Mythology and Modern Nigerian Drama (A Case Study of Ozidi by J.P.Clark Bekederemo.


Orhero Mathais Iroro.


Introduction/Background of Study: By modern Nigerian drama, we mean the reenactment of a serious action which leads to a catharsis and which has been documented for the purpose of aesthetics, preservation and delight. Modern Nigerian drama as a form of modern Nigerian literature started in 1956 by the publication of a work by James Ene Henshaw titled This is our Chance and ever since then it has evolved into several forms and it is still evolving in contemporary times. It is by no means false that modern Nigerian drama evolved from oral traditions. Oral traditions are contained within the very fabric of the Nigerian life and these traditions include but not limited to festivals, ritual dramas, incantations, singing, chanting, drumming, dancing, storytelling, etc. J.P Clark Bekederemo in his essay “Aspects of Nigerian Drama” categorized Nigerian drama into; traditional and modern drama. But one can see that these two categories maintain a causal relationship and traditional drama gives rise to modern drama which in itself is contained largely of traditional elements. Williams Abraham, an African philosopher, stated that African scientists are concerned with African science, African historians are concerned with African history and African political scientists are concerned with African politics. He also added that African writers should be concerned with African traditions. This argument brings us to the next phase of this discourse. That is, the relationship

between mythology, which is an aspect of oral traditions, and modern Nigerian drama. Mythology as defined by Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, is the study of myths or a collection of myths. A myth can be defined as a sacred narrative explaining how the world came to be in its present form or broadly referring to any story originating within traditions. The main characters in a myth are usually gods, supernatural heroes and humans. As sacred stories, myths are often endorsed by rulers and priests and are closely linked to religion, spirituality and traditions. In a society which a myth is told, it is usually regarded as a true account of a remote past or as a revelation to guide the people. In fact, many societies have two categories of myths; true stories, otherwise known as „myths‟, and false stories, otherwise known as „fables‟. Closely related to myths are legends and folktales and the distinction must be made clear. Unlike myths, folktales can be set in any time and any place and they are not considered as sacred by the societies that tell them. Like myths, legends are stories that are traditionally considered true but are set in a more recent time when the world was much more as it is today and it focuses on human characters. e.g. The Legend of Moremi. From F.B.O. Akporobaro‟s ideology, a myth is a kind of story or rudimentary narrative sequence, normally traditional and anonymous, through which a given culture ratifies its social customs or accounts for the origins of

human and natural phenomena, usually in a supernatural or boldly imaginative terms. The term has a wide range of meanings, which can be divided roughly into „rationalist‟ and „romantic‟ versions. In the first, a myth is a false or unreliable story or belief while in the second, a myth is a superior intuitive mode of cosmic understanding. In most literary contents like J.P. Clark‟s Ozidi, the second type prevails. Some myths are regarded as fictional stories containing deeper truths, expressing collective attitudes to fundamental matters of life, death, divinity and existence. Mythology is then a body of related myths shared by a group of people as in the case of the Ijaw Ozidi. Mythology has been woven into the very fabric of Nigerian drama and in this light; J.P. Clark has successfully pioneered it. He has translated the famous Ijaw myth of Ozidi which is a proud heritage of his people into the English language. This Ozidi myth was traditionally enacted for seven days and in this first translation of the myth, Clark titled it The Ozidi Saga, he has been able to successfully render this myth to the world over in its original form. However, he went a step further by rendering this myth into a dramatic epic which he titled Ozidi. The Ozidi myth is a conglomeration of all the major forms of oral literature and traditions fused as one whole by the aesthetics of Ijaw imagination. Believed to be rendered by the gods to the high priest of Orua at the feet of the great god of Tarakiri clan in western Ijaw, the Ozidi myth, was revealed from a

trance in the shrine while the high priest was worshipping. The high priest never quite came out of it, for upon waking, he knew no rest until he reenacted this drama to his people. But the priest did not stop there, he moved from settlement to settlement, from clan to clan, through the innumerable creeks of his people to reenact this revealed drama. But as with all gift of the gods, there was a curse with this revelation. He had to travel home to Orua every time to say the final line or die abroad in the act. This cue is well remembered by narrators of this myth whether they are from Orua, the place generally taken to be the seat of this story, or from other settlements outside Tarakiri. The myth itself is told in seven nights to dance, music, mime and ritual. It begins with the treachery and treason of warlords in Orua against the duo of Temugedege, who is king, and Ozidi, the leading general of the state. The rest of the myth tells of the posthumous birth of the general‟s son, the extraordinary manner of his growing up under the magic wings of his grandmother Oreame, and of numerous battles the hero does with all manner of men and monsters to regain for his family, its lost lineal glory. In this process, he oversteps the natural bounds set to his quest, and it is not until he has received divine visitation from the small pox king that he emerges purged and is received back into the society of men. Ozidi becomes the mythic hero of the Ijaw community due to his metaphysical method of conquest which he uses to conquer men and gods alike. This is because all the higher gods and even Tamara the

almighty are with him due to his filial piety, his devotion to the duty typical of many mythical heroes. He is in fact, an instrument of justice, and wielding him all the time is his grandmother Oreame of the supernatural powers, who is his fate as well as the conscience driving him on. When Ozidi later forgets his true role and overreaches himself in a series of excesses, he is visited with divine punishment, and this time not even the supreme with, his grandmother, can save him. Based on the traditional plot, Clark has successfully woven the traditional myth with modern Nigerian drama. However, Clark ruptured the original myth to suit his creative interests but largely keeping the plot of his epic play in line with the traditional rendition. The myth of Ozidi as rendered by Clark has developed modern Nigerian drama with its experimental and perhaps unrealizable stage potential, its overwhelming sense of atmosphere and spectacle, its insistence on space beyond the means of the conventional stage, its dependence on stunts, eyeflash transformations and other visual, essentially cinematic effects sometimes make the reader feel a sense of irremediable incongruity between message and medium, means and mode. The Ozidi corpus has left an indelible mark on Nigerian drama as Clark has been able to show that mythology, with all its supernatural efficacies, can and should be incorporated into the largely experimental Nigerian dramatic scene.


Statement of the problem This research addresses the problem of how mythology is parallel to modern Nigerian drama and how it has influenced modern Nigerian drama. How mythology has helped to preserve our traditions and to elucidate on more ways in which myths can be infused into modern Nigerian drama. To address questions like; what is the semblance between traditional mythology and dramatic mythology? How can the experimental tradition of supernatural elements be infused in Nigerian drama and how far J.P. Clark has kept up with this tradition.

Aims and Objectives This discourse is aimed at studying the use and relevance of mythology as showcased in J.P. Clark‟s Ozidi. It will also look into the various forms of mythology that J.P. Clark has authentically handled in his work and also to engender and stimulate writers to start incorporating these forms of mythology in their creative endeavors. This research will also trace the socio-historical background of the Ijaw myth of Ozidi and its importance in the modern society as J.P. Clark has done. Another objective of this research is to propagate the experimental form of drama which J.P. Clark has authentically handled by infusing supernatural feats to the modern Nigerian dramatic scene.

Justification of the Study It has become imperative that mythology as a form of modern Nigerian drama should be examined as a discourse area. This is so because a lot of scholars spend an exaggerated amount of time on studying African oral traditions and its relevance to modern Nigerian drama and neglect another paramount aspect of modern Nigerian drama and that is the infusion of mythology as a part and parcel of it and with the aid of J.P. Clark‟s Ozidi, it becomes necessary to examine this semblance aforementioned. This study is important because the experimental tradition that Clark started must be elucidated for continuity and for the stimulation of intellects within the confines of mythology as it relates to modern Nigerian drama.

Scope and Limitation As already stated from the topic itself, this research will examine mythology in a parallel mode with modern Nigerian drama and the textual reference to backup this argument will be J.P. Clark‟s Ozidi. However, due to limited time constraint, only relevant issues will be addressed here. Another limiting factor is the literature(s) needed to aid this research as many writers focus more on oral traditions and neglect the mythic

factor in Ozidi. Be that as it may, I shall make wholesome efforts to treat the related issues within the confines of mythology and modern Nigerian drama.

Literature Review Substantial literature that „hit the nail on the head‟ on this issue is not readily available. However, the few literature(s) available shall be wholly discussed based on their relevance to the subject matter. Ola Rotimi in Bruce King(ed) Introduction to Nigerian Literature, attempted to define and classify Nigerian drama. He classified it into; traditional drama, ritual drama, folk opera and modern drama. In his discourse, he opined that traditional drama is hard to classify as opposed to the other categories. He defined ritual drama as that evolving from „rituals‟ which are common to a particular people. He went further to define folk opera in which he said that the term was coined by Ulli Beier to classify a type of Nigerian drama that evolved without historical antecedent which was spearheaded by Duro Ladipo, Herbert Ogunde and Kola Ogunmola and was popularized by the famous „Alarinjo‟ Yoruba travelling theatre. He finally elucidated modern drama as the conventional written drama which itself is meant to be enacted on stage. J.P. Clark Bekederemo also wrote on Nigerian Drama in his famous essay titled „Aspects of Nigerian Drama.‟ He opined that drama is reenactment which

comprises rituals, songs, festivals, mime, incantations and all other aspects of oral traditions. He further classifies Nigerian drama into; traditional drama and modern drama. As for the traditional drama, he subjugated all aspects of verbal traditions under this category and within the aegis of the modern drama, he subjugated all documented works meant for to be enacted in a theatre. Clark also wrote The Ozidi Saga in which he wrote an introductory essay on the mythic factor of Ozidi. He explains in his work, the factual origin of the Ozidi myth and also how he has been able to record and translate this myth for the general audience. He explained the importance of a narrator as relevant to the work and also commented on the dramatic facet of the whole work. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, also attempted to define mythology as the study of myths and went further to define myths as sacred narratives usually involving gods, supernatural beings or humans. It also classified myths into two; those involving factual incidences and those which are largely imaginary.



I shall make use of both primary and secondary sources for this research work. My primary source here is the epic play by J.P Clark himself titled Ozidi. I will examine the plot of the play and its factual antecedence with a mindset of relevance between the latter and modern Nigerian drama. For the secondary sources, I shall depend largely on textbooks, journals and internet sources according to their relevance within the scope and limitation of my work. The theoretical approach I shall use for my study is the socio-historical, interpretative and literary perspectives. As these approaches will enable me trace the relevance of mythology and modern Nigerian drama and give a critical reading of Ozidi according to its relevance.


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