Published by Creoternity Inc. (2013).
Author: Jude Idada
The book is written as a stage play that weaves myths and historical recollections of places and events to create this work of fiction.
The play opens at the kingdom of Igodomigodo, which is intended as the ancient name of the modern Edo kingdom. There is an ongoing kingship tussle as the kingdom’s head warrior Uwafiokun is on a mission to kill the regent and his son after they both planned to take over the throne and become kings. After the sentence of death is carried out on the duo, the council of Chiefs settles to the task of choosing a king. Ezomo reveals that the king of the Yorubas in the west is indeed an Edo prince who left the kingdom in somewhat controversial circumstances and was believed to be dead.
It’s quite weird trying to pick out a writer’s intent at his art. It’s like trying to read a person’s mind when you have no crystal ball or psychic powers but in this play it gets almost totally obvious that there is an unhidden intent to explore (maybe even establish) the relationship between the two groups of people in this story. And that is not a crime in itself. Anyone who has good knowledge of the language and customs of the two groups know there is a connection somewhere. But since the writer makes his intentions quite obvious, we are sure he also expects to be judged by readers. A Yoruba person might find statements like “Ogiso Igodo the founder of Igodomigodo, descended from the sky” (pg61), heretical because the Yoruba celebrate Oduduwa as a god (pg87).and not a human descendant of Ogiso Igodo whom the Edos give the god accolades to in (pg61). Also to suggest that arguably the most feared warrior in Yoruba mythology was unable to lead the Edos, this might be one bitter pill too much for a biased Yoruba reader. However, the more enlightened readers will have fun with a beautifully crafted epic play which even the writer submitted has limited historical accuracy and is a fictional work on myths and little history. This book is really a test of your mind if you’re Edo or Yoruba.
Culture and Language
I often argue that plays are deeper conveyors of cultural themes than prosaic novels. In this book, there’s a copious bleeding of multiple languages. It’s effusive the way the English, Yoruba and Bini languages are equally interwoven and each one interprets the other quite well. It gives flesh to the story and the cultures portrayed. Sometimes, may be a little too much flesh that the story becomes obese and unhealthy in some areas. Sometimes flipping through the long lengths of songs and poems in a language not understood could make the book a little boring for readers who aren’t Edo or Yoruba. However the epic nature of this play requires a good dose of cultural effusiveness and we can’t fail to mention the crunchy proverbs served here and there as sprinklings on a good food and how it puts the colourful cap on several engaging dialogues. When you get the hang of it, you won’t find it boring, but initially I’d confess it almost drifted me off to sleep. Some aspects were jarring too, the portrayal of human sacrifice and albinos not being socially accepted could be a little strange to non-African readers but it’s part of the things you have to know about ancient African customs, many of which you may not find today.
Eventually, none of the characters fully stands out as the “quintessential hero” par excellence or villain. Oliha’s wisdom and loyalty to the throne is spotted with some flaws. Oduduwa’s much-revered leadership and strength seemed to fail multiple times and even the decision to send Oranmiyan to Igodomigodo which is the climax of the play wasn’t originally his idea. Not to talk of the fact that the result of that decision wasn’t particularly excellent. Okanbi, Oranmiyan and Otun made decisions for him multiple times (which puts his strength and leadership in question). Uwafiokun could have stood out as the total villain but we can’t totally call his intentions villainous. Overall, we can’t speak in absolutes about any of the characters. This is either the result of an over-conscious attempt to be lenient / merciful on the legacy of the characters so as not to incur public wrath (some of the characters are deified in history) or a perfect but unconscious reminder that people and intents can mostly never be painted in black and white when histories are explored. Nobody is totally good, nobody is totally evil. None is perfect. However, this is part of the reasons why this book remains a test of the reader’s mind.
In conclusion, the book in its entirety leaves the reader with almost more questions at the end than at the beginning. But it’s often said that a good book/story is one that doesn’t tell the reader everything but leaves the reader with a little more to imagine than to know. Hence, it’s not hard to know why this book is a past winner of the ANA prize for drama. It’s a 50% book if you ask me. Leaves as much questions as answers in the reader’s mind.