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Vol. 5, No. 2 (Winter, 1972), pp. 50-51
Published by: UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3334674
Page Count: 2
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Uche Okeke is one of those all-around artists that nowadays, in our age of specialization, seem only to flourish in Africa. He is a distinguished artist whose drawings are well-known throughout Europe. He is a dramatist, and a director, and was the mainspring of the second Mbari Club when it was founded at Enugu. His play, "Ekeama," is "an Ogbanje drama"; as the author explains it "An Ogbanje has full seven life cycles. It repeatedly dies and returns to its mother or any other of its choice to be reborn. The iyauwa, oath of life, is central to the Ogbanje idea. No child can leave this spirit sphere without securing the all-important passport to the land of the living from Ekeama herself." In the play music and dance are central to the drama. In essence, it is a kind of opera similar to that earlier form which included sections of dance as well as song. Okeke's "acts" are correctly called "movements", as if the entire work were seen as a symphonic study with themes and counterpoint interwoven within a single thematic concept. The opening scene is described in a way that requires one to imagine that it had been recorded or filmed rather than written. The first scene is of the village in the full moon of harvest time with the noise of crickets, birds and barking dogs. It leads into the sound of children clapping: "the sounds flow in from afar in irregular waves," and the distant noise continues until "they clap their hands and dance in a circle." There is a suggestive sensitivity in the theatrical vision that Okeke creates, to such an extent that the presentation takes on the elements of formal ritual, and one thinks more of a morality play than a simple work of the theater. The profundity and dignity derive from every act of the many groups whom the author/director moves harmoniously across his staging area; stage seems here to be too limiting a term to employ for such a work. Because of its very texture, a drama such as this cannot receive its resolution in words. If it does not sound too paradoxical, one could simply aver that this is not a verbal play. It is mime and myth: symbolic charade. The resolution is necessarily visual, a response to be derived from movement, from the interaction of people, from the response and mood created by the coordination of sound and scene. Perhaps this effect can only begin to be indicated by simply printing out the last scene of Okeke's mysterious and powerful work. It demands a great deal of the reader's imagination, for as set out on the page it may appear somewhat inhibited. But as the culmination of a fervently developed epic, it has a rightness and strength that acquires its context not from explication, but from the dramatic vision the author displays for his audience. With an attentive reading, the spare words on this page may give some indication of the way in which the play as a written book has been supplanted by an older, perhaps more profound style of the dramatic, where art and ritual and myth combine to become the evidence of an intense reaction that involves audience with actor, and both with the wider context of immense cultural intensity.
African Arts © 1972 Regents of the University of California