At 2020 WSICE, ritual suicide resurfaces

Forty-five years after Professor Wole Soyinka highlighted ritual suicide in his play, ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’, a similar themed movie was screened during activities marking his 86th birthday.

WHEN Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka examined ritual suicide in his proverbs-rich 1975 play, ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’, he wouldn’t have known it would re-echo again in 2020 during activities marking his 86th birthday.

A classic, ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ is the tragic tale of the gregarious Elesin Oba and his son, Olunde, who commits ritual suicide in his place. After the King’s death, Elesin, his major factotum ought to die alongside him, but he loves life too much. His decision to consummate a marriage with a nubile young lady delays him from joining his principal in the afterlife promptly. The interference of the District Officer in the process then prevents him from the expected ritual suicide. To restore the family’s honour and ensure the natural order of the universe is not disrupted, Olunde commits ritual suicide in place of his father.

Soyinka’s original masterpiece, however, was not what was in the program of the 2020 Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange held virtually from July 12 to 14 because of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was the play’s latest iteration, Femi Odugbemi’s ‘Abobaku’ produced in 2010 that created a buzz among those who joined the virtual celebration.

Directed by the stern Niji Akanni, ‘Abobaku’ is a political themed-story with a dash of romance. It features the late Alagba Adebayo Faleti, Kola Oyewo and Ojetunji Ojeyemi, among others. A young man, Aremu runs away from his village to escape the mandatory ritual death that is looming and to please his lover, Princess Adenike.

Adenike had threatened to commit suicide if Aremu complies and dies as is required of an ‘Abobaku’ (one who dies along with the King). Aremu is torn between honouring tradition and pleasing his pregnant lover. He takes action.

While fleeing, he stumbles upon a discovery that explains why the King had been ill. As he flees the scene of the discovery, he is caught by the search team dispatched by the Chiefs to apprehend him, dead or alive. Angered by his foiled attempt to run away, the squad beat him up before he could explain what he had just found out.

One of the Chiefs had been poisoning the King’s medicine to worsen his condition so he can join the ancestors speedily. Aremu’s accidental discovery of the truth saves the King’s life. The short film ends with a celebratory scene after the King’s regains health. All those who hatched the plan to kill him are banished from the village.

Interestingly, the power play theme of the drama is still very relevant in today’s politics. Most people in government positions are undermined by a traitor in the system who wants to usurp or grab power. The ongoing Economic and Financial Crimes Commission drama is a case in point. The plot of ‘Abobaku’ indeed is a microcosm of the larger picture in the country which needs to change for healthy politics to thrive.

Perhaps because of the novelty of the theme to the non-Yoruba speaking audience, several of them were curious about the 35 minutes movie that won the Most Outstanding Short Film at the 2010 Zuma Film Festival, and Best Costume at the 6th Africa Movie Academy Awards held the same year. They asked a lot of questions about the plot and the concept of ‘Abobaku.’

The 11th Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange, (WSICE) with the theme, ‘I AM because YOU ARE’ held digitally this year because of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It featured the presentation of prizes to winners of the essay writing competition for the junior and senior categories, a cultural advocacy session, symposium and art exhibition.

The WSICE commenced in 2010 as part of activities marking the birthday of Professor Soyinka. Professor Segun Ojewuyi of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, US, and CEO of Zmirage Multimedia Company, Alhaji Teju Kareem initiated it.



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