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HomeBeere: Egba women’s revolt speaks my language (2)

Beere: Egba women’s revolt speaks my language (2)

LAST Friday, I identified the different strands in the play, Beere, written by Biodun Baiyewu. Here, I focus on what resonated with me not only in the play but in the comments Biodun made after the play ended in Abuja. She climbed the stage and said she was urging parents to return home and tell their children about what was achieved in our proud past. “We’re Nigerians, and we’re proud of who we are,” Biodun had said in the manner activists would.

Actually, central to the play was this grandmother recalling what happened at a time when Egba women saw what wasn’t right coming from the colonial government and they put it back in the face of the government. They collectively resisted oppression. That was a proud moment which emboldened many contemporary Nigerian women to now step out and ask for what is theirs. There’re many stories out there like that of the Egba women’s revolt which haven’t been told. The new generation of Nigerians need to hear them. This is important to the playwright. Why? According to her, many among the new generation of Nigerians don’t know our past so they can’t have an understanding of the present. In the event, they’re rootless, confused, lacking a sense of belonging. This has its negative consequences so the playwright wants it corrected.

She recalled that her grandmother passed on without telling her what she knew of the past. The playwright didn’t want this to happen to the generations after her. This matters to Biodun and it has to. She’s an activist, always out there advocating for one thing or the other, and I’ve had occasions in the past to commend her for some of the issues she led groups to advocate for and against. I appreciated the fact that Biodun said what she said. She did with so much passion that I could never have imagined she had at the time we were listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche at her Creative Writing Workshop back in 2009. She was ever so quiet that time.

But as Beere proved, Biodun would be quiet only until she had something to say about what she was passionate about. The defence of civil rights is what she’s passionate about, a major strand in her play; it was what she talked about at the end of the play. She wants everyone to get involved in changing whatever they don’t want. Her comments were one that should arouse passion, get everyone motivated to know about their past and, therefore, emulate past heroines who didn’t sit and expect others to bring about the change they wanted. Rather, they went for the change themselves.

Meanwhile, as Beere unfolded on stage, different strands of thoughts ran through my mind. I was to note at some stage that my friend, Kabura Zakama, fellow writer and an award-winning poet, was seated a few seats away, watching the play as well. Zakama is also the Regional Coordinator, North-East, for the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, an arm of the British High Commission in Nigeria. He wanted to know my view about the play. We exchanged views and we both agreed on what the play was driving at. But I also recall informing Zakama that Biodun’s play reminded me of some of the things I came across while I was researching my past. Meanwhile, if my father were alive, and had watched Beere, Biodun’s words of encouragement after the play ended would have been perfect for him.

It happened that I grew up with one of my uncles. He and my father had on their faces the same facial marks that are on my uncle and father, His Royal Majesty, Kabiyesi, Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III. K’ade pe l’ori, Kabiyesi. But neither my uncle nor my father ever told me that this was where they came from. I didn’t even know what the facial marks on my father’s face or the ones on the face of my uncle represented. I had completed my Masters degree, was fully into journalism and story-telling, before I decided to go and meet my father, pointedly asking him to tell me about my lineage. I was to learn that my grandfather was born and actually grew up in one of the royal compounds in Oyo.

Years passed, then I began to research into the past of the Oyo Empire. All I knew until that point was the rise and the fall of the Oyo Empire that I learnt in History class in secondary school. So, many things stood out for me in my research; many things that I personally discovered and which were hardly emphasised in the written history of Oyo Empire and I told Zakama so. As such, when Biodun spoke after her play, admonishing her audience to deliberately tell our stories to the next generation so that they would know where they came from, she was talking about something many of our parents missed, a mistake that we should avoid.

Her words and concerns about the rootless nature of many Nigerian children resonated with me because after I heard certain things from my father, I had this feeling of now I know who  I am. Many among the younger generation of Nigerians don’t know who they are; this affects how they feel about themselves, about our nation and one consequence is the extreme disparaging views they express. I’m not sure I suffered from that because from the age of nine, and long before I asked my father questions, I had read materials that showed me the proud past of our nation and of Africa.

When you follow that up by studying Political Science, which includes studying African traditional political system and its many clever ideas and practices (the exploits of our forebears in the empires and kingdoms they created, as well the resistance against colonial rule put up by African heroes), you’ll be more circumspect talking down on Africa or Nigeria. In the event, I’ve never—beyond simple comparison in areas of rule of law and technological advancement—admired the West to the point of disparaging Africa. This is more the case when one studied a course that made one see how the exploitation of Africa  was central to how wealthy western nations were built.

With such an insight, one wouldn’t talk down his own African nation while admiring nations that milked African resources over the last five hundred years to get to where they are at the moment. For me, the fact that the younger generation of Nigerians talk down on their country at all, as though they have another country, is an indication that they don’t know their past. They’re rootless; whoever is rootless will be confused and disillusioned as to the possibility of a better future. By reading widely, the greatness of Africa and Nigeria’s past had, however, been settled in my mind before I was sixteen, so I don’t recall a time in my growing up years that I expressed some of the extreme views that younger Nigerians now express.

Clearly, asking questions and reading about one’s past help in appreciating who one is, where one comes from. It makes one realise that we aren’t weaklings, we haven’t always been a people who don’t seem to know how to do things right. If I knew nothing else about this, at least I knew that people who didn’t ever do anything right couldn’t have built and sustained empires as my forebears (the Alaafins) did in Oyo and as the forebears of my distant cousins in ancient Benin Kingdom did.

Compared to the Oyo Empire that was contiguous (spreading from Kogi and parts of Niger states all the way to Ghana) and which lasted for close to 400  years, the British Empire wasn’t contiguous and hardly lasted 200 years before it disintegrated.  So, knowing that the situation we see now in Africa hasn’t always been the case, and that we can get it right someday, can have positive effects on our psyche and how we see ourselves and our nation. For me, this is one of the main messages in Beere. It’s one point its writer doesn’t want us to miss when she urges us to tell the next generation about our past.

Concluded.

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