ECHOES OF THE PAST IN OFEIMUN'S A FEAST OF RETURN
We have come from exile,
Diverse prisons and locations
to shake the drums of Goli
with our Feast of Return
It is our feast of Remembrance
For our dead to interpret the living;
It is our feast of harvest time
For the living to remember the unborn
The above excerpt is the cry of a widow, a cry of a land whose right was taken away forcefully and a poetic rendition that ushers in Odia Ofeimun's A feast Return.
A Feast of Return is, proverbially, a traditional Bantu ceremony in which the dead return to the communal square to narrate significant experiences in their lives. And as a matter of ritual, the exiles, ex-prisoners, guerilla fighters, and stay at-homes follow the ancient format. They have come to navigate the riddles of existence and the changing fortunes of king and commoner, warriors and pacifist, migrant workers and nationalists, in the history of Southern Africa from the era of the anti-Apartheid struggles and the Round-table that gave South Africa the benefit of the Rainbow Coalition in the last decade of the 20th century.
Though a South Africa story, its sensational presentation and adaptation make it, at the same time, the story of Africa. The dance drama is a story of proud and determined people ready to build a common morality that unites diverse nationalities, where racial and ethnic differences exist only in trance. It reveals a people's dedication, renewal of hope and the struggle for the same.
It is a story that tells the living to remember the unborn, a story that recaptures the era of greed, of gun, of colonizers in search of slaves and free lands; when blacks were strangers in their own land, when violence was exchanged for peace and hard times only our ancestors and the few left like Nelson Mandela can tell, a time when Africa's most cherished and legendry pot was broken and trampled upon.
The Feast of Return is a story of the incursion of the white man into the continent, when beast in men defiled the land. When war becomes the caretaker of the market. When migration was forced on Africans, when force displaced reason, when racism and ethnicity sour high. When a land flowing with un-interrupted love was thrown into mourning, when our most cherished flags were whisked away.
And though they arrested men, dangerous ideas could not be arrested. The struggle to retain the African pride, as well as reclaim and protect African lands made them face armoured cars in protest. This is a South African story as Ofeimnu tells it in A Feast of Return.
The dance drama comes at the right time; at a time when Nigeria and Nigerians are gradually and systematically forgetting the price paid for freedom in search of selfish and un-uniting gains. It re-echoes the price for freedom, the suffering of our ancestors and the struggles we never ourselves experienced; it's the struggle of Nelson Mandela and the price paid for Africa's unity.
This is ritual, showpiece dance drama based on a script by one of Nigeria's foremost poets, Ofeimun.
Directed by Felix Okoro, whom the author of the piece regards as the 'best director' in the whole of sub-Sahara Africa, the dance drama never lacked in any aspect. It was an example of total theatre – mime and dance, drama, poetry recital, music and visual arts, alongside a wonderful costume, which whet the appetite of the audience beyond their imagination.
They drama calls on all to renew hope in Africa's future and the ideal of unity. It a well-told story, and a wonderful theatrical piece from an excellent poet coupled with an excellent director, who decides to combine both new and old face in the theatre world.
Though a South African story, the director deploys Nigerian songs and dances from across nationalities in other to bring the South African story alive as never been told on stage before. His idea of creating an archetypal image of African struggle for freedom and unity is excellent achieved. In the face of a dying culture of arts' promotion, the point is obvious that serious art can be highly, pre-eminently, entertaining.
The choreographic display of the actors reveals how talented the choreographer Abel Utuedor is. His experience in choreographing dances cannot be quantified.
Audience at the MUSON centre, Onikan was charged to keep the stage alive as live theatre is gradually fading off in Nigeria. 'The dance drama draws attention to the need to nurture high artistic standards as well as create the high political and economic setting for national creativity'.
Among those in the audience include Hon. Commissioner for Culture Hon. Balogun, who represented Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, ACN chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, Pastor Tunde Bakare, and Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi.