Jacob Unekwu Agada’s Amongst the Dead, a review by Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy

Last Updated on June 23, 2019 by Memorila

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy believes that even though Jacob Unekwu Agada’s Amongst the Dead is a transposition of one of Wole Soyinka’s plays into an Igala version, the author should be praised for employing African oral repertoire to in his play’s dialogue.

African literature is replete with instances of the despoliation of the African culture by an insensitive colonial force. The tragedy of Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, as well as that of Ezeulu’s in Arrow of God easily comes to mind here. We can also mention Ola Rotimi’s Ovonramwen Nogbaisi as another example.

It has been scores of years since colonialism vacated our soil but many Africans remember this act of despoilment as “where the rain began beating us” (in Achebe’s parlance). Jacob Unekwu Agada offers us Amongst the Dead; a play pointing back at those times when the European missionary and chivalrous officers played God upon a “supposed savage” race, by forcing upon them the tenets of civility based on the then Western standards.

Set during the colonial era in the ancient Igala city of Idah, and the traditional home of the Igala kingdom stool, Amongst the Dead shows us the story of Afor, a girl whose lineage is fated to bear the “sins” of the people to the hereafter. Albeit not a happy task for it is one which culminates in transcendence from the world of the living to that of the dead and ancestors, it is a task Afor knows she was born for and gladly embraces–her happiness and fulfillment is tied to this sacrificial act.

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However, Sir Henderson, will hear naught of this “barbaric” act, he orders for a disruption of this ritual and arrest of all involved, including the Afor who is the carrier.

With all in jail, the people’s sins are left hanging within the realm of the living. They have only till nightfall before the passage is closed; else they wait for another six seasons. As the play continues, we see the struggle between the colonial forces and the African cultural values. But who wins in the end? Read this play to find out.

I like it that the play justifies the act of sacrifice in the African culture as comparable to that in the Western tradition. The inability of Sir Henderson to avert Afor’s fate shows that the inevitable can only be postponed, it cannot be stopped.

The play is much indebted to Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, which I still think is a brilliant play from Soyinka. I see Amongst the Dead as a transposition of the Yoruba setting in Soyinka’s version to an Igala one. Nonetheless, we must praise the writer for his employment of the African oral repertoire to ornament the play’s dialogue. It has been quite a while since I encountered such lofty poetic diction in novels and plays, and seeing it now in Amongst the Dead leaves me in a state of nostalgia.

Lastly, as we reminiscence about the past, let us look into the present and future. We have now seen where it all began; let us also see where we are, and where we are going. I hereby call on playwrights to pick up modern issues and tackle them in their plays too.

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© Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2019


Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy holds a degree in English language and literary studies. He is a short story writer, copy editor, book reviewer, literary critic, poet, and essayist. He teaches English as a Foreign Language in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

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