Chapter one takes a cursory look at the general background to the study of drama and concepts adduced by different scholars in adjudging drama: There is the Eurocentric and Afrocentric views on the existence of drama in Africa and what constitute modern African drama. Also in this chapter, there is the view and treatment on the Statement of the problem, Research questions, Purpose of the study, Scope of the study, Significance of the study and Research methodology.
General Background to the Study
Drama as an art form thrives on performance because it involves the imitation of an action, an enactment or a re-enactment of a story in lifelike situations. In all these, action or imitation of an action is involved. The Aristotelian concept of drama with its emphasis on imitation, plot, dialogue, conflict and so on has generated much controversy on what constitutes drama in the context of African traditional performances, generally. Based on this, two schools of thoughts have evolved. Some scholars support the adoption of the Aristotelian thought either totally or with some modifications while others oppose it. Consequently, there are two schools of thoughts on the contentious issue. These are the relativist school of thought and the evolutionist school of thought. Some adherents of the evolutionist school like Ruth Finnegan and Kalu Uka believe that there is nothing like African drama, and they condemn drama in Africa for its lack of linguistic content, plot, represented interaction of several characters, specialized scenery, among others, in comparison with drama in the western axis which is said to be the source for drama in Africa.
The arguments of the evolutionist school are summed up as Eurocentric, while the arguments of the relativist school, on the other hand, are summed up as Afro-centric views. Scholars such as Akporobaro F.B.O. (62) assert that “…the nature and aesthetic basis of dramatic performances in the traditional African context are in many respects different from what obtains in the European context.” Consequently, this school of thought advocates the use of the African dramatic aesthetics in the evaluation of African plays irrespective of their contentious nature as argued by Iyorwuese Hagher (160). Nonetheless, the use of the African dramatic aesthetics is advocated
against the universal western dramatic aesthetics. This is premised on the indisputable fact that drama is an important element in traditional African culture. In other words, drama in Africa is buried in its traditional and cultural personality (Michael Echeruo, 136).
Related to the position of Echeruo, Enekwe Ossie (154), a vocal voice for the existence of African drama who distinguishes drama in Africa from other forms of drama in the world, maintains that the closest form of drama to it is the Asian drama. He goes further to state that African drama is more presentational, stylized, ritualistic, participative, mythic, integrative, religious, metaphysical, sensuous, celebrative, and total because it combines many art forms such as music, poetry, dance, acting, miming, mask, painting, singing, dialogue, acrobatics, among others, which distinguish it from the mainstream European drama quite psychological, peripheral, metaphysical and intellectual. Further to this argument, some Euro-centric critics who condemn African drama borrow from it to bring back the lost dramatic glory of the western drama. This borrowing implies that drama in Africa has attained some uniqueness and distinction.
Eurocentric Views on the Existence of Drama in Africa
The Eurocentric view is summarized in the “evolutionist school” headed by M. J. C. Echeruo. To them, “Africa has no culture or history” or African history and civilization are nothing more than the story of European activities in Africa” (Ademola Ajayi, 10). Jude Agho (10, 11 & 12) notes that the Eurocentric stance was clearly portrayed in works of Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness) and Joyce Cary (Mister Johnson). Generally, the different Eurocentric socio-cultural and political misconceptions about Africa are well discussed by Felix Alao (13-18). These culturally demeaning euro-centric views on Africa generally extend to the literature in Africa (Ogundeji P.A., 211). These views imply specifically that there was no drama in Africa until the incursion of the colonial masters.
To buttress the above stance, Julius-Adeoye Rantimi (4) presents the Eurocentric views of three antagonistic scholars in the persons of Ruth Finnegan, Michael Echeruo and Richard Wallaschek. Finnegan argues that “there is no linguistic content, plot, represented interaction of several characters, specialized scenery in the African drama; Richard Wallaschek bemoans the meaninglessness of African drama as against the European’s meaningfulness in dramatic
content; while Echeruo condemns Igbo ritual drama as lacking in dramatic content and argues that traditional festivals are not drama, but rituals. Echeruo insists that there must exist a story to be enacted or imitated for a performance to be classified as drama. They simply dismiss drama in Africa as mere ritual. Also quite noteworthy here is Ola Rotimi who hinges his argument on the presence of an imitation of action in the performance for it to be termed drama. He opines that “any ritual display which contains mimetic impulse ought to be classified as drama, not ritual” (Ogunbiyi, 7). In addition to the trio’s denial is Uka (1973), cited in Osuagwu & Affiah (2012) who states thus:
What is usually called traditional drama….is not yet drama. It is the legacy upon which drama may draw and draw with ever increasing returns….what some usually and glibly call
traditional drama is properly and essentially elements of drama. (6)
From the above quotation, drama in African did not exist until the incursion of the colonialists and consequently, their imposed education and civilization and even if drama existed in Africa, it was not full-fledged. In other words, there was nothing like drama in existence in pre-colonial Africa. Western civilization brought drama to Africa as far as the Eurocentric scholars are concerned. This school insists, therefore, that for any performance to be classified as drama, it must contain elements of an imitation of an action and a story to be enacted or re-enacted. They conclude that the ritual festivals in Africa must conform to the Aristotelian concept of plot as the soul of drama, to be regarded as drama.