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In Africa. as in America. wit and shrewdness have been important characteristics of heroes.
.. James Ene Henshaw
The Jewels of the Shrine
A Play in One Act
SCENE: An imaginary village close to a town in Nigeria. All the scenes in this play take place in OKORIE'S mud-walled house. The time is the present.
an old man
Ok one s gran d sons ., . a woman
SCENE I The hall in OKORIE'S house. There are three doors. One leads directly into OKORIE'S room. The two others are on either side of the hall. Of these, one leads to his grandsons' apartment, whilst the other acts as a general exit. The chief items of furniture consist of a wide bamboo bed, on which is spread a mat; a wooden chair, a low table, and a few odds and ends, including three hoes. an old man of about eighty years of age, with scanty grey hair, and dressed in the way his village folk do, is sitting at the edge of the bed. He holds a stout, rough walking-stick and a horn filled with palm wine.
On the wooden chair near the bed sits a STRANGER, a men. of about forty-five years of age, He, too, occasionally sips wine from a calabash cup. It is evening. The room is rather dark, and a cloth-in-oil lantern hangs from a hook on the wall.
Copyright 1956 by James Ene Henshaw, From This Is Our Chance. Plays from Wesl Africa. edited by Frederic M. Litto and published by University of London Press. Ltd. Used by permission of the University of London Press. LId.
Who was that man. my old age has been unhappy. If you call again and I am alive. when I worshipped at our forefathers' shrine. OKORIE. But today the stranger who came here has once more brought happiness to me. They tell me that I am from an older world. Don't say that God moves like a BASSI. Okorie. Many people in town have no one to help them. Come. The stranger has brought happiness back into my life. Stranger.•. but now-OKORIE. Yes. Where now are the care. And with my loving and helpful son. I will welcome you back. I was happy. But don't they preach in town that it is only God who gives hope? Every other thing gives despair. Grandfather? OKORIE.my days things in \Vel'ediffer~ht. .It was a happy thing to be. BASSI. God moves in strange ways. In the town where Jcomei~om.NIGERIA~. Town people seem to enjoy rushing about doing nothing.] What has happened. My son died and I was left to the mercy of his two sons. Long talks l'J'la~eyoutired. a beautiful woman of about thirty years. STRANGER[si~pjn~hjswineJ. woman. The old ways did not leave me.l·esll~f:. It will be a disgrace to me."to . BASSI. But death played me a trick. my grandsons will not accord me the honour due to my age. because since that stranger came. May God help you. I have felt younger again. you were old. Old men were happy. STRANGER. When they died. your food is now ready. That is why I have not been to . Iknew what it was all about. It kills them. the new ways did not wholly accept me. But in my case.He was a stranger.>Jamc:r:ic:.You are lucky that you have your grandchildren to help you. And my only fear now is that when I die. the sorrow. Then the preachers came. OKORIE. Exit STRANGER. Grandfather. I need help. But as as there is darkness.. enters. llleal'1()Idrnan. Stranger. I believe it. Farewell. You know. BASSI. for although I have two grandsons.I will now go on my way. I am lonely and unhappy because they do not love or care for me. Once more unhappiness gripped my life. With all their education my grandsons lacked one thing . Here in the village yousho~ldbehappier. [OKORIEsmiles and drinks his BASSI points to him. and tell me if these shabby clothes and this dirty beard show that I have good grandchildren. They may honest when the lights are on.respect for age.. I thought that myoId age would be as happy as that of my father before me. and I abandoned the beliefs of our fathers.Iownfor ten years. in my younger days things were different. But soon I felt the wings of God carrying me high. Stranger. they were buried with honour. Believe me. It was my life. Let me tell you this_ BASSI. Grandfather? When I left you this afternoon. because young people were ·co . !tis enough.telderly men. He has given me hope again. OKORIE. I was therefore unhappy. your mind was worried. the tears in your eyes? You never smiled before.aboy of ten riding a hired bicyc:lewiJIknockdown a man of fifty years withoutany feeling of pity. STRANGER. BASSI.Perhaps the preachers stranger? that stranger was God.I do not trust strangers. Stranger. Stranger. Look at me. OKORIE.m' ntnumGW OKQRI"~~I\~~~~@~:i~!'~~8er.·tatlghtto.Bicycle. they creep back thieves. OKORIE. and your eyes were swollen.
My. and the BASS) [holding him and leading him to sit on the bed]. You are excited. OKORIE. OKORIE.Bassi. Where is that woman? Bassi! Bassi! OKORIE. woman. have sold all that their father left. [His hands trernbie. a great secret. The old man is coming.] A big secret. We are bad We have no regard for the memory of father. you begin to forget things. Bassi. yes. Bassi. Two young men. Don't shout so. enter the room. alone in this world. Let us hide ourselves.Where are the two people? BASSI. OKORlE [calling from offstage]. what Door flings open. when all young men were fond of farming and all young women loved the kitchen.Don't call them my grandchildren. You mean your grandsons? . OKORlE. who casts a reproachful look on the two men before she leaves. my. Your grandchildren are coming back. you are if he he not keep awake AROB. Come. You know. OKORIE. still awake! BASSI. AROB. you cannot eat. I have heard it all before. including all his wives. But Grandfather has made a bet with death. Woman. And it seems that he will win. Well.Yes. well. BASSI. I cannot eat. Why should likes? Grandfather. but what was I saying? BASSI. They are in shirt and trousers. laughing and swearing. I have a secret for you.Our good grandfather might be thinking of his youthful days. where are you? Haven't I told that girl never-BASSI [entering]. When happiness fills your heart. limping on his stick as usual].] Can you keep a secret? BASSI. When you grow old. It's not good for you. [He norrows his eyes. OKORIEstands up with difficulty and limps with the aid of his stick through the exit. OrIMA. My dear son died left me to the mercy of his two are the worst grandsons in the land.By our forefathers. your own children will laugh and jeer at you. have died. not care for me. BASSI. OKORIE. about eighteen and twenty. call them what you like. I wonder what Grandfather woman were talking about.] OKORIE[comes in. and so on. OJIMA. Of course I can. BASSI. can you? What did I say? You can. I have been an unhappy man. and take your food. His old age. I am 47 when it comes to the matter of death? Everybody in his generation. You know that whenever you are excited.That is not my fault. Two voices are heard outside. OKORIE[rubbing his forehead]. You asked me if I could keep a secret. Grandfather. Our father left his responsibility to us.Listen.But Grandfather usually goes to bed before the earliest chicken thinks of it. OKORIE. They must have gone into their room. had arranged that he should bury before thinking of himself. followed by BASSI. Now when I It must be the usual thing.NIGERIA • James Ene Henshaw OKORlE [happily]. But would Grandfather listen to Nature . BASSI. [Both rush under the bed. Shame on both of you for talking to an old man like that.They are not here.
[pitiably].. but one person in this village died of the My father kept his promise.. Dig inch by inch until you bring out the jewels of our forefathers'shrine. When war broke out and a great fever BASSI. . Grandfather.. woman. OKORIE. Begin digging tomorrow morning. BASSI. no temper. look around. " . Every bit of it? And hand over to me all that you will BASSI. it will kill you to go out in this cold and darkness. No. but Iknow also when Ihear a human voice. -. Grandfather. But wait.·righfio<heprpperly cared for.. BASSI [opens the exit door].. OKORIE. BASSI [looks). Yes. Grandfather. Have you ever heard of the "Jewels of the Shrine"? BASSI. Now life is becoming worthwhile.. he has a tight to a good burial. Grandfather. invaded all our lands.WhY '. OKOJUE.. BJ\ssI. . He that if this village were spared. OKORIE [infuriated].•'they d~tgme?Don:t you think that they will <abandonrrte in disgrace? An old man has a . there is no one.Seeh()wyou ·toldYQLlnot OK()~lE.Among the beads which my father got from the early white men.Jamtired. If you wish.'- - ""'. OKORIE. But it was not for long. But my grand~hiJdren do not think of these things. Some said they stolen. Grandfather. Look under the bed.. . should I not? But sh! . I .. There is no one.. You must get someone to do it for you.. And when he dies. were real jewels. God and our . Tell no one about it. . They can be sold for fifty pounds these days. Good night. you. OKORIE. Grandfather. But the stranger who came here knew where they were. OKORIE[With1eeJingj. OKORIE BASSI [calmly]. swear BASSI. I must go out and dig for them. I3A.". my father sacrifice in the village shrine. . I myself wiJI dig up the whole farm for you. Real jewels? OKORIE. BASSI. Grand. Yes. OKORIE. the stranger told me something. woman.. Yes. He said that they were buried somewhere near the big oak tree on our farm. He gave me hope. I won't. I know when ·oJdage hums in my ears and tired nerves ring bells in my head. I have forgotten You have a secret what I was from the shrine. I have told you that there is nobody in the house. stranger. OKORIE And you will not tell my grandsons? I will not. OKORIE. ifather . I must sleep now. No one. BASSI [irritablyJ. [relnxing]. he offer his costly jewels to the shrine. Grandfather! to think of such things. ne Henshaw •• E '. find? BASSI. Ihave . by our fathers' Swear. Open the door and look.' .. You saw the stranger that came here. tremble. OKORIE. Yes. a-voice. listen..lt'sbnly your ears deceiving you.. H1"'1" s. You cannot lift a hoe. I hear . Go on. So. In a big many the jewels were placed on our shrine. . oh. OKORIE.S~I.- . . you believe I am too old to lift a hoe.. Look into that corner.' ··:: •.. talking about. BASSI. But.-. :: . You. Make sure that no one is listening to us. Bassi. woman. I swear. It is not my ears. BASSI[coaxing him]. Now.·NIGERIA'·James· . roamed through all the other villages.. There is no need.:· : BASSI. No one. young man. OKORIE. Good night.. There now.
My hip. who said I was old? After all. James Ene Henshaw fathers' spirits keep you. Digging is good for thehealth. The old man has taken one hoe.C1ndpl ~C the hoeon his shoulderlwariIylea~es the hall. each holding a hoe. But the harvest is over.Alt~ro short time AROBOndO. OKORIE... Carrying the hoe with him. OKORIE[re-entering Orand.] If we can only get jewels. Now. we must begin digging Soon? We must begin tonight . oh my hip! 49 As they arc about to go out. this is my house.g~ntlY~. When everybody in the village was digging out the crops. When far-seeing owls hoot the menace of future days.We intend to go to the farm early in the morning. J~g Curtain.My legs! AROB. Grandfather. AROB [stretching GJIMA. his room]. They returntotheirroom.each ..· anP. tiptbc ()utthrough h the exit. Maybe the soil here is too hard. [BASSI leaves. Let me see how I can dig.Gr~ndfa. What are you doing with hoes? You were never fond of farming.NIGERIA .] Oh. let them not trouble you in your sleep. we are going back OKORIE. I am only eighty years. [They two hoes from among the heap of things a corner of the room. Goodnight AROB and OJIMA. Struggling with his senile joints. Grandfather. [Pointing to the corner.standing up and trembling. we can go and live in town and the old man manage as he can. to bed. where arc you going with a hoe at this time of night'? OJIMA [impudently].] Ah! [ feel aches all over my hip. what is OKORIE. let their evil prophecies keep off your path. Then. OJIMA. [He tries to dig again. Why are you creeping about like thieves? AROB. he goes into his room.QI<q~lE: too comesoutonllistpes. Let's move his hip]..iMAconteout. AROB. AROB and OJIMA crawl out from under the bed. the idea? Yes. And I feel younger than most young men.] There are two over there.now.I should ask you.All right. Goodnight. OKORlE comes out with his own hoe. holding a -. When dangerous bats alight on the roofs of wicked men. moves to a corner and brings out a small hoe.J How I keep on thinking that I hear people whispering in this room! I must rest now. [He listens. . OJIMA. For Q moment the three store ot each other in silence and surprise. he tries tv imitate a young men digging. Grandfather. So there is a treasure in our farm! We must waste no time. you were going around the town with your hands in your pockets. father.tller. OKORIE. oe. Now you say youare going to the farm.