Shadows on Arrival celebrates womenfolk as nation builders

LAILAH GIFTY AKITA, the author of Think Great, in encouraging her readers to be true to themselves and think big said: “Stand up for yourself. Never give any one permission to abuse you.” Words like these hasvespurred many a reader to go the extra mile to achieve their dreams.

Egoyibo perhaps might have hinged her tenacity on similar instinct when she stood against her only child, Agbomma, from being consecrated to Agbala Oha, the earth goddess. A devotion that would make the young woman live to understudy Chieme, the old priestess of Agbala Oha who has been professed to pass on in no time. And on the death of Chieme would take charge of the sacred shrine in the forest. Taking on this role would mean depending only on items devotees bring for propitiation; this, Egoyibo says is against their –– she and her husband –– dream for Agbomma getting western education that would make her one of the great women in the community.

Written by Osita C. Ezenwanebe and published by Kraft Books Limited, Ibadan, Oyo State, Shadows On Arrival explores different themes and sub-themes from spiritualism, western education, Christianity, traditional beliefs, traditional decision making system to abuse of power, women docility and pro-activism of the Igbo woman.

Centres on Umueze, the play in a stylistic and gradually manner unveils how Ezemuo, the chief priest, uses his venerated office as tool to avenge Egoyibo, who turns down his amorous advances. He misinforms the council of elders, including the Igwe (King of Umueze). He lies that the gods have chosen Agbomma as priestess for Agbala Oha; a decision, he knows would break Egoyibo’s heart.

Ezemuo had earlier saved Agbomma, said to be an ogbanje, from not dying by digging up her Iyi Uwa –– a pebble said to be the connecting link between an ogbanje in the spiritual world to an ogbanje when born in the physical world. This makes Egoyibo and her husband, Agwudo, to hold him in high esteem, especially when Egoyibo had lost three children (Nnem, Nnenna and Onwubiko) before Agbomma. The three died on the same market day they were born in unusual circumstances. Never wanting to be childless, Egoyibo and her husband agree to Ezemuo to dig out Agbomma’s Iyi Uwa, so that she would not die like those before her.

The high regards Egoyibo has for Ezemuo nosedives the day the chief priest proposes to have her. Turning down his request, he chooses to use her most desire treasure, Agbomma, to torture her.

Egoyibo laments: “It was since after Ezemuo saw the glory of my womanhood, while I was having my bath in the stream of Agbala Oha. Since then, his tongue has been longing to taste what his eyes saw; but I refused him! This whole issue of Agbomma being chosen as the next priestess of Agbala Oha is his plot, his own form of revenge, since Agbomma will not die, he decides to take her away from me to make me miserable.”

Complaining, but no one takes her serious; no even her husband, Egoyibo turns to Chika, her childhood friend for help. Chika had had an albino, but the community saw the child as accursed and asks the mother to throw him into the evil forest where he will die. Chika instead of killing the boy joins the new religion, Christianity, where her son was saved and now in the Whiteman’s employ.

Egoyibo pleads with Chika to help her save her only child and daughter. This the duo actually did at the day Agbomma was to be initiated. Saving the poor young woman, infurates Agbala Oha who strikes Ezemuo dead.

The play highlights the powers traditional priests enjoy in rural communities, where their authorities are not challenged. Here the people accepted all what the chief priest said, hook, line and stinker; but Egoyibo, maybe for her plight, decided to be different. Unwavering in her conviction, she challenged the decision of chief priest even at the face of her husband’s threat and the indoctrination of her daughter.

Ezenwanebe’s refusal to interrogate the belief on ogbanje and Iyu uwa shows her stand on Igbo traditional belief, which holds that many things are transcendent and should be accepted the way they are.

Though, the play has a slight of self-serving agenda, as it could be seen in Ezemuo and later Agwuo (wanting to get another wife) and Egoyibo (worried of who would stay with if her daughter is taken away), it shows no human action is perfect and further brings out the character and lifestyle of countryside people.

Using dialogue, mime, chants, direct audience address, dances, proverbs, incantations, songs, Shadows On Arrival depicting the strength and resilience of the traditional Igbo woman and by extension the African Woman shows that positive change does not come by merely sitting and watching situations go by.

Issues raised in the play are as topical as ever; in fact, they are all with us as a nation. In presenting these issues, Ezenwanebe allows the characters to do the talking, only coming in to explain a few concepts. This method of writing makes readers/audience to assume the words are of the characters in question. In a way, it separates readers/audience from some of the issues raised because the dialogue would have trashed all that.

Despite Ezenwanebe style, the play has some knocks: there are different levels of tautology such as in the case of the use of the word ‘Ogbanje,’ ‘Iyi Uwa,’ ‘Nzu’ and others, which a glossary would have taken care of. Perhaps, she did this to make her first reader understand the text, but the frequent use of these words and the explanation of their meanings bore readers; mentioning them once and directing them to the glossary would have been enough.

Lastly, it takes a higher understanding to decipher that Ezemuo wanted to have a go at Egoyibo. The playwright would have created a scene where the said priest made this proposal. Making Egoyibo complain of it without a scene of it sounds like an allegation, especially when it was when the daughter is to serve the earth goddess that it came to light. Though, this could serve as suspense, it would have been clearer with a scene of the proposal. The angle of the goddess killing the Ezemuo does not give scene the desired weight. It could as well be said that Ezemuo was killed because the young woman to take over from Chieme was stealthily taken away.

Despite these, the play depicts courage, determination and steadfastness to a course. It harps on the message that only the bearer of the pain knows how to express it; so we should not leave our personal or collective fight to chances or those that do no know how we feel to champion it. Taking this into politics could best be said to be another call on our women to summon courage and go into politics, compete like their men counterpart and do not wait to be allotted spaces before they could participate.

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