Author: Japhet C. Ugwuodo Esq.
Book Reviewer: Eze Jude O.
THE DUKE OF IBENDA by Bar. Japhet C Ugwuodo is a thrilling book that readily triggers in its readers, the memory of the emancipation struggle among early African scholars to better represent Africa's identity.
Lack of documentation of our historical evolution has cost us a lot as a people. For instance, despite the fact that our forebears washed, fished and farmed at the banks of River Niger, the royalty of its discovery was credited to Mungo Park and the Lander Brothers, for the simple logic that they were the first to document their encounter with the river.
But when Africa began to watch, helplessly, as her history was being twisted and served in fallacious dishes by the colonialists, Prof. Chinua Achebe and his contemporaries began to publish several books to refute the misrepresentations, because "the tales of the hunt will continue to favor the hunter until Lions write their own story."
Anthropological and archeological researches were conducted by indigenous scholars, who were able to inundate global libraries with the true story of Africa by Africans.
After prolific pen pushers like Achebe, Ola Rotimi, and Cyprian Ekwensi, F. Chidozie Ogbalu, etc published books that sold Africa's authentic history to the world in mid 20th century, one would think that there is nothing more to showcase about Africa's rich pre-colonial cultural heritage. But when one flips through the pages of this book under review, one would see how diverse Africa is as a continent and how much more one ought to know and learn about her.
In their works, those homegrown pioneer writers debunked the fallacy that we had no history until the Whiteman arrived on our shores. However, as centuries rolled by, there arises the need for more publications to showcase all sides of Africa's identity. This aroused in scholars the urge to write extensively on whom we were before the western civilization greeted our cultural milieu.
However, to bring such a sublime subject into the global arena, one has to apply ample literary skills to make the content appealing to an audience of varied backgrounds. And the most tasking of such skill is converting a fictional story, depicting our cosmos into drama book reproducible in films. And that is exactly what made this great work under review unique.
When I came across this book, I got for the first time an account of the history and course of Ibenda/Ada indigenous culture in Obollo clan of Nsukka, Enugu state, involuntarily portrayed in a drama book.
For one thing, it is an insider's account and for another, it was a meticulously researched and chronologically arranged and presented work, with names of characters that represent today's reality in the setting.
As a Barrister at Law, Mr. Japhet having been born and brought up in Ada, with maternal affiliation to Ibenda, was well informed and equipped, as it were, to gift the reading population of the modern world a true account of the often misconstrued rich cultural heritage of native African hamlets in Obollo subcultural zone.
The drama which has three themes of MUTUAL BROTHERLY LOVE, CULTURE CONFLICTS brought about by the encounter of native culture with the Christian mission as well as the ARISTOCRACY IN PRECOLONIAL IGBO SETTING, was a bold step at affirming that prior to the arrival of the missionaries we were already pious people who had values and virtuous tenets in our way of life.
It's setting alone triggers the nostalgia for the good old days of village life in the minds of the audience.
The first impression scholars have about the book is the ease with which the Author uses native proverbs and phrasal nuggets to convey the wisdom and natural philosophy of the interior parts of northern Igbo villages.
In Act 1 Scene Two of the book, we read: "There is no art on this earth to find the mind's construction on the face." This was a bitter truth considering that over the course of centuries, evidence abounds, including the ones of Brutus/Caesar charade in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," to show that the Latin phrase "vultus est index animi" (the face is the signpost of the mind) is a fallacy. It had always bred deceptions.
Back-biters or Back-stabbers abound who pose as friends outwardly but are deadly enemies in their hearts.
In Act 3 Scene One, we saw a fine translation of patent Obollo nugget: "Uwa m aburug' igu na ewu edeg' ye onu" (if am my life is a forage, no goat would admire it). This is a nugget used to express hard luck and perennial misfortune that is plaguing one. It was an expression used by the Attama Abatiji (the ancestral deity of communal protection for Ada people) that caught fire at the prayerful command of the Catholic priest of the area in the book.
The Author also sent a message of hope for the obscured Ada people in the drama when he alluded in the same Act and Scene that "If reasoning should be of the elders only, there would be no more wonders." He went further to say that "Life and ideas continue to change year after year, generation after generation." Here, he portrayed the essence of innovation and the constancy of change in every native civilization that desires development.
Like former US president, Thomas Jefferson would say, "as long as long man continues to speak as he thinks and act as he speaks, the condition of the world will proceed in improvement." Ada and Ibenda are what they are today because they permitted a change in their religious culture to accommodate the western religion. And it has changed the face of the towns for good.
At the core message of the drama was the didactic lesson against greed and lust for temporal welfare and an uncontrolled quest for material wealth, citing the proverbial termite - "Akoro ogodo s' s' par' al' boo ye" (greedily the king of the termite emerged through the anthill castle and seeing the riches of the world demanded that the world be logged in its kitty).
From the book, it was easy for future generations to see the foundational philosophy behind the invention of masked spirits in Obollo, which are threefold: entertainment, education and social security. In discharging its duty as a custodian of our cultural heritage, Akatakpa as was mobilized in the drama was to go and disrupt the liturgical celebration of the alien religion in the village presided over by the Parish priest. This was a move to ensure African Traditional Religion was not obliterated or displaced by the new religion.
The conflict was bred by lack of tact and fanaticism in fighting for an 'almighty god' of the traditional religion that could not fight its own battle. Here bigotry was inevitable. And that explains the hard times the missionaries faced in their strive to sow the seed of Christian faith in Ada and Ibenda as well as diaspora Africa.
The barbarism that was common in prehistoric Africa evident in the practice of human ritual as a libation to gods and several deities was highlighted in the drama. And thanks to the efforts of the missionaries, it became a thing of the past.
The book easily catches the fancy of readers with its good blend of the elaborate protocols obtainable in Igbo monarchical rulership and Ohacracy (Igwe in council) which the Duke of Ibenda exhibited in the drama.
In its concluding chapter, the 86-page drama book threw some rays of light on the indelible marks which other Igbo clans used to distinguish the typical Nsukka man: "He is honest, respects the elderly, obeys constituted authorities, has high regard for traditional institutions and has the utmost respect for family values. He is industrious and reserved. In being reserved, many mistook his temperance for naivety or timidity. But far from that, he is civilized, nonviolent in pursuance of his rights and dogged in attaining his life's philosophy. Though he may not be affluent in material wealth but he is contented with the much his industry and diligence might avail him.
The book which is being launched today, 30th December 2020 at Udenu Local Government secretariat, Obollo Afor is invaluable.
I, therefore, recommend this to all and sundry. It is a treasured piece in my library and I believe you will cherish it as much in yours.
...Eze Jude O, is a Laboratory scientist and public affairs analyst. NNL.