The play Maafa recently staged by the National Troupe of Nigeria, in collaboration with Eda Theatre International to commemorate Nigeria’s 56th Independence, did not only bring back disturbing memoirs of oppression by marauding colonialists and their African collaborators during the era of slavery on the continent, it also brought to the fore the unpleasant but necessary lessons of the slave trade while also highlighting the need for Nigerians to speak with one voice, writes Mary Ekah
In line with its objective of encouraging live theatre performances that identify with national aspirations, the National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN) collaborated with Eda Theatre International to present MAAFA: The Point of No Return”, a stage play written by Segun Olujobi and directed by Makinde Adeniran to commemorate Nigeria’s 56th independence anniversary recently at the National Theatre, Lagos. Maafa tells the story of liberation and of change, while at the same time draws the attention of the society to the need for peace, love, the need to have a united Nigeria. It is deliberately staged to highlight the disunity that existed amongst the different communities and settlements that helped the slave merchants and traders to have successful expeditions not just in Nigeria, but also in Africa as a whole.
The western world in Maafa first introduced by the coming of the white Slave Master to Africa. Using lucre as a tool for barter, he is able to convince the African King to arrange a group of slaves for him. Unfortunately, black African slave drivers, working in concert with the slave master, brutalised the chained black slaves as they match them forward to slavery, flogging relentlessly and shouting, “Apes Obey!”
As far as the white lord is concerned, the manacled blacks are like mere toys on his hand, which explained why he thundered at them: “I bought you; I bought your identity.” He, thus, forcefully grabs the wife of one of the enslaved Africans, raping her to his like. The husband’s effort to protest the ill treatment meted to his wife sees the enraged white man almost strangling him to death. The melancholic song of the slaves from their customary abode of a cage is a reminder of the failed attempt to muffle the distressed African voices by the western establishments.
Subtitled, “Point of No Return”, Maafa tells the story of a superhuman warrior (Osusu), as told by his own very son (the narrator). It is the story of man’s inhumanity to man and the story of an untold truth. Invoking the harsh realities of slavery, Maafa centres on the experience of Osusu, a warrior prince who was enslaved alongside his wife and many other people. Although it was at a time the slave trade had been abolished, the white slave master slaps and kills his captives at will. He boasts that he is more important than God because he can do and undo, without any complaint from the sky.
Maafa is the story of underserved suffering by descendants of a continent, who were taken away to foreign, strange lands to work in European and American plantations. For Osusu, a warrior prince, who was enslaved through the intrigues of his own people, and the other slaves, it was pain all through, right from the Middle Passage to their destinations.
While the people lived in fear of the excesses of the white man and what he stood for, some local slave traders connived with the invaders to hunt and harass their people. Even when the brave ones among them made efforts to resist these maltreatments and forceful enslavement of the able-bodied men and women, the hatred emanating from the local people themselves did not help progress and growth.
With Sobifa Dokubo as Narrator and the son of Osusu (Kunle Omotesho), action starts on an African coastline and the slaves being taken away even at a time when the trade had been prohibited in Europe. But a defiant Captain Alex (Omosehin) and his mean crew would not be persuaded to stop the illegal and inhuman trade in African peoples. His wife back in England, Araminta (Ginika Chinedu) is strongly against her husband’s business; when she threatens to report him to the police, Alex throws her in among the slaves in the enclosure as well.
Through sustained beatings and punishment, the slaves undergo serious physical and psychological trauma in the hands of their tormentors, who drive them like animals to breaking point. Alex and his two black assistants, William (James Femi) and Johnson (Ademuyiwa Asewale) are brutes of no mean repute, who obey their master’s orders to the letter. In their hands, the audience experiences firsthand the brutality slaves underwent.
Maafa is an intense dramatic performance that took the audience through the anguish associated with the infamous trade in human cargos over a period of 400 years. Such huge despoliation is unprecedented in human history. Maafa was therefore chosen with the aim to inform and re-educate the Nigerians on the need for unity. It was to highlight the ingredients of progress where the people work with one mind and with the sole purpose of achieving greatness for all.
Sold into slavery with his pregnant wife, and son, through the deception of his own people, the Warlord, Osusu, soon discovers that his destiny lies in uniting the warring tribes of his nation to achieve their much-awaited freedom. However, the task seems impossible, especially when the tribes fail to see who exactly the enemy is.
Osusu is able to inspire his people to fight till the racial chain breaks. The battle seems lost when the infuriated master orders the killing of all the freedom fighters. But a swift dramatic surprise saves the day: Osusu rises from death, snatches a loitering gun and kills the oppressor – That done, he slumps back into a victorious death.
Osusu stands out as the hero in the whole scheme of things. He stood up for his people and was faced with the task of defending his people even when it seemed he would not be able to go far. Osusu was not deterred. Through the narrator of the play in the person of Soibifa Dokubo (Waka), it was easier to understand the mission, which Osusu set out to accomplish. He was like a godlike warrior in the throes of deep-rooted hatred and acrimony not just from the white overlords, but also from their local agents who stood between the people and their destinies. It was while Osusu worked hard to liberate the people and set them on the path to freedom that those who collaborated with outsiders also worked assiduously to ensure that that unity was shattered and broken.
The director of the play, Mr. Makinde Adeniran, said the play tells Africans, through the slavery story, how we had wronged one another and the essence of peace and unity in our continent. Adeniran said that the play was educational theatre and commended the playwright and the actors and actresses that participated, noting that they were diligent in bringing the play to fruition.
Former General Manager of National Theatre and professor of drama, Ahmed Yerima, was so overexcited about the play. Speaking soon after the stage play, he said, “It is a wonderful play, fantastic play and I think it is ready for Broadway. When I see a good play and I am impressed, I always give the cast, a bow.”
Yerima who is presently with the Department of Theatre Arts, Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun, said the play entitled ‘Maafa’ will be shown in Broadway, London soon. Yerima who said he was impressed, noted that such plays would “preserve history and educate our grandchildren about occurrences of the past.
“I am thankful to God for this kind of production. It shows that playwrights are still relevant in passing useful information through the theatre arts. This play should be neatly packaged and taken round the country starting from Abuja for all to see,” he said. He commended the National Troupe of Nigeria on its supportive role in encouraging the development and production of the play.
While on his part, the host and Artistic Director, National Troupe of Nigeria, Mr. Akin Adejuwon, said the play was wonderful and concise but needed sponsorship to be shown in other states and eventually, worldwide. “The play is relevant today because the trauma of slavery and slave trade is still on – the power tussle and the people that suffer from the outcome. We still have them going on in Africa today. That is why the play is relevant in educating the people on the importance of unity,” he said.