Nigeria's Yemoja is world's best drama
From Hussein Shaibu (Mexico) and Kabir Alabi Garba (Lagos)
IN far away Guanajuato, Mexico, it was celebration for the Nigerian contingent on Monday night when Yemoja, a dance drama and Nigeria's entry to the yearly Cervantino International Arts Festival in Mexico, earned the overall best theatre entry award of the festival.
For over three weeks, the National Troupe of Nigeria had been treating the world to the rich cultural heritage of country as reflected in Yemoja, a play whose central theme is not only peace but also celebrates the supremacy of the river goddess - Yemoja.
Nigeria's ambassador to Mexico, Mrs. Ebun Oyagbola, broke the success news to the delegation at a special dinner hosted by the Nigerian mission in Mexico for the cultural expeditionists.
Oyagbola told her guests that the festival co-ordinating committee which held a world press conference last Sunday night to mark the end of the 29th edition of the festival, commended Nigeria "for bringing to the festival a piece that was widely acceptable, educative, engaging and entertaining."
She noted that from the views expressed at the conference, the organisers were particularly intrigued at the level of Nigeria's enthusiasm "in spite of the fact that the country entered for the festival late."
The ambassador disclosed that Nigeria, by this feat, had earned an automatic participation at the 30th edition of the festival billed for October, next year.
"At least this will give us more time to really prepare. If we used just about two months to achieve this, then one year preparation will mean a lot of impact on our entry next time," said the diplomat who hinted that she had communicated the news of the troupe's victorious outing to President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Interestingly too, 'Nigerian Crafts in Focus', an exhibition staged also during the festival by the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), was adjudged second best after the host state, Guanajuato.
And the gains of the successful outing are already obvious. The head of Nigeria's contingent and Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Culture, Umar Abubakar, has assured that the Guanajuato's experience would rub-off on the scope of the yearly National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST). This, according to him, will be widened to accommodate other nations.
Speaking at a valedictory press conference held at the Leon City Theatre, where the National Troupe put up their last show, Abubakar admitted that Nigeria had learnt a lot from participating in the festival.
"I am glad that we participated, I am glad that the director of the NCAC, Dr. Emmanuel Arinze, who is our own festival director, is here. We have garnered enough and we will use what we have learnt here to strengthen our own festival," noted Abubakar.
The thrust of the remark made by journalists at the conference was the need for the National Troupe to tour the world with cultural package like Yemoja while arguing that "very little was known about the troupe before the Cervantino festival.
On October 7, when the troupe departed for Mexico, Dr. Ahmed Yerima, artistic director of the National Troupe, had expressed the hope of an outstanding performance relying on the outcome of the October I show as part of activities marking the 41st Independence anniversary of Nigeria.
Yerima, who wrote and directed the play, said its choice for the Mexico festival was informed by the cross-cultural relationship that existed between the Yoruba culture and the Latin America's.
"We wanted to do a production and we thought what is the thing that is similar between Nigeria and Latin America? What would Cubans see and appreciate, the Brazilians; people from Venezuela, Mexico, down to Trinidad and Tobago, what would they see and recognise as their own?
"We, therefore, felt there was that link. Having just celebrated Black Heritage Festival in Lagos, the issue of slavery came to our mind and during the slavery, the culture of Nigeria was transported to these people and we felt we should revive that. So, the choice of Yemoja is actually like a renaissance of the cultural history and links between Nigerians and Latin Americans and the Diaspora," he said.
The play, according to him, is a celebration of the river goddess, Yemoja, in a self-conceived myth and story, which forms an attempt at explaining the spread if the worship of the revered river goddess from the Yoruba cosmology into the entire Diaspora.
The uniqueness of the play, Yerima stressed, is underscored in the sense that the Yoruba hero-gods like Sango, Orunmila, Esu, Ogun and Obatala are conceived in the imagery of active aesthetic metaphors of human social preoccupations.
The artistic director reasoned that the presentation at the festival would further reaffirm Yemoja as a figure that traverses all ethnic barriers into an international and true hero goddess and also measure her influence on the tradition and religion of the countries in the Diaspora.
The yearly Cervantino International Festival is reputed as the biggest international arts festival and indeed the most important festival in Latin America.
The 31-member contingent of artists and culture administrators is expected back this week in Lagos.
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