A scene from the play
How far can women go to protest their subjugation under men so as to liberate themselves from supposed yokes imposed on them? In the hierarchy of decision-making at home and at the communal level, how much input from women should be taken into account? And how much should women be allowed to impose themselves and their views? Should women even be heard when deciding important communal matters like going to war and giving a daughter into marriage? Importantly, can women really speak with one determined voice to upturn their perceived status of oppression from the arrogance of menfolk?
These were the issues at play, when Theatre Arts students of College of Education, Akwanga, Nasarawa State, staged Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma’s drama piece, Dancing in His Grave at the Festival of Life and cocktail event to welcome writers and delegates to the 35th International Convention of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), held last week. The performance was at Thought Pyramid Arts Gallery, Wuse, Abuja, and directed by Mohammed Adamu Danjuma. It wasn’t anywhere near a good performing venue, but the students managed to pull it off nicely amidst distractions from the writers for whom it was meant to entertain after they had travelled from different parts of the country for the convention.
Trouble starts when a young lady from Toriama elopes with a young man from an enemy village, Agiama, and the two communities are almost on a warpath. Fearful that their sons would be sacrificed in a senseless war for the mere honour of a woman, who has gone in quest of love on her own volition, the women in Toriama see the event as a turning point for them to launch a blistering attack on their menfolk, who make all the rash decisions that affect their lives. The wife of the king, Queen Alerara (Precious Frederick) leads Toriama’s women in the attack conceived to place women on equal footing with the men or at least extract a measure of respect from the men.
Fed up with their lot as wives, mothers and homemakers, who do so much, including satisfying the all-important sexual urges that drive the men in their lives, yet maligned, relegated and not acknowledged for their arduous roles in building the community, the women of Toriama decide to rebel. They decide to go on strike to bring Toriama’s men to their knees. With Prof. JP Clark’s fascinating play, The Wives Revolt, as precursor and guide, Ayakoroma’s Dancing on His Grave, gives women’s rebellion theme a tragic dimension; he, however, makes a partial success of it.
They make a resolution not to cook, sweep, take care of the children and serve notice to the men that they have come of age and would not be ignored any more in the community. They cap off their rebellion by starving their men of sex to speedily bring the matter to a head. When they next meet, they record varying degrees of success; some are beaten up by their husband and begin to be reluctant to carry through with the revolt. However, Queen Alerara rallies her Toriama women to persevere for the final push for their emancipation.
Besides the war, Queen Alerara and King Olotu’s (David Adazaku) are having their own running battle over their only daughter, Beke (Rejoice Garba). The king wants his daughter to go to the city to learn a trade, but the mother is not keen on such adventure for her daughter; she wants her with beside her. A family feud ensues and king and queen are pitched together in a bitter struggle that soon unleashes unimaginable demons. To hit her husband hard, Queen Alerara raises the improbable scenario of the king not being the father of their daughter on the maxim that only a mother can know with certitude who the father of a child is!
Although she said it in a general sort of way, it confuses King Olotu, who begins to question his fatherhood. Eager to press anything to her advantage in their feud, Queen Alerara becomes vague in her responses to further fuel King Olotu’s uncertainty about Beke’s paternity. With the entire community in turmoil and the all the chiefs battling with their wives for supremacy and not succeeding, Beke sides with her mother, and declares that her father is not her father. Although she bases it on her father mistreatment of her mother, King Olotu takes her confession literally and opts for suicide for the shame that his wife went outside to have a child and brought her home to mock his manhood. Suicide becomes the honourable thing to do to save his face.
Ayakoroma’s efforts to dramatise Toriama’s women’s revolt falls short in many respects. Although the women’s planed revolt is systematic and they appear more coherent both in deliberations and action, the king’s council is far from a coherent assemblage. What is worse, King Olotu’s moment of capitulation to women’s power to unmake men is anti-climax. Why would the king sing praises of women’s power at the very moment he is worsted by what he sees as his own wife’s unfaithfulness, which forces him to smash the divine clay pot and die? If he is convinced of the power of women, why not accede to their demand before it gets out of hand?
What was obvious from the performance was that the students of College of Education, Akwanga, outdid themselves to put life to Dancing in His Grave; their costume was also on put to give verisimilitude to the Niger Delta setting of the play.