As is the case with most literary works of art, Niyi Osundare’s “A Song for Ajegunle” is a work of art which portrays realism. Realism is portrayed through the setting of the poem — that is, a place in Lagos known as Ajegunle. The place setting is reinforced or rather made known through the title of the poem. Aside from the setting which is drawn from real life, realism is also captured in the text through the way the poet vividly describes the happenings in the location. For example, his description of how so many children that should be in school are out of school aptly captures the situation of many a child in Ajegunle. Hence, one can without any iota of doubt say that this poem is, indeed, realistic.
The poem “A Song for Ajegunle” is one which captures the social, economic and political realities of Ajegunle. The poem centres on the poverty-stricken ghetto area known as Ajegunle. It contains the persona’s description of the dirt-infested and government-ignored area in the morning, evening and night. The persona does not mince words as he vividly describes Ajegunle, using a series of figurative expressions to give maximum effect to his description. Because of the indepth knowledge which the poet has of this area as exposed by the simile “curious bird”, this essay will seek to analyse the poem based on how it represents the poet’s feelings and attitude towards the subject matter.
The poet is a well-known romantic who, through his poems, has been able to promote the conservation of nature. Hence, it comes as no surprise that he bemoans the unhealthy situation of Ajegunle. Some of the issues which the poet raises in this poem include: poverty, insecurity, underdevelopment, irresponsible government, and filth etc. These issues are developed through the poet’s choice of words and of course, his use of figurative expressions.
The issue of poverty is central to this poem in that the poet does not mince words as he describes the pathetic situation of the people who live in Ajegunle. He brings this into focus by describing the smoke which comes out of their idle kitchens as pale. The phrase “idle kitchen” is apt because it depicts the lack which is inherent in this place. Niyi Osundare further comments on the issue of poverty by describing how children are unable to go to school and also how many households cannot afford decent meals — that is, the tables are without bread. Through the poet’s cacophonic choice of words such as rumble, manacling, battering etc., his unhappiness at the state of affairs is evident.
Another issue that is on top of the poet’s mind is the issue of underdevelopment. This issue is brought to the fore by Niyi Osundare through the use of contrast. In comparison to Ikoyi, Ajegunle is simply an empty bag that is sprawled. By this, Niyi Osundare, unequivocally, states the backward nature of Ajegunle in comparison to other popular areas of the state. The poet goes on to lament the deplorable housing condition of Ajegunle. To him, the poet, the houses are hovels or slightly better than hovels. He expresses his unhappiness by his repetition of the word “through” in stanza three. The repetition is significant because it serves as a medium which the poet uses to reveal how backward Ajegunle, indeed, is.
Of course, the theme of underdevelopment is related to the theme of bad governance. Niyi Osundare exposes the inability of the government to provide basic amenities for the people in Ajegunle. Niyi Osundare draws light to this by commenting on: the poor state of roads; the poor toilet facilities as exemplified by people’s penchant for defecating in the gutters; lack of good water as seen in the phrase “taps without water”; and of course, not forgetting the apparent lack of electricity which is exposed by Osundare’s nighttime description of the sweaty stupor of people sleeping in crowded mats. Through his use of different imagery such as sight, touch etc., Osundare is able to comment on the issue of bad governance.
Osundare sticks to stereotype in that this poem is in tandem with other poems written by him which talk about the environment. Due to this, it comes as no surprise that Osundare’s description is filled with visual images of filth. These images are further reinforced by the refrain which continually describes Ajegunle as a place that is sprawled. This issue of filth is one is dominant in the stanzas. Firstly, the poet describes the place as weed-infested. He goes on to address the issue of people defecating in gutters and this is unhealthy because it instigates the outbreak of water-borne viruses such as cholera. Osundare further comments on the issue of filth by drawing upon the image of smell. This is made known through the metaphor “the hooded stench of nightsoil” which further reinforces the issue of filth in the poem. Through this issue, Osundare expresses his disdain for the environmental hazards plaguing Ajegunle.
In conclusion, the poet fully utilises the expressive power of literature in this poem because he is able to shed light on several personal and national issues. In fact, this poem may be described as a poem which the poet uses to protest against the rulers of Nigeria; thereby, championing the cause of the masses.
Ude, Chiedozie Orji.
Department of English, UNILAG
Analysis on Matiiku
It is no news that trying to analyse a live performance is a tricky job. This trickiness may be as a result of different factors such as place and time— or more impressive, the complex nature of literature. Notwithstanding this difficulty, this paper will make an attempt to critically analyse the stage play entitled Matiiku. This essay will succinctly summarise the play and its subject matter, making use of factors such as the stage management and the gestures (which some may refer to as body language) of the actors to defend the choice of subject matter. The attention that will be paid to the factors stated above stems from the technical nature of the dialogue — that is, it was, to a very large extent, exclusively performed in the Yoruba language. However, the focus on the gestures and stage management does not in any way downplay the usefulness of the dialogue in this analysis because its importance in making the play fit its setting, and also, its subject matter cannot be overlooked. Also, it is important to note that this essay will include foreign references — that is, events or even books outside the narrative — which will be used support the arguments expressed in this paper. All these will be combined to comprehensively analyse this play.
This segment of the essay will comment on the playwright and the setting of the play. Not much is known about the playwright; hence, we move on to the setting of the play. The play is set during the colonial era, and this is reinforced through the manner in which the stage was set, and the numerous festivities which took place — the market scene; the baby/ritual scene; and the court dispute between the colonial district officer and the people. The latter is unarguably the strongest supporter of the claim that the play is set during the colonial era because it not only captures the communication problems that plagued the colonial masters due to their inability to grasp the local languages employed by their subjects, but also captures the presence of the white man (The district officer); hence, justifying the time setting— that is, the colonial period. The place setting of the play is Lagos. The introduction of three characters at the beginning of the play who represent the three white-cap chiefs of Lagos is testament to this fact. They, unequivocally, strengthen the play’s genre — that is, a historical play.
The subject matter of the play revolves around a man, who was predestined to be king, right from birth. This information was exposed by the narrator, before the start of the play. Hence, one can say that the plot of the play is based on the child, whom the oracle chooses as king. As expected, he becomes the king of Lagos once he attains adulthood; although, the colonial government later wrestled power from him. It is important to state that the fulfillment of the prophecy on the life of the king is a common motif in Yoruba themed plays— that is, the oracle can never be wrong— such as Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are Not to Blame, where the pronouncements of the oracle on the main character comes to pass. Therefore, one can be justified to state that there is a theme of fate (inevitable destiny) in the play. Another thing that is worthwhile to discuss is how the scenes in the play are linked by an interlude of music and dance. These performances (music and dance) may be regarded as entertaining because of the choreographic dance steps employed by the dancers. Being a traditional play, these songs should have deeper meanings, but that is not the focus of this essay. So, this analysis will rate the musical interlude from the standpoint of pleasure and entertainment.
One may describe the stage management as almost impeccable due to the perfect way the stage was set to represent the setting, and also, their flawless deployment of the lighting technique. To me, it is this lighting technique that makes the play stand out. The lights came up when and where necessary, not a second too early or late. Unarguably, the lighting technique was most effective when it was employed to show time — that is, day and night. This topnotch use of this technique is also brought to the fore when the lights were dimmed during the ritual scene. The solemnity and sacredness of the rituals were well captured by the eerily spooky umbrella of semi-darkness. This was enough to make the watcher understand the importance of these rituals. Another important thing I noticed due to the arrangement of the stage is the market scene. The market scene is crucial in traditional plays. The market is known as a place where rumours and stories thrive. Little wonder the birth of the would be king is announced in the market setting. The market scene is also ideal for announcement of the king’s birth because it reinforces Soyinka’s principle in Death and the King’s Horseman of the market place being a strategic location for the meeting of the three realities in Yoruba mythology — that is, the world of the unborn; the world of the living; and the world of the dead. It is important to note that the market place also serves as a link between these realities. Hence, this well believed myth strengthens the writer’s use of the market scene to announce a transition — that is, from the world of the unborn to the world of the living. The stage management was described as almost impeccable at the beginning of the paragraph because it had slight flaws. One of such flaws is the bad sound systems used in the play. Aside this, one can be justified to give the stage management crew an excellent score for a job well done.
Also, the gestures of the actors also enable non speakers of the Yoruba language to have an insight on some of the happenings in the play. The slow pace, with which those who are to make prophecies on the child move, gives insight to the audience that these men must be truly special and of high importance in the society. The greatness which is proclaimed on the baby is evident when the priests and other spectators bow to the child. However, the child’s mother refuses to bow to her child; hence, bringing into play the African belief that expects a child to prostrate himself to his parents, and not the other way round.
In conclusion, if I were asked to give my personal opinion on the play, I would rate it as a largely successful performance. The topnotch techniques employed by the stage management crew played a huge role in this. As a member of the audience who could not fully grasp the dialogues, I was entertained by the dance interlude. Hence, I can boldly describe the play as a successful one. In conclusion, this essay has made an attempt to analyse the production of the play Matiiku.
Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are Not to Blame.
Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman.