declaring the weeklong cultural fiesta open were Lagos State Commissioner for Culture and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Mr. Disu Holloway and Festival Consultant, Prof. Wole Soyinka and many culture practitioners like Taiwo Ajayi-Lycett, Chief Emanuel Francesca, Sir Peter Badejo, Tunji Oyelana and Jimi Solanke.
  After Holloway briefly restated the commitment of Lagos State Government to the ideals of the festival, which are to promote and preserve Yoruba culture in particular and Nigerian culture in general, he toured some of the events on offer. His first call was the main stage where children’s group, Footprints of David put up a superlative performance. In a dexterous combination of drumming, singing, dancing and folk narrative, the children literarily transported the audience back to moonlight night reenactment of years gone by.
  However, the plight of the 219 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped a year ago resonated at the exhibition hall where the paintings by school children were on display. It was in resonance with the worldwide activities that marked the anniversary last week. With the enigmatic theme, The Road to Sambisa, which Prof. Soyinka gave them last year to work on, the children faithfully and imaginatively rendered on canvas various traumatic situations the kidnapped girls might be going through while they remain in captivity, presumably inside the Sambisa forest.
  From a shattered public school system to bad governance, a helpless government and ineffective military in the face of the kidnap a year ago to the plight of the girls; the dreaded Sambisa forest to the wicked terrorists and the hapless girls and other harrowing situations, the primary and secondary school students brought Sambisa forest, the terrorists, the girls and how they perceive their own country from the recesses of their young, creative minds. What comes across is a canvas of the failure that has characterized their country, which, in the innocence of their minds, they have rendered in poignant brush strokes.
  Not least is the poetic rendering to which some other children cast the dire situation of Chibok schoolgirls. They told the guests their troubled thoughts concerning their young female colleagues in faraway Borno State who have been made to suffer untold hardships in the hands of their abductors. Indeed in designing the theme for this year, it was the desire of Prof. Soyinka to get school children from faraway South-West part of Nigeria to be in empathy with their colleagues in the North-East and to render same in a moving fashion and in solidarity with them.
  And it worked. Visitors to Freedom Park and the children’s exhibition would marvel at the sheer brilliance and imaginative ingenuity of the children as they travelled in their imagination and thoughts to be on the same page with the kidnapped girls in their hour of need.
  Other features of yesterday’s events included Zangbeto masquerade dance from Badagry, other masquerade displays and a bandstand in performance. A boat regatta at the Lagos Lagoon and the performance of The Tragedy of King Christophe at Freedom Park will hold today just as other performances will be held tomorrow through to the end of the festival on Saturday.

ON Day Two, Jos Repertory Theatre staged The Tragedy of King Christophe based on the struggle of Haitians soon after the revolution that chased their French colonial masters away. Henri Christophe emerged liberator at the northern part of the country with Alexandre Petion in the south. But in Christophe’s spirited effort to create an enviable kingdom, he resorts to the iron fist to instill discipline and order, which soon wears him out.
  Rather than enhance the prospects of his countrymen and women, he further enslaves them. He builds for himself a throne like those of European monarchies complete with his courts. He embarks on building a citadel that will proclaim the glory of Haiti. But this comes at a huge cost to the liberty of Haitians, who have recently been freed from slavery. Forced labour becomes the norm and poor Haitians are made to bear the brunt of his tyrannical powers, with the executions of dissidents a regular undertaking.
  Ordinary Haitians live in fear of their absolute king, who places the army at the top hierarchy in the pecking order of prominence. The people become slaves in their own liberated land. They are made to work even harder to realize the vision of their king, who does not even appreciate their hard labour. Even his lieutenants are in awe of him.
  But as it often happens in dictatorships, time and tide soon turn the tables, as King Henri comes to learn. He suffers paralysis in his leg and his powers begin to weaken. This gives room for open rebellion among his trusted aides who seize on his condition to seek liberation from his tyranny. King Henri is an energetic and charismatic character but flawed by his poor reading of his power over the lives of his fellow countrymen and women. His is a good example of good intentions but poor outcomes.
  Indeed, Christophe and his other Haitian league of despotic leaders like Papa Doc Duvalier provided the first models for African leaders that emerged soon after independence from colonial rule. Their propensity towards dictatorships and tyranny echoed Christophe’s and Haitian leaders that were to follow.
  Thus The Tragedy of King Christophe is instructive for democracies across Africa. It calls for constant vigilance among the citizens against a regress into something dark and reprehensible from a leadership that soon assumes absolute powers. Christophe believed he had all the answers to his country’s problems and went on to solve them his own way. But it ended up alienating him from his people, who had, at first cheered him on, but who later hated him for taking away the freedom they’d deservedly earned.
  Jos Repertory Theatre’s performance of The Tragedy of King Christophe on the night was energetic and exciting. Although, the characters did not affect the speech patterns of Haitians, they came close to some of the mannerisms. Particularly brilliant were the Victorian-style costumes, the ballroom parties and affectations that Christophe created to imitate European monarchical models of power and grandeur. Complete with a court clown, Christophe outdid himself in slavish modeling and so fell flat on his face when his voodoo conjuration of sango failed to inspire similar national frenzy to his histrionics of nation-building that sucked the blood of his fellow Haitians.
  Also, the performance of the play at the big stage at Freedom Park with the audience seated on the grass terrace gave the performance a unique moonlight tale-like ambience. It also tallied with the Festival Consultant, Prof. Wole Soyinka’s vision for this year’s event, with drama as centrepiece:
  “This year’s excursion into Drama as central theme does however offer a special contribution to the artistic trail blazed by these visitors (Shakespeare Globe Theatre’s staging of Hamlet). Its format was inspired by an increasing awareness of the need to bring theatre closer to the people, not merely confine it to predictable, albeit efficiently structured venues. Directors were selected, then encouraged to scout for optional spaces that they find most appropriate to their choice of plays – bare spaces, night clubs, open pavilions etc. - thus weaning drama of domination by ‘congenial confinement.’ Freedom Park will therefore constitute only one of this year’s drama venues, though without abandoning its role as the hub of the festival”.
  Lagos Black Heritage Festival continues till Saturday with many theatrical performances for audiences to savour.

Port Harcourt hands over UNESCO World Book Capital to Icheon, South Korea

By Anote Ajeluorou

TODAY in Icheon , South Korea, after one year of successful programming designed to stimulate interest in books and reading in and around Port Harcourt, Rivers State and Nigeria generally, the city of Icheon will take over as UNESCO World Book Capital 2015.
  The day also coincides with UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day, with attention drawn to respect and protect intellectual property rights across the world.
  While handing over from Port Harcourt to Icheon, Director of Rainbow Book Club and Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014, Mrs. Koko Kalango highlighted the many virtues of the book and why it continues to be a sort-after commodity in spite of the socio-economic problems that often militate against it.
  She said, “In spite of these terrible occurrences, and the many challenges of the world in which we live, the book continues to stand out, the repository of the written word, enabling mankind pass on information, and therefore knowledge, from generation to generation. Today the book has brought us together as a family, united by a shared thirst for knowledge, linked by the common desire to advance the written word for benefit of the individual, the society and our world”.
  Kalango drew attention to the common tragedy that engulfed Nigeria and South Korea when Port Harcourt received the baton last year from Bankok, then current book capital when over 200 Chibok schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram and a boat sank off the coast of South Korea, with the loss of 302 students.
  According to her, “Nigeria became the World Book Capital amidst mixed feelings of joy and grief. Nine days before this historic occasion, over 200 girls were abducted from a high school in Chibok by Boko Haram, an islamist extremist group that believes western education is evil. It seemed ironical that the book was being brought to focus, against the backdrop of a retrogressive and dangerous movement directly opposed to the ideals of the World Book Capital initiative. Such tragedy, if anything, should challenge us to continue to work to rescue our society from the grip of those who stand against the progress and liberty education brings.
  “Two days after the Chibok girls were kidnapped, 304 people, mostly students from the Danwon High School, here in South Korea lost their lives in a boat mishap when the MV Sewol sank just off your coastline”.
  Kalango emphasized the changes that had taken place since the prestigious World Book Capital, adding, “The support of our local, national and international partners was critical in enabling us actualise our objectives. Indeed today, we can see change taking place – ‘Rivers of possibilities, rippling from the city of Port Harcourt, through the country Nigeria, to the continent of Africa.’
  “I welcome you to the World Book Capital experience. I encourage Incheon in its vision of BOOKS FOR ALL by which you seek ‘to form an environment where all citizens may read books without difficulty and access the source of wisdom and information at any time’. Today, Port Harcourt hands over to Incheon as UNESCO World Book Capital City. On behalf of the good people of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, I bring best wishes for a wonderful year ahead to the good people of Inchoen”.

Nwagwu… A poet's empathy for Nepalese over earthquake

Since last week Saturday, Nwagwu has been mourning with the people of Nepal over the earthquake. That country’s remarkable landscape provided inspiration for his recent poetic efforts Cat Man Dew in which he eulogises the innumerable virtues of his wife, Helen. In this interview with Anote Ajeluorou, Nwagwu describes his emotions at the tragedy and what the world can do to help…

Your heart must be with the people of Nepal at this tragic moment. Could you describe how you feel?
  My feelings are of devastation as though I was buried in the craters of the earthquake. The world we live in is ever a mystery to me, when such enormous pain wells up in my heart. For I ask, how could people suffer so much?
  When I first learnt of the earthquake last Saturday, I was severely troubled, but then Saturday in the holy, Catholic Church, was the feast of St. Mark, my name-Saint, so I was in a celebration mood. And when we got to Mass the following day, Sunday, the choir sang an entrance hymn, praising God, telling him we have come to thank him and to receive his blessings. Whenever I hear this hymn, I can say my eyes dance. That is precisely why I go to Mass to thank my God and receive his boundless blessings which he pours down on me without my asking for them.
  So, you could say the good Lord got into my soul and quickly healed the wound with his blessings. So the initial trauma was thus ameliorated.
  My pain is all the more exacerbated by the news that the earthquake shook mighty Everest and it resoundingly threw up avalanches down the slopes with several mountain hikers trapped therein and killed. To hear that anything at all happens to Everest rocks my frame, leaves me subdued and defeated. My dear wife and I were in the Himalayas and we saw Mighty Everest standing there in all her singular powers surveying all of God's creation with telescopic eyes. Your whole life changes after you've seen nature's masterpiece and you get down on your knees feeling little and humble, and thanking God for his mighty works. My poem on Everest will see the pages of my next book, God willing.
Your poetry collection Cat Man Dew has Nepal's capital as title. What was in your mind at the time?
  Choosing the title of my book was a work between my publisher, Book Builders Ltd, and myself. We went through a number of titles and she then threw up Cat Man Dew and I immediately fell for it and screamed in boundless delight that finally we had a title that captured my thoughts and feelings of heights unsurpassed in a number of the poems. And she did the cover of the book also which has a number of peaks rising higher and higher. But we did not want to use Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, as the readership in Nigeria might not take to the foreign caption. We spun the word, Kathmandu, on its head and came up with Cat Man Dew, which was ideally poetic. My publisher did a great job here.
How does celebrating your wife align with Nepal's capital?
  Now that you ask me this question, I've gone back to the book and I find the answers all over the place. First, there is the poem ‘Everest’, where I say that I won Everest in prize but could not get there for on scoreless seas I sailed. I, therefore, buried Everest in hills of waters, then swam to buried peak,
the prize is won
On next page, you have the poem, ‘The Himalaya of my being’, where I celebrate my dear wife, Helen.
  In this context, Kathmandu, The Himalaya and Everest are all one, easily transposed one to the other, and wonderfully identified with Helen, who is both a mountain Everest, and a valley, Kathmandu, from where you can sight the mountain. You see, she's both, the Himalaya of my being!
What special place does that city hold for you and your wife?
  There is one and only one Everest. There is one and only one Himalayas. There is one and only one Kathmandu. There is one and only one Helen. I have Helen and I feel I have all of them living in me, as she does.
  Our daughter, Ugochi, her dear husband, Onuora, and their children lived in Kathmandu at the time in a house of such historical status that it drew us into the Nepalese people. I knew a little of this history but since it was mainly of an imperial dynastic nature, I would not like to dwell on it. What was interesting was the march toward a modern state and the different intrigues of the parties to control power. My dear wife and I have great admiration for gardens and greens and the outdoor, though, I'm sorry to say the only house we have on this earth, in my hometown, Nguru, in Imo State, does not speak this language of elegance and bliss.
  My dear wife went on a hike of over five hours outside Kathmandu and fell in love with the cheerful scenery. She left in the morning and came home at night in time for dinner, exhausted but exhilarated that she saw so much of the people and the mountains.
  Every morning, we basked in the garden sun where I was able to write my second novel, My Eyes Dance. This joy is captured in my poems, A Kathmandu Christmas, where I sing my Christmas joy traveling all over the world to Kathmandu, and from there to Bethlehem eternal; a Christmas Kathmandu, where I wrote about our 2009 Christmas Day

‘out in the sun from twelve to two...
collapsed into eternity Christmas hearts take flight
seeking new heights wings flapping in fury
to the top of the world Everest capped in snow..
take solar heat to stable colds
keep Infant Jesus warm
in a Christmas Kathmandu’

We were able to go to Mass every morning at the home of Reverend Sisters who ran a non-fee paying school for children. My daughter and family lived mere minutes from the Sisters and the Reverend Fathers would ride their bike to the home to say Mass for the community. We made friends amongst the priests and sisters and were often invited to share breakfast with them. The day we left Kathmandu to return to Nigeria, we were treated to a special feast.
  A dear friend of ours, Fr. George
Kalapurackal, who was the parish priest in a local church we attended on Sundays, responded to my Facebook inquiry that he was safe, asking that we pray for his people of Nepal. And we are praying. You can see we had a whirlwind of a time in Kathmandu, certainly one of the finest times of my life with my dear wife Helen and our children and grandchildren.
  From Kathmandu, on a clear day, you would see the Himalayas. In fact, from the corridor upstairs where we lived, we could see the Himalayas. What a blessing, unsurpassed.
The poem, ‘On Desert Waves to Himalaya’ tells it all. It is a sestina, with the six words, Timbuktu, Niger, Africa, Kathmandu, Himalaya, Eyes, repeated at the end of a line, in six stanzas, in different arrangements. It is a long poem so. I bring it in here for you to capture in some form how the Himalayas and Kathmandu live, love, and dance with our Timbuktu, Niger, Africa and Eyes, represented by Helen. It is one of my dearest poems unrivaled in unity and love in the life I live!
Does the earthquake echo a line or two in that collection, positively or negatively?
  You know, poetry is not just what you write down in words. There is so much that is said in those words and sometimes much more that is not said in words but sensed from the whole body of the poem. I must say, though, I pour my thoughts and mind into my poems and so the tale they tell is not difficult to make out. Still, because my poems stretch into surrealism and escape into space from the boundaries of what is seen and heard, the words stride along heedless of anything around them. I have gone through the poems in Cat Man Dew and each of them lifts me up to heights not reachable on this earth.
  As I said earlier, the Himalayas, Kathmandu and Everest capture my love for my dear wife and speak all I can say about our life together for the 50 years celebrated in the poems. I have searched through the work and do not find the word earthquake, but I can tell you I often regard to meeting Helen as an earthquake that shook my footing, threw me up in the wind and I landed flat on Helen's eyes where she can see me and rescue me. There is a poem at the very end which somehow captures something both positive and negative about our tomorrows. I'm leaving it to the end.
Will you make any physical contributions to help out?
  I wish I could fly to Kathmandu and there help out in any way I can. Alas! This is not possible and so my dear wife and I have asked Ugochi and Onuora to make a donation on our behalf to help the survivors. I intend to raise the consciousness among my colleagues here at Paul University, Awka, of the enormity of the catastrophe and ask for their prayers.
How best can Nigeria help?
  Nigeria can send immediate relief to alleviate the catastrophic suffering in Nepal in whatever way and by whatever means they can. The government should without any delay send help and invite companies, industries, institutions, and individuals to do the same. The government should set up registers where we can all express our condolences for the dead and sympathy for the injured and make a donation which the government can send through proper channels to Nepal.
  During the week I saw on TV that an actor, Joanna Lumley, a British actress, was leading the U.K. relief effort to save Nepal. Can I do the same, you might ask? And I'll quickly offer my apologies that age is not on my side and public activities of this nature these days will not find me a willing participant. Surely, someone else could step out and help.
Is poetry enough in this dire hour?
  Of course, poetry is not enough; nothing can be enough! We need to withdraw into ourselves and live out the true meaning of our life, knowing that yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come. We have only today to live our life to the fullest in true image and likeness of God. All else is dross. And so the dead by whatever may be the means of their death are before their Maker to give an account of how they have lived this life in love.
  Yes, this is the moment I recall the last poem in Cat Man Dew, titled ‘Boneless Tomorrows’:

graves immortal sepulchres scriptural
paint portraits of eternity spiritual
rivers of joy from gardens in embrace
flow into depths lifting the bones

airs bear souls of my fathers
to boneless tomorrows
depths prophetic announce new moons
flesh them out in new todays

alive they arise no longer fixed in time
ascend into years long since gone
my bones in pursuit seek marrows of time
the present into yesterdays now live in me