Akrifa… The Emergence Of Women Power
Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, that murky aspect of black man’s history, which saw Africans forcefully taken away from their hometowns to Europe, America and the West Indies like merchandise, was the subject of a play Akrifa that thrilled the audience recently at National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. It rounded off National Troupe of Nigeria’s Children and Teens Creative Workshop (NTNCTW).
Written by Mike Anyanwu and directed by Josephine Igberaese, the play reminiscences on the inhuman treatment white slave traders meted out to Africans. It showcases how the traders plundered the black man’s land, took away some of their treasures and decimated many a clan. Set in 1807, the year the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed in Great Britain, the play shows how some traders, despite the new law, went on to carry out their inhuman enterprise on poor Africans with the collusion of their African counterparts profiting from the trade.
Not letting go, these plunderers attacked Akrifa community at the height of its yearly Thanksgiving Festival. They turned the festival, noted for binding the people together in unity, into a festival of sorrow, as many locals run for dear lives, abandoning their homes. Not even the chiefs and the king find the turnout of events funny. It is a blow to Akrika’s culture.
However, the slavers capture as many natives as possible and plan to leave the shores of Akrifa before the British Royal Navy that has started enforcing the Slavery Abolition Act arrive to catch them. While the plan to leave is on, Azonga, a native and the white slavers interpreter, who is also taken into slavery, escapes from the slave dungeons. His escape sparks off a myriad of events, which include regrouping of Akrika women for reprisal attack.
But before this, the male warriors, including the chiefs, are in prolonged talk on how to attack the slavers. The women, realising that the male talk would yield the community no good, decide to take up arms. The feminine soldiers (amazons), not minding the strong fire power of the slave merchants, evoke the spirits of notable Akrifan Queens like Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, Nefertiti, the Queen of Khmet, Amina, the Queen of Zazzau, Idia, the Mother Queen of Bini and Moremi, the Queen of Oyo, to assist them to overcome their troublers.
The amazons bewitch the merchant slavers and their soldiers. Their efforts pays off and the locals who were caught and were waiting to be shipped abroad are set free. The success of the female warriors leads to the social and political dominance of Akrifa by women. This twist of roles also leads to the emergence of a young queen in Akrifa, the land that has been without a king for a very long time.
Depicting such themes, as slavery, human trafficking, leadership crisis, gender empowerment and agricultural revival, the play encourages constructive gender inclusiveness in Africa’s socio-political and economic development.
Based on the tragic events in the late 19th century, Akrika’s relevance still resonates even to modern times, especially as slavery has taken a modern dimension with lottery card, and advance countries opening their borders for some professionals from less developed countries to work and be paid peanuts. Also, some modern slavery in the form of human traffickers have constituted themselves into a gang that tricks young Africans, mostly young ladies, to these advanced countries for prostitutes purposes and other menial jobs. Clearly, this is a form of modern slavery.
On the whole, Akrifa is a clarion call for women to move away from docility and work to improve on the fortunes of their society irrespective of the challenges obstructing them. It’s also a call on women, especially those qualified to take up responsible roles in the polity not to wait on men to assign such roles to them because the male folk, like the Akrifan male may biker forever before arriving at good decisions.
Though a good storyline, a poor audio system almost mars the message, as it becomes lost; it was not properly set for audibility and nearly ruined the audience’s enjoyment of the performance. It meant that sound check was not. It became even more challenging for the children actors who were not likely to improvise as they later did. The lighting also did not project those areas that should show danger among others.
Just like last year, when Anne Njemanze played the role of a grandmother and storyteller, her presence on stage gave the children courage and she was able to correct many acting defects. It would have made good sense had that been adopted this time judging from the peculiarity and complexity of the play Akrifa.
Lastly, the playwright failed to incorporate other sides to Nigeria’s multifaceted politics that thrives on a tripartite coalition. So, mentioning the goddess and heroines of the other two major regions —- North and West – without mentioning notable queens like Mgborie of Arochukwua and others from the East that also played important roles in liberating their people, shows either ignorance of such fact or intentional neglect for a truly national outlook. By not properly giving this information out to the children may make them believe that there are no heroines or goddesses from other parts of Nigerian, especially the South East.