Saturday, January 30, 2021

American University of Nigeria: The Ritualistic Perspectives of Yoruba Theatre

Nigeria’s rich cultural tapestry is greatly influenced by her three major ethnic groups; The Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani, and Igbo.

The Yoruba, their language, art, and traditions have held audiences spellbound for years. From the South-west hub in Nigeria, across seas all the way to Cuba and Brazil where patterns of  Yoruba speech can be found in Lucumi, many marvel at the beauty of Yoruba heritage.

 The fascinating transmutation of the Yoruba language is a story for another day. Presently, our intellectual curiosity is greatly occupied with Dr. Babatunde Allen Bakare’s treatise: The Yoruba Theatre from Religious and Ritualistic Perspectives. From his early years in his Ifaki ancestral home in Ekiti state, Nigeria, Dr. Bakare’s submersion in Yoruba lore gives him a superior discernment of all things Yoruba.

His recent research, in particular, delves into the history of traditional Yoruba theatre to unveil how rituals influence the art form. Dr. Bakare believes that “ with the post-colonial transformation of most Yoruba societies, there has been a shift in the thematic focus and performance aesthetics of rituals and festivals from pristine traditionalism to the contemporary concerns of socio-political and economic experiences of the people.”

“One out of many is the epic film titled Sango by Femi Lasode (1997).  Lasode dramatized the Yoruba ritualistic celebration of Sango ( the god of fire and thunder among the Yoruba in Nigeria and diaspora). Another one is the story of the Osun Osogbo Festival which has been adapted to various films. Stories, legends, and tales about Ogun, the god of iron have been adapted in many Yoruba films too.”

Dr. Bakare’s research explores the role of the traditional Alarinjo (masquerade) traveling theatre, the contemporary traveling theatre, and the works of  Yoruba literary dramatists. Rituals in Yoruba land are integral to festivals, and cultural practices. For instance, the town of Ile-Ife, considered by many Yoruba as their cradle of origin, still religiously observes ancient rites and rituals. According to the Yoruba oral history of Oriki and Ewi, out of three sixty-five days in a year, the people of  Ile-Ife abstain from rituals on only one day. “The rituals to appease the gods and goddesses in Ile Ife are all year round, except for one day, which nobody can know or guess correctly. The only set of people who can determine that day are probably the priests and the king.” Said Dr. Bakare.

Sustained by a closely guarded tradition of oral history, rites and rituals live on in the consciousness of the Yoruba people, and these find eloquent expression in theatrical performances and works of literary greats such as Hubert Ogunde, Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi, and Femi Osofisan. 

After reading through Dr. Bakare’s paper, the detached writing style, great for academic precision, left us yearning for a deeper understanding of the cultural referents for such a remarkable author. It is only fair that we share the following excerpt straight from the horse’s mouth:

AUNTW: Dr. Bakare, what was your experience growing up?

Dr. Bakare: My growing up was very interesting. I am the third of eight children. My father was from Ifaki Ekiti and my mother was from Ilawe Ekiti, so they were both from Ekiti. They were both strict in all their dealings with us, their children. I and my siblings were trained with a popular Yoruba wise saying turned slogan; “Ranti omo eni ti iwo n se” (meaning, remember the child of whom you are) that is, we must not under any circumstance disgrace ourselves, family, and most importantly, lineage in all our dealings with people. My parents trained us to always uphold our family name above all.

AUNTW: You have had success working as a broadcaster why the shift to academia?

Dr. Bakare: I decided to shift to academia after the completion of my Mphil at the University of Oslo in Norway in 2008. I started attending international conferences and delivering academic papers too. Almost at the same time, I was given an opportunity by Prof. Adamu Baikie who was the then Vice-chancellor of Nasarawa State University in Keffi. I was in his house in Keffi to interview him for a documentary on the late Gani Fawehinmi. He was so impressed with my conduct, professionalism, and academic engagement during and after the whole process. He then asked for my academic credentials and if I would like to take up a part-time teaching role at the newly created Department of Theatre Arts and Cultural Studies at Nasarawa State University in Keffi.  Of course, my answer was yes! That was the beginning of my academic teaching in 2010. I started recognizing the need to impact my students positively in connection with some of the knowledge I have acquired both home and abroad. It is always a source of joy for me when I am with my students. They are so brilliant but oftentimes, they do not realize it. Only if they can invest more time and concentrate more on their studies and jettison things that cause distractions to them. I love to learn new things because of my undying quest for knowledge.

AUNTW: How has the transition to becoming a faculty at AUN been?

Dr. Bakare:  So far so good! It has been a wonderful new experience. I look forward to a better future as I work with other members of the faculty so as to collectively move AUN forward academically and in all other areas. I can say I am loving the new experience.

AUNTW: How would you define your teaching style?

Dr. Bakare: My teaching style can be described as eclectic in nature. I am not rigid in my teaching approach. However, I am aware that there are a good number of responsibilities that must be fulfilled when I am teaching so as to get the best out of my students. My teaching is always engaging, I always encourage my students to share their knowledge and experiences in class. I do not discourage my students from expressing what they think is right. But one thing that is very important to me in all my classes is that my teaching method must be reciprocal. That is, I try as much as possible to ensure they gain valuable knowledge and experience as classes progress and I try also to gain from them too; learning in modern times is two way. Gone are the days when lectures and teachers were lords in the classroom. It is now a partnership, but the lecturer is always in charge.

AUNTW: Tell us about a culture shock experience you have had since moving to Yola.

Dr. Bakare: Well, I did not really experience cultural shock upon my arrival in Yola. I have traveled all over Nigeria as a producer/scriptwriter for African Independent Television (AIT) for over five years. I know some certain things about the Northern parts of the country, Nigeria. However, I am now in Yola as a resident not as a visitor. To this end, I try as much as possible to integrate into the community very well. You will be surprised pretty soon when I speak Hausa and Fulfude to you.

AUNTW: What book are you reading now? Tell us why it is intriguing.

Dr. Bakare: I am reading three books now. One is titled:  Television Production by Gerald Millerson and Jim Owens. Language and National Development and another one on writing for development. I am reading all these books in preparation for the Spring semester. I must be way ahead of my students. We are partners in learning but I am their leader.

From the classroom to his interactions with faculty, it is quite difficult for Dr. Bakare to conceal his passion for the arts and his culture. Even though he concedes that traditional Yoruba rituals have dwindled, especially among the Yoruba people living in cities. Nevertheless, rural communities are keeping hope for tradition alive as they revere and devote time and attention to rituals and rite commitments. Dr. Bakare’s full paper is available online at Researchgate.

Dr. Babatunde Allen Bakare is an Assistant Professor of English and Literature at the American University of Nigeria. He earned his Ph.D. in Drama and Theatre Studies at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. In 2005, Dr. Bakare obtained a certificate in British and Irish Literature at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He completed his Masters of Philosophy in Ibsen Studies at the Centre of Ibsen Studies, University of Oslo, Norway in 2008. He has worked as a Producer/Scriptwriter for African Independent Television (AIT) Abuja for over 5 years. His areas of focus are African Theatre/Drama and Performance, Directing, Media Productions (TV, Radio, and Film), Dramatic Literature, Storytelling/African Oral Performance and Literature, Theatre History, African, British, American and Norwegian Literature.

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