When a goat is pushed to the wall: A review of Wale Ogunyemi’s Kiriji
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Wale Ogunyemi’s Kiriji, a chronicle of the decade long Kiriji war between Ibadan and Ekiti Parapo, is a worthy contribution to African historical drama genre, Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy reviews
I abhor writing drama reviews. And this is not because dramas do not find much favour with me, it is just that I have been hit by the realisation that our modern world is devoid of play acting and theatres have become antiques, yet the best place to encounter a play is not on the pages of a book, but in a theatre! How does one get the electrifying and thrilling experience of seeing a play come alive on stage if it can only be seen in a book? Surely, no review of any work belonging to the drama genre can be complete without the actual performance experience. Well, given little or no option, I am compelled to meet drama pieces in black ink and white papers while using my imagination to fill out the missing gaps. Today, I bring to you Wale Ogunyemi’s Kiriji.
Kiriji is a historical drama bordering around the Ibadan and Ekiti Parapo decade long Kiriji war.
The Ekiti country had invited the Ibadan warriors to come stop the Fulani military campaign, started in Ilorin after the death of Afonja. The Ibadan warriors came truly and were able to stop the advancement of the Fulani warriors into Ekiti but went even further to install warrant chiefs (Ajele) over the kingdoms they had come to assist.
The Ekiti people were subjected to various forms of brutality and they were forced to pay tribute to these “Ajeles” becoming slaves on their own lands for years.
Unable to withstand the exploitation and oppression, especially after his wife is raped by one of the Ajeles, Fabunmi (a young nephew of Oloja Oke (king of Imesi) sparks off a revolt that would lead to the execution of all Ibadan installed Ajeles in various Ekiti kingdoms and an alliance of all Ekiti kingdoms against Ibadan tyranny and oppression.
Aare Latosa, warrior leader of Ibadan, is not amused by the death of his Ajeles and he requests that the princely head of Fabunmi be brought to him in a calabash for an amicable settlement else war would be unleashed upon the kingdom. Oloja Oke rejects this obnoxious request and the people, tired of being enslaved and oppressed, line up behind Fabunmi to engage Ibadan in a war that would go on for years with Ekiti gaining the upper hand because they formed an alliance with the Ilorin Fulanis to engage a common enemy and had access to firearms (which was still a novelty in warfare as at the time).
Beyond the historical value of Wale Ogunyemi’s Kiriji, the play will always remind us that there can be no peace wherever oppression and exploitation thrives. A goat pushed to the wall might just be forced to turn around and bite! The Ekitis were forced to rise, unite and fight against a common enemy, forcing their enemy to sue for peace! The colonial administration exploits this opportunity to intervene and establish a cease-fire between both parties (the war is detrimental to their trading interests).
The play also shows that every human being desires peace and for peace to reign, freedom must be guaranteed. Subjecting a people to thralldom and servitude is to court hostilities and even war.
I love the Marxist approach adopted by the playwright in producing the play and it is also worthy to note the role of the supernatural (played by the three witches) in the play. However, I despise the English translations of the songs adopted in the play, it was a poorly executed affair for what was done was more of transliteration, instead of translation and the form of presentation was not also good. For a Marxist play, the use of flashback was also quite minimal.
Perhaps, my only regret after reading this play is that I would never get to see it come alive on stage with all the famous Yoruba warriors accoutrements and booms of canons that gave the name “Kiriji” to the war.
Like Ola Rotimi’s Ovoranwem Nogbaisi and Kuruimi, Ahmed Yerima’s Ameh Oboni and Attahiru, Wale Ogunyemi’s Kiriji is a worthy contribution to the genre of African historical drama.
© Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2018