A scene from the play
No nation, no matter its strength and popularity, can live in peace and unity, when religious bigotry, stereotypes, vendetta, intolerance, ethnocentrism and other vices strive in it. These vices make up the main theme thrust of the play, Yoruba Romance, staged at the recent British Council Lagos Theatre Festival in Lagos.
Written by Tyrone Terrence, and adapted from A Marriage Proposal, a 17th century play by the Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov, it was staged at Freedom Park. A hilarious comedy, Yoruba Romance dispels deep-seated prejudices about intertribal relations in Nigeria.
It centres on Ladoja, Chief Chibuzor and Nneka, and tells the story of how Ladoja, an affluent 49-year old farmer, makes up his mind to marry Nneka, Chief Chibuzor’s daughter. Ladoja, a Yoruba man, expresses his intent to Chibuzor, who is not only his neighbour, but has a long outstanding quarrel with his family. Chibuzor, a rich Igbo businessman, has been living with his 36-year old daughter, as a single parent since the demise of his wife for over three decades.
However, Ladoja’s desire brings back his joy, as his mien changes. Not minding their differences, he arranges for the two to meet in his house. Ladoja, lacking the tact to pass on his intention to Nneka, begins to allude to Nneka his family’s wealth and escapade, thereby unearthing a long-buried land dispute between the two families.
This rekindles old wounds that make Chibuzor and his daughter to chase the lover-boy out of their house. When Ladoja leaves, Chibuzor then let Nneka in on why Ladoja visited. Nneka, without mincing words, asks her father to immediately fetch Ladoja back for her, reminding her father that since her mother passed away no man had approached her for marriage. She notes that she isn’t getting younger and needs a husband. She accuses her father of finding fault with all the suitors she brings home, saying he would either reject them on religious grounds, ethnic biases or cultural difference.
Surprised at Nneka’s sudden fondness for a Yoruba man, a fondness he describes as Yoruba romance, Chibuzor, in spite of the evening rain, goes after Ladoja to pacify his daughter, who happens to be his only child. The two strange lovers, advanced in age, begin to entertain fear that they might not marry if they do not overlook their tribal differences.
Yoruba Romance reflects a typical Nigerian story, with the characters seamlessly delivering their roles. But going by the country’s etnic representation, the director could be accused of the biases she aimed to dispel, as the characters that feature in the play are of the Igbo and the Yoruba tribes. Knowing the tripodal politics of the country, a character should have played the role of a Hausa man/woman, instead of merely mentioning the tribe in the passing. This neglect, to any observer, especially a foreigner, gives the impression that the various ills highlighted are only common between the two tribes featured in the play.
Apart from this, the play affirms that, for a country like Nigeria with its multi-ethnic culture to forge ahead as a nation, the various tribes must learn to tolerate one another, as no ethnic group can be said to be flawless. Each has its weaknesses and strengths, and working together will bring out the best out of everyone. It also calls everyone, irrespective of tribe or religion, to rise up to his/her patriotic duties and to stop judging others from their ethnic prism.
Apart from this, the play raises the issue of settlement and ethnic nationalism, bringing to light the question of who owns the land and how long must one live in a given community before he could be identified and accepted as an indigene of the community he/she has lived in and spent the better parts of his/her life. It also hits religious bigots hard, as it makes them to see the negativity of bigotry.
In a hilarious, but subtle manner, Yoruba Romance tells how religion, which ought to show love brings division instead. The themes are topical and could help calm nerves, especially as some religious bigots have made some parts of the country a no-go-area for non-adherents of their faith.
Another pressing issue the play brings out is late or delayed marriage. Though the play projects the old African belief that a man or woman must be married to be accorded due respect in society, it however, failed to show how changing society is beginning to make the issue a thing of the past, as there are many single and unmarried young people occupying respected positions in politics and industry across the Africa and the globe. Nneka pressing her father to go for the Ladoja draws us back to decades, when marriage was seen as a sine qua non for assigning roles in different Nigerian societies.
While the playwright aims at bringing to the fore the vices that separates us, so that we, as individuals, could stop them, she created the impression that marriages in Igboland can be easily contracted with mere words. She needs to know that marriage proposal in Igbo culture pass through different stages. So, for a suitor (Ladoja) to go straight to his would-be in-law (Chief Chibuzor) and ‘say I want to marry your daughter,’ remains absurd, because there must be an intermediary, either from the bride/groom’s side.
Apart from effectively managing the stage, the characters interpreted their roles seamlessly, as their speech and body languages were just natural.