By SOLA BALOGUN
IT was a rare feast for the royal majesty recently at Ile Ife, Osun State, as students of Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE), treated the palace and guests to a total theatre package reminiscent of the rich Yoruba cultural heritage. The newly crowned monarch and Oni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, played host to the theatre students and staff led by Professor Rasaki Ojo Bakare inside the palace chambers where he was entertained with six dances and a drama piece entitled Moremi.
The theatre performance expectedly thrilled the monarch and his Olori with delight, just as it rekindled the cultural ethos of the Yoruba people through the stage. While the well choreographed dances relived diverse steps found in Yorubaland, the drama piece re-enacted the heroic exploits of Moremi, the legendary queen of Ile-Ife who once sacrificed herself and her only son, Oluorogbo, to deliver her people from the stubborn Igbo invaders. The drama essentially preached the gospel of selflessness and patriotism; virtues which are gradually eroding in our society today.
Shortly before the performances, Prof Bakare, the Dean, Faculty of Arts of the university, introduced the powerful delegate from FUOYE management to the majesty. He reminded the Oba of how Theatre and Media Arts Department of the university decided to key into the majesty’s vision of promoting and preserving Yoruba culture in all ramifications. According to Bakare, FUOYE decided to provide the intellectual spine for the realisation of the royal father’s vision through the Theatre Department of the university, using relevant researches, workshops and performances as benchmark. And as a prelude to the vision, the department travelled from Ekiti to Ife Ife to showcase a theatre package which was facilitated by Mr Tope Agbeyo, a businessman and culture enthusiast.
In his opening speech presented on behalf of the Vice Chancellor of FUOYE, the Head of Ikole Campus, Prof Olugbenga Amu, described the monarch’s vision as a laudable one. He pledged FUOYE’s support for the majesty’s cultural mission, urging, however, that the royal father should assist the institution by using his influence and power to address its financial and infrastructural challenges. While buttressing Professor Amu’s requests, Professor Bakare equally called on the monarch to enlist his support for the proposed Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Centre for Cultural Studies at FUOYE. The centre, when established, would be domiciled at FUOYE to carry out researches and training projects on Yoruba culture and its development.
The first performance was the salutary Obitun dance, drawn from the Ile Oluji area of Ondo State. It was a welcome piece that was creatively performed by seven dancers who were briefly joined by a stunting hunter. Following this was the Akoto dance, which came in fast rhythmic steps to illustrate the story of slaves in Badagry area of Lagos. It was quickly followed by the solemn, yet rhythmic Apepe dance from Ogun State which saw the dancers welding sticks before transiting smoothly into a more intensified and faster choreography. At the end of Apepe dance, the monarch who was apparently thrilled showed his appreciation in a loud applause, ostensibly registering his pleasure and acceptance.
Coming on the heels of Apepe dance was the highly entertaining Drum Invocation. This segment of the performance showcased the students’ dexterity on different percussion instruments. The male and female percussionists thrilled the audience with an experimental invocation that blended Africa with Europe in explosive drumbeats. The show was later followed by the Ugo, a royal dance which celebrates the beauty and glamour of women in Benin Kingdom.
The dance coincided with the arrival of Olori, the monarch’s wife who is actually an indigene of Benin, Edo State, and who was joining her husband to equally grace the show. The dance of the Lion, otherwise called Egwu Odum dance in Abia State, rounded off the first segment of the performance. The dance, which depicted the strength of warriors in the battlefield, was well interpreted by the young dancers, whose physique and rhythmic movements enhanced their choreographic patterns.
The short drama, Moremi, became the main menu of the night as it unveiled the pains of the Ife people following the rampaging raids by Igbo masquerades on their markets. The Oni of Ife (Azeez Kazeem) and his people are confused by the incessant raids which usually lead to seizure of Ife sons and daughters and their wares. Amid the confusion, Moremi (Alice Taiwo), a beautiful Ife queen volunteers to be kidnapped by the Igbos to enable her unravel their secrets. She seeks protection from Esinmirin river goddess with a promise to sacrifice her only son if successful.
On getting to Igboland, Moremi is chosen by the Igbo king (Chris Nnegbu) as favourite queen, but this enables her to conspire with the interpreter (Samuel Fanusi) to fathom the secrets of the Igbo masquerades. Back home at Ife, Oni consults the oracle, and Baba Ifa (Bifatife Adeseye) discloses that Moremi would succeed in her mission. Eventually, Moremi returns amid pomp and ceremony to inform her people that fire is the antidote to Igbo masquerades’ menace. At the return of the masquerades to Ife markets, they are expectedly overpowered and defeated by the Ife people and Moremi becomes the true heroine and celebrated saviour of her people.
In his response to the performance, Oba Ogunwusi prayed for the cast and crew, and likened Moremi’s qualities to that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose Statue of Liberty in New York was donated to America by the French government. According to the monarch, Moremi equally remains the spiritual symbol of liberty for the Yoruba race and an epitome of freedom and unity for her people. The Oba who described the ancient town of Ife as the symbolic land of expansion also hailed the leadership qualities of Yoruba sons and daughters across the globe. Also, he urged the Yorubas to always work for the promotion and preservation of their cultural heritage.
Similarly, Mr Tope Agbeyo, who sponsored the performances, hinted that proper understanding of indigenous culture would make Nigerians and, particularly, the Yoruba people do away with such vices as communal rivalry and insecurity. The ceremony was equally graced by dignitaries such as Professor Wole Atere, Director of Distance Learning Programme of FUOYE, Mr Adeyemo, the registrar and two guests who visited the monarch from America.