The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, beamed with mirth on Easter Monday evening at Terrakulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, thanks to Moremi the Musical, a dramatisation of the legend of Moremi, a brave Yoruba woman, who saved Ife from the stranglehold of their adversaries.
A production of Bolanle Austen Peters, created by Ronke Ademuliyi, Moremi the Musical fuses conventional dramatic locution with music and dance, enhanced with a lighting effect that conveys a state of flux. Day time scenes are illuminated and night time scenes are cast in darkening and silhouetted backgrounds, creating a cinematic feel.
Moremi the Musical is not a cheap production. The costumes are designed to reflect the status of individual characters and groups that make up the large cast. While that of the Ife King reflects a flamboyance and regality associated with royalty, the commoners appear simple.
Likewise, the Ifa priest goes with his customary accoutrements, while the Ife and Ugbo warriors have distinct costumes, with the raffia costumes of the latter warriors and their masked faces instilling dread. The Olori is resplendent in her white wrapper.
Apart from its bristling war narrative and celebration of martyrdom, there are subtle feminist echoes with the triumph of Moremi at the end, showing that what a man can do, a woman can also do, even better. Moremi the Musical is a showcase of culture. The age long system of administration in ancient Ife Kingdom where the King and his cabinet deliberate and on matters concerning the people are dramatised.
In this traditional society, too, the role of the Ifa priest is spelt out –through him, mortal man commune with the gods of the land. The hunters perform both subsistent functions for their families and complementary function to the Ooni when necessary. Though Moremi the Musical is a pan-Yoruba performance, the music on display is a medley of traditional renditions and conventional, western appropriations. For Afrocentric, the operatic introit at the beginning might seem deceptive, as a vocalist, clad in princely ensemble, appears on stage, singing in high falsetto –as piercing as a yodel –while introducing the lead character, Moremi, with acoustics of rhythm and blues. Moremi makes a cameo appearance, in an instant, silhouetted and bereft of mirth, and vanishes, thus, unfurling the plot.
It is the Olojo Festival, and the King of Ife appears regally dressed. He prays for fertility in his kingdom, prosperity for all, Ife’s triumph over the enemies, and many more. Amid the despondency in Ife, the Ifa priest assures the people that Orunmila has answered their prayers –a saviour was on the way. This news is welcomed with great rejoicing. But their joy is short-lived. The tough looking Ugbo warriors soon barge into the merriment and disrupts proceedings, taking away captives.
In another scene, Moremi and his only son, Ela, are seen. His mother wants him to be a man and explore the world, but she admits they live in a dangerous times, where, every day, a child disappears. So she doesn’t want to lose him: “Your father and I forbid you to go to the village”. Moremi succeeds in convincing him to stay indoors to avoid falling a victim. He is a jewel.
The Ifa priest advises the Ooni to send brave hunters to the forest to capture a live tiger, elephant and leopard. An expedition is sent forthwith on the risky mission. Yet the Ugbo warriors continue to make raids in Ile-Ife, taking captives as slaves. Meanwhile, Moremi isn’t impressed by the insecurity in the land of her birth.
As tension builds up, the Ife warriors return from the expedition, emptyhanded, as they claim not to have seen any of those wild animals to catch. This scene is one of the comic relieves deployed in the play.
A dampened Moremi now offers herself as a sacrificial lamb –to be captured by the enemies so that she can understudy the aggressors and find out the source of their powers. But her husband won’t hear any of that. He accuses her of trying to elope with another man. But, before allowing herself to be captured by the Ugbo warriors, she visits Esimirin, the river goddess, for protection, who accepts to help her, but there will be a price to pay.
When, later, Moremi is captured by the marauders, her beauty charms the Ugbo King, who adopts her as queen. She, thus, lures the King to reveal the secret of his army –fire. Armed with that secret, she flees back to Ife and shares it with her people. When next the Ugbo warriors return to torment Ife, they are routed by the Ife soldiers.
To fulfil her promise to the river goddess, Moremi visits Esimirin again, but she demands his only son, Ela, as the price Moremi and Ife have to pay for her assistance.
It is a hard decision to take, having lost her husband before now. But she cannot but concede to the request of Esimirin. Ultimately, peace returns to Ife, and the threat of Ugbo warriors become a thing of the past.
As a musical, Moremi is a major theatrical achievement. The essence of dramaturgy isn’t lost, despite ample histrionics on display. If there is one musical capable to keep you on the edge, Moremi the Musical is it! Little wonder, the Oni of Ife, Ogunwusi, gushed at the end of the performance, “This is a red letter day for the Yoruba heritage, culture and tradition.”
Highlighting the significance of Moremi Ajasoro in Yoruba history, he affirmed that it was after Moremi’s self-sacrifice played out in Ife that other Yoruba people spread out to found various kingdoms in the southwest.
“At some point, we converged on Ife. At some point, we were all called Ife descendants. There is nobody in Yoruba land who didn’t come out of Ife. If Moremi hadn’t put together that god given boldness, maybe we wouldn’t have been where we are today,” he said.
The monarch applauded the wife of the Governor of Ogun State, Mrs Olufunso Amosun – “the living Moremi of our time” –for lending her support to the project. He added that the Oshogbo-born woman belonged to “each and every one of us”, encouraging her not to relent on her effort, though she would be leaving office with her husband by May 2019.
The Ooni of Ife assured that the initiative would become a global event. “We will let the world know our history. Enough of the western world telling us our history. It has been distorted for many centuries. They always tell us we are pagans, and we don’t revere the creator.
“You can look deeply in this play, and see we still revere the almighty God, the creator of everything, and we Yoruba call it Orisa Oke. Enough of the Whiteman telling us our story, we have to tell it ourselves, and our story is very rich.”
Oba Saheed Elegushi of Ikate-Elegushi, Lagos, also thanked the producer of the play and the cast that enacted it on stage for doing a good job, “They have gone so far to tell the world how rich Yoruba cultural heritage is, and I think, as a custodian of culture and tradition, we need to give them encouragement.
“We need this kind of history to be out there for our children becoming behind, for the Yoruba culture is going down a little bit. More so, for us as Yoruba people, we need to be united.”
Mrs Amosun, who expressed her delight to be present to identify with the legacy of Queen Moremi, thanked the cast for realising the legend on stage. “For some people, this must be the turning point for them to realise how important women are. For some people, it has lifted the curtains of relegating women to backseat.
“It has made them realise that women actually has a role to play in the society. We are endowed or we are created to be the softer gender; however, we are strong and resilient. This has been enacted in the story,” she added. Also present was the command performance of Moremi the Musical was the Olugbo of Ugbo Kingdom, Ondo State, Oba Fredrick Akinruntan.
The major roles in the Moremi the Musical were played by the following thespians: Tosin Adeyemi (Moremi), Moshood Fattah (Oluorogbo), Bimbo Manuel/Femi Branch (Ooni Obawirin), Femi Branch/Segun Dada (Olu-Igbo), and Rotimi Adelegan/Tobi Odunsi (Oba Oranmiyan). The Easter edition of Moremi the Musical runs up till May 5, 2019.