OSAMEDE: Society in search of heroes and heroines -Ozoro Opute

When a society finds itself at the crossroads, it needs men and women of uncommon courage and selfless spirit to bring it from the brink and restore its lost dignity. Indeed, what personal sacrifices do individuals in a society need to perform to rescue a distressed society from the clutches of bondage its ancestors plunged it for a new dawn to emerge?

These scenarios are true of Irumile in its dire relationship with the Kingdom of Aguabor to which it is a tributary, as portrayed in the stage play OSAMEDE: For Kingdom and Country, which ran for the Christmas weekend at Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Lagos. Written by Paul Ugbede and Tosin Otudeko, it has Lilian Olubi as executive producer and Ayo Ajayi as artistic director and producer. The play featured a sterling cast that included– Norbert Young as Aigbedion, Soibifaa Dokubo as Uzama Uso,  Patrick Doyle and Paul Adams as  Uzamas, Patrick Diabuah  as Osaze, Olanrewaju Abraham as Oba, Nini Mbonu as Queen Efe and Rolake Adesina playing the lead role as Osamede.

Irumile is a psychotech-mining town for the Kingdom of Aguabon, whose powerful king and its council levy exacting regimen of hardship on the miners who are on the verge of rebelling against the injustice on them. Aguabon is a powerful kingdom that even foreign governments pay homage. But the discontent among the poor miners of Irumile is coming to a head, with an attempt on the life of the King of Aguabon. But Aigbedion is just in time to save the King from an attempted assasination by one of his own. In return, the King elevates him immediately to man his gate, from where he gains the King’s confidence and becomes his ‘adviser’, which makes him a traitor to his fellow Irumile citizens.

Meanwhile, there’s turmoil in the palace. The chiefs are against any form of change from the old ways in spite of the King’s desire to bring changes that befit a modernising society, the sort he saw in his sojourn in America where he was educated. For the chiefs, tradition is cast in stone and must not be tampered with; even the Queen must write a letter if she wants to see the King in council. The King thinks otherwise, but he’s careful not to annoy the chiefs with sudden changes. Also, the Queen, who he met in America, is a social media freak who believes in live-streaming whatever happens between her and the King, even in their royal bed. This has put the King in a difficult position.

Psychotech is a powerful tool capable of world domination; Queen Efe is mad that the King is a weakling who refuses to wield Psychotech to rule the world, with her at the helms. She simply walks away from her marriage and returns to America, because the King will not acceed to her evil request. This leaves the King without a wife. To get one, the chiefs suggest an ancient traditional maidens’ dance called ‘Ajasa’ from where the king chooses the best dancer.

Being a tributary town, maidens from Irumile are not entitled to participate in the Ajasa. But Osamede is a girl destined for great things right from birth that foretold supernatural things about her. Her uncle Aigbedion, who has since become the King’s ‘adviser’, is there to give her the push she needs. But she must not disclose who she is, as no Irumile vassal is allowed to partake in such royal passtime. But Osamede does and, contrary to expectations, she wins the King’s heart with her disarming precociousness that sets her far apart from the last Queen. But Uzama Uso is furious that his plan for his daughter, who is among the contestants in the Ajasa maiden dance to marry the King, is thwarted by an upstart. He thus takes it upon himself to investigate the attempted murder of the King and all fingers point to Irumile.

Meanwhile, Osamede and her heartthrob, Osaze, are drifting apart, as both are keen to listen to their respective yearnings. A miner, Osaze, wants a different life from the hard one Irumile’s mines offer him, but he fails to enlist Osamede in his desire for a life away from Irumile in Canada. They then break up, but he discovers that Osamede is the new Queen. Irumille brand Aigbedion and Osaze traitors for betraying Irumile. Osaze joins forces with their enemy, Aguabon to undermine Irumile’s struggle for liberation. When Uzama Uso catches Osaze within the precincts of Aguabon, Osaze caves in to Uzama Uso’s threats to save his life and teams up with him to bring down Aigbedion and Osamede from their newly exalted positions.

The King’s inability to put his foot down in the face of his palace chiefs’ insistence on tradition enables Uzama Uso to trick him into handing over his powerful ‘Ase’ to him to annihilate Irumile along with Osamede and her uncle Aigbedion. But Osamede rises up to the occasion with the help of Aigbedion, to fight Uzama Uso. But with the King’s ‘Ase’, Uzama Uso is a tough nut to crack. In a desperate bid to save her Irumile people, Osamede stabs herself to render the ‘Ase’ in Uzama Uso’s hand ineffective and so destroys the chief.

Osamede’s death becomes the means for the King to regain his power and throne from the power-hungry Uzama Uso now dead. The King is heartbroken at the death of Osamede even after her betrayal of his trust, when she failed to tell him her ancestry; Irumile is also saddened at her supreme sacrifice for their survival…

OSAMEDE provided a measure of performance value for the audience that trouped in to see the show. Osamede and Osaze’s love scenes were moments of dazzling performances by Diabuah and Adesina. However, the story, with Osamede and Aigbedion’s part that is taken directly from Queen Esther’s rise from grass to grace in the Bible, needs immense restructuring to fit the typical Edo culture and tradition that is universally known. The songs and music, apart from the late Sir Victor Uwaifo’s music, I  think, do not adequately reflect the known Benin music and songs. Also, the King’s emotional outburst at the death of Osamede is overwrought. The Oba of Benin, as the personage portrayed, would never cry before even his loyal palace chiefs at the death of anyone, not even his queen; such emotionality is beyond the Oba in public; to be Oba is to be divine. The King is too elevated in his grand scheme of divinity to give in to such emotions in public. While a good theatrical piece, OSAMEDE does not quite live up to expectations of explicating Benin culture and tradition. Clearly, research into Benin culture was not conducted to enrich the script. Benin music and songs have an intense effect on the listener; I didn’t feel this after watching the play.

Happily though, it’s never too late for a refurbished script for better performance next time, since it’s not a published script yet. Even the biblical Queen Esther part can be reworked into proper Nigerian conflict setting, so it doesn’t give the impression of a borrowed culture. Benin culture is too rich to warrant the need for borrowing because infusing biblical concept into a performance that’s essentially Benin is even odd and unbelievable.

-Opute is a Lagos-based theatre enthusiast 


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