The interplay of diligence and destiny in Farewell El Dorado
The mysteries of life go beyond what the simple-minded could fathom, or what those with discerning minds could even explain satisfactorily. Perhaps, it is for this that the Indian sage, Jawaharlal Nehru said: ‘life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.’ Fourth Party Theatre House recently highlighted this aphorism in its performance of Farewell Eldorado.
Written and directed by Lekan Adeniyi, the play talks about a particular event that happened to Omokiniovo’s family in 1930, in Urhobo Land. Omokiniovo (Segun Oladejo), who is in his late teens, comes from an average family. The father has everything an average man needs to live a happy life, except farmland and cattle, which differentiate the haves from the have-nots in the land. To overcome his average life, Oghenerho (Emeka Udochkwu), Omokiniovo’s father, worked tirelessly for others, but still could not improve his fortunes. Worse still, he struggles to settle the 47 Pounds and nine shillings loan he collected from a moneylender to bury his in-law.
Just when fortune begins to smile on him, with his son, Omokiniovo, getting a scholarship to study in the Mission school in the town, Olowolagba, the moneylender comes for his money. He gives Oghenerho nine days to pay him or else his son, Omokiniovo, would be indentured. Since his father is unable to pay, the hapless young man goes to live and work for Olowolagba at Gbogumila land. Omokiniovo will work for four years to clear his father’s debt and free himself.
When Omokiniovo arrives at Olowolagba’s home, he begins to boost the economy of his shoe firm, which at the time was not doing well. With the firm reviving under Omokiniovo’s diligence, wealth and fame begin to pout into Olowolagba’s hand again and he goes to marry the lady he has been dreaming of since his youthful days. He also goes for one of the highest titles in the land.
On the evening when his new bride is to arrive, the village priestess comes to tell him that the gods have chosen him and Gbenro to compete for the village title and that he has to avoid sex for nine months and also that he must not quarrel with anyone.
Gbenro, thinking he has won the hearts of the gods, the priestess asks him never to fight or beat the wife. Both see the cleansing as a punishment, especially as they must not tell anyone, including their wives, what the chief priestess has told them. While Gbenro, whose wife, Ogunro, is a nag, loses his temper and beats her, Olowolagba keeps to the rules and becomes the chief.
Destiny, however, comes into play, when one of the rites say Olowolagba must hand over a calabash that contains a lot of wealth to one of his wards. He obeys and hands the calabash to Omokiniovo, whom, in spite of denying him freedom, still served him well. Just while the young man who has got his freedom is rejoicing, Gbenro’s mother comes to announce that Olowolagba’s wife is pregnant. Confusion sets in and it is revealed that the pregnancy belongs to Ayinkanola (Olumide Oduyugbe), Olowolagba’s lieutenant.
With a highlight of multiple themes such as discipline, betrayal, hard work, the director unnecessarily stretched some of the scenes, making the play last for two hours forty minutes. Though, he tried to sustain the audience’s attention with songs and dance, his overuse of Yoruba songs and dance make the play monotonous. One had expected to see some dynamic Urhobo dances, which would have been ideal, as it would have further showcased the cultures of the two ethnic groupes and make the play easy to relate with. Also, the comedy was flat, as Omokiniovo could not pulls it off nicely, as he merely recited his lines. His body language and delivery did not come natural. Although still a student, frequent practice and rehearsals would grind him out over time.
Also, the costume should have been a mix of the two tribes, the director failed to observe this and it makes the play more of an event that happened in Yoruba environment only.
Also, the play has an ambiguous epilogue, as Omokiniovo, the protagonist, confesses to having canal knowledge of the master’s wife (Segilola) to his parents; Ayinkanola. Why did Segilola (Bunsola Kola-Adepoyigi) not own up to this before all? This gives the impression that even the gods can be deceived, a seeming misrepresentation of the African traditional belief, which in part, the play aims to project or is the playwright calling into question the powers of the gods?
In real life situation, the two men – Omokiniovo and Ayinkanola – would have been made to face the music, but this never happens. This is another lax, as African societies do not handle the issue of chastity and infidelity with levity.
Although, a playwright has the licentia poetica (narrative license) to express himself the way he feels, such expression should be put in the right perspective, especially with stage presentation, because he is projecting the culture, norms, beliefs and ethos of a people and it would do society some good to put things in the right perspective.
In spite of this, the play projects Omokiniovo becoming great and wealthy after his initial travails of missing out on his scholarship’ and serving to pay his father’s debt. This shows that man could be the architect of his destiny, sometimes with a helping hand from forces outside of himself.
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