Mature Tanko Okoduwa
Saint Ojedi, University of Nigeria Press, 2018, Amechi Chiedu Obumse
Saint Ojedi is a well-crafted play written by the award-winning playwright, Amechi Chiedu Obumse. The play, which is a four act play, depicts the worshippers of a deity and Christianity, (Catholics) in a conflict of belief.
The play opens with an open confrontation between a drummer boy, a worshipper of Ojedi and a member of the brass band during Corpus Christi procession. They got themselves engaged in a war of words. When the Reverend Father noticed it, he admonished his band boy, “You shouldn’t have retaliated. Christians aren’t supposed to do that, but you did the right thing by condemning the ungodly act.” The priestess and Reverend Father tackled each other in an intelligentsia war trying to establish whether Ojedi was an idol or saint as proposed by the priestess. In the course of the argument, the Reverend Father asked the priestess to prove what made Ojedi “a living spirit”, since she compared her deity to a saint.
In retelling the story through dialogue, the playwright employs flashback technique in a unique way. The story of Ojedi’s life and death is captured in the play. There is never a dull moment in the play. The dialogue is ever engaging with wise sayings, wits, proverbs, parables and poetry. The playwright is of the opinion that African traditional religion should be given its rightful place, whenever religious matters are discussed.
The people of Umedei wanted to use a slave girl as sacrificial lamb during Ajachi, a bountiful harvest. Ojedi, out of sympathy, condemned the act. She rather asked the Diokpa (an elderly man) to use his own daughter since he deems it fit to use a girl. But it was to no avail. At the end Ojedi stood up bravely for the girl. The Diokpa ordered that she should be used for the sacrifice. The Diokpa’s servant, Anieka and Chieka were about to catch her when she woke up. At this point, one discovers that she had a nightmare. Obumse, the playwright is a master-suspense expert. Shortly before that, one would think that Ojedi had become the sacrificial lamb.
The other Acts and Scenes show how she lived a normal life, like going to Nkisi River to fetch water, doing the chores, painting her skin, (Uli) and weaving her hair. She travelled with three beautiful young girls to her groom’s house. Ojedi’s hips are covered with colourful jigida beads. All these are attributes of typical traditional settings.
As the play progresses, one reads how the disease that ravaged Umedei and other towns persisted, reminiscent of Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame. Ojedi then offered herself as a sacrifice to help cleanse the land and save her people. But that was not before an old woman appeared to her to inform her that she was destined to die for her people. Ezemu Ezedibie who was regarded as the most powerful native doctor had these to say when he was invited to Umedei: “The oracle says that a young woman must be buried alive for peace to return to the land – a daughter of the town…” even the reason the native doctor gave for the suffering of the people of Umedei is funny. That they have eaten a strange food called akpu.
One thing is certain: the playwright is bent on showcasing the wonderful aspect of African traditional customs and tradition. Obumse uses his writings to promote the culture of his people. The use of Nkisi River, a popular river in Onitsha, Uli, which is the Igbo body and wall decorations made popular by the Nsukka Art School. He reenacts the processes involved in traditional marriage (uri) in Igboland. He also captures the use of herbs for treatment of ailments, as used in Igboland. Intermittently, he incorporates Igbo words into English word as a kind of spicing, to help drive home his message and still give it special kind of richness. His in-depth understanding of Igbo traditions and customs is not in doubt.
There is a resolution of the conflict at the end of the play, which is another beautiful thing about the writer’s narrative finesse. He finally brings the reader back to the beginning of the play where the Reverend Father was arguing with the priestess and they both saw why Ojedi deserve to be a saint, or Christ-like for giving-up her life to save her people.
This is a thought-provoking, gripping and timeless play that will help to teach the old and the young, mostly the younger generations about what happened in the past in Igboland and the custom and tradition of its people.