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Portraits of an Eagle: Essays in Honour of Femi Osofisan.

The book contains a wide range of articles in honour of Femi Osofian, a contemporary Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist and a scholar of high repute. The editor of the collection fondly refers to the spirit of the articles as "homage to the man who continues to create a radical shift in the psyche of our nation, whose drama staunches our open wound and whose songs rouse us from our lethargy and set us 'ablaze' (Preface). The collection is an apt gesture of commemoration for his sixtieth birthday as well as a celebration of his impressive achievements over time. In fact, even a cursory reading of the articles give one a strong impression of his enormous contribution and influence on the world of letters, the world of stage performance, and his contribution in the field of African theatre and literary criticism. Thus the symbol of the eagle that is used to refer to him in the title of the collection speaks to his capability to soar high above others in his field.

These articles do not only engage with the creative works of Osofisan, but in some very intimate sense also illuminate the 'inside' of the man. The book is substantively divided into three sections, but the introductory sections such as the chronology and the foreword are equally illuminating. The chronology is very rich in information and data on Osofisan the man, and in his creative, critical and scholarly journey. In every sense of the word, it can easily pass as an (auto-)biographical sketch. It is an important source of data for students and researchers studying his works.

The Foreword as 'reconstructed' by his confessed 'double', Biodun Jeyifo, is aptly entitled "Friendship and the Revolutionary Ethos", and it lays bare the social life, ideological persuasions as well as the character of Osofisan in a very intimate, humbling and humane manner. It reveals in a passionate way how, for Osofisan, friendship transcends ideology: though ideology still remains important for him in his interaction and response to the interpretation and understanding the politics of the postcolonial nation state. The Foreword provides very interesting insights into the personality and character of Osofisan, such his unassuming and down to earth qualities. At the creative and critical levels Jeyifo opens the window for the readers of Osofisan to gaze at the diverse material that has informed his dramaturgy, theatre practice, ideology and philosophy. The article can be characterised as 'going down memory lane'.

As previously mentioned, the book is divided substantially into three section: one, the tributes; two, interviews; three, essays. The tributes are by Alain Ricard, "Femi Osofisan: Some personal Memories". Ricard remembers his encounters with Osofisan, while celebrating his academic as well as his social personality. In his tribute entitled "Subverting the Proscenium: A Brief Note on Femi Osofisan's Stagecraft" Martin Benham shows the way that Osofisan's theatre gestures towards the transformation of the spectator. He notes that Osofisan's project is always meant to provoke the spectator more than merely entertain. He points out that this theatre always anticipates the dismantling of that fourth wall that creates the artificial dichotomy between audience and actors. In Osofisan's theatre he discovers the essence of African theatre forms. He also finds quite innovative Osofisan's open-ended plays that truly invite post-performance discussions which, he notes, strive to turn the audience into a 'different man'. In "Celebrating Osofisan at Sixty", Muyiwa Awodiya, one of the most acclaimed Osofisan scholars, privileges the pedagogical dimensions of Osofisan's plays and they way he deploys theatre techniques to achieve his pedagogical intentions. In a passionate and intimate tribute, "A Tribute to Femi Osofisan--The Alchemist of Cognition at Sixty", Olu Obafemi, like Jeyifo, describes his interactions with Osofisan and his works. The common denominator in all the tribute articles is their nostalgic appreciation of past interactions with Osofisan.

The second section is a very extensive and incisive interview conducted by Victor Aire and Kanchana Ugbabe on 18 June 1995 at the Conference on African Literature in Tel Aviv, Israel. Simply entitled "Talk With Femi Osofisan, 1995", the questions that the two interviewers put to Osofisan evoke a lot about what he (Osofisan) thinks about African literature; theatre; national and global politics; the paradoxes and ironies of publishing in Nigeria as opposed to Europe and America; the (re)sources that influence in his play creations and theatre practice; his philosophy and ideology of life and art. The interview is an extremely valuable source for those interested in Osofisan the author, ideologue and his works.

The third and last section contains the essays critiquing Osofisan's plays and theatre practice. Only one article out of the fourteen examines his poetry. This reflects the popularity of his drama and theatre work in relation to the other genres. In these articles different critics engage with his plays from diverse critical perspectives. For instance, James Gibb in "Antigone and After Antigone: Some issues raised by Femi Osofisan's Dramaturgy in Tegonni", explores Osofisan's influences both in terms of textual adaptations and theatre practice. He notes that Osofisan's theatre practice has been informed by the styles of Bertolt Brecht, Augusto Boal and Antonin Artaud, identifying "ambush" as a uniquely Osofisan performance technique. He also acknowledges Osofisan's contextualisation of the classical Greek play in the contemporary realities of Nigeria and the post-colony in general. In his paper "Trojan Women in Yoruba land: Femi Osofisan's Woman of Owu" Felix Budelmann reads Woman of Owu as an adaptation of Euripides' Trojan Women as part of that emerging tradition of adaptation of the classics in the post-colonial world.

Barbara Goff also reads Osofisan's Tegonni as an adaptation of the Greek classic Antigone, but proceeds to demonstrate Tegonni's deviations from the texts that it has adapted. In fact, what emerges from this reading is that the relationship between Tegonni and Antigone is more than an adaptation; it is rather some kind of intertextuality. This is in her article "Antigone's Boat: The Colonial and the Post-Colonial Tegonni: An African Antigone by Femi Osofisan". Engaging with the symbolism of the boat, Goff concludes that in Osofisan's adaptation Antigone is not colonial but of Africa. Sola Adeyemi, in "Making Colours, Remaking Life: Subversion in Writing of Femi Osofisan", argues that Osofisan's writings participate specifically in the project of decentring the metropolitan as the location of power. He categorises Osofisan's writings within that corpus of postcolonial readings and re-readings of history and political discourses in the shaping of a vision. He also situates Osofisan's plays within a larger project that demystifies and demythologises the canons of neo-colonial drama. In addition, he argues that Osofisan's plays contest political constructs in post-colonial Africa. He argues further that Osofisan deploys myth not just to give local flavour to his form but more as a strategy of subversion; and it is in this sense that he defines him as a post-negritude writer. In "Representation of Horror: The Rwanda Genocide and Femi Osofisan's Reel, Rwanda!" Chris Dutton examines the representation of genocide and holocaust in general as an entry to Osofisan's own imaginary work on the Rwandan genocide in the play, Reel, Rwanda. He raises pertinent issues of framing traumatic subjects within the realm of the artistic mode. He argues that such representations raise ethical issues. Tejumola Olaniyan's "Centring the Marginal? Notes toward a Query of Women and Gender in the Drama of Femi Osofisan" reads Osofisan's plays through a feminist lens. He asserts, for instance, that "through that representational emphasis, Osofisan charted an alternative course of portrayal of women in Nigeria, indeed African drama'. But in a twist of irony, he proceeds to identify what he calls "Osofisan's ambiguities" in his portrayal of women as well as what he perceives as the sources of such ambiguities.

Olu Obafemi and Abdullahi S. Abubakar, in their paper "Fabulous Theatre: A Reassessment of Osofisan's Revolutionary Dialects", claim to give a fresh look at Osofisan's dramaturgical experiment in what they label 'Fabulous Theatre'. Their main project is actually to disabuse earlier criticism that claimed Osofisan's indebtedness to Brechtian techniques and 'folklorist' parameters. To show that Osofisan's Fabulous Theatre is radically different from Brecht's Epic theatre, they come up with schema which they then use to compare the forms of theatre. To emphasise their point they use Osofisan's play In Many Colours Make The Thunder King to highlight the paradigms of this Fabulous Theatre. These they identify as including: content, performing modes, role of the audience, use of ornamentation, and songs, music and dance.

Ayo Kehinde's "Oral Traditions and Contemporary History in Femi Osofisan's Once upon Four Robbers" privileges the use of oral tradition in the drama of Osofisan to meet the challenges of the post-colony as well as to enhance his (Osofisan's) socialist vision of society. The paper outlines the various traditional oral forms that are deployed in Once upon Four Robbers. Kehinde claims that Osofisan paved the way for the creative use of oral traditional material--a claim that should raise a lot of debate. Victor Ukaegbu is the most critical of Osofisan's works in this collection. In his paper, "Mythological and Patriarchal Constraints: The Tale of Osofisan's Revolutionary Women", he faults Osofisan for creating fictional women who fail to transcend the culturally constructed patriarchal myths and stereotypes that locate them always on the margins of the society. To substantiate his argument he critically examines a number of Osofisan's plays including Morountodun, Oriki of a Grasshopper, Another Raft and Once Upon Four Robbers. For instance, with reference to the depiction of women in one of the plays he argues that: "In Moni Osofisan creates a woman character that is unable to rise above the human frailties she berates in others, although those shortcomings are found whenever unproven polemics and self-preservation collide; in her case it is debilitating and hardly enhances her revolutionary credentials" (184-5).

In "A Debate on Tactics for the Best Way to Overthrow Vile Regimes" Jane Plastow implicitly accuses Osofisan of refusing to acknowledge the influence of Ngugi and Mugo's play The Trial of Dedan Kimathi on his play Morountodun. Plastow proceeds to outline several aspects the two plays have in common to demonstrate the indebtedness of Osofisan's play to Ngugi and Mugo's. At the end of the paper Plastow suggests that artists should not shy away from borrowing techniques from each other's practices, if such techniques will enrich their revolutionary projects. She mentions her own work with peasants in Eritrea as an interesting instance that would enrich the works of others who want to create consciousness in the peasants.

Yvette Hutchison, in "Riding Osofisan's Another Raft through the sea of Nigeria's History and Myth", locates Osofisan's play within the corpus of plays that have exploited Nigerian history and myth. Yvette sees Osofisan as using history more symbolically. The debate on how critics should engage with a work of art is once again revived in Harry Garuba's essay, " The Poetics of Possibility: A Study of Femi Osofisan's The Chattering and Song and Morountodun". In this paper he strongly criticises scholars who impose alien theories on texts in their readings of these texts in total disregard of the local nuances that inform the form and content of particular texts. He then proceeds, to illustrate how Osofisan's plays provides an opportunity for culturally specific criticism, demonstrating how the myth of the Ifa oracle is a sine qua non in the reading of the two plays. The thrust of his argument is that critics should not ignore the cultural context that inform the history of artistic/meaning production of specific artist creations. Amen Uhunmwangbo, in his "Rhetorical Strategies in Okinba Launko's Minted Coins", is the only commentator who explores Osofisan's poetry. In this paper he identifies rhetorical strategies such as figures of speech, pictorial rhetoric, phonological features, among others, and illustrates their effectiveness in the poetry of Osofisan. The last essay "Osofisans' Theatre and the Emerging-Emergent Controversy within the Re-creative Theatre" attempts a philosophical understanding of the two terms 'emerging' and 'emergent' that have been used to describe new writers such as was the case with Osofisan. In the paper the author identifies the different appellations that have been used to define Osofisan's theatre and which he finds disconcerting. He comes up with his own appellation for Osofisan's theatre: Re-creative Theatre. His justification for this appellation is that this is a theatre that is engaged in "experimentation of skilful reconstruction of ancestral and cultural myths and legends into radical concepts" (245).

The essays in this book provide a reading companion, in the true sense of the word, to Osofisan the man and his works. However, the range of plays that has been examined by the different critics is too small. It appears that there are certain plays in Osifisan's repertoire that are more popular and are the ones that have been read and re-read by most of the critics in this collection.

The book would have been more reader-friendly if the essays section had been categorised systematically according to the issues explored: for instance, the Antigone adaptations; representations of women; theatre practice and stage craft; myth and history etc. But, in general, this is an important book for any one interested or involved in research and teaching of African drama and theatre in general, and Osofisan's works in particular.

The reviewer is currently Melon fellow at the Dept of African Literature Wits University.

Edited by Sola Adeyemi

Reviewed by Christopher Odhiambo Joseph

Moi University, Kenia
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Author:Joseph, Christopher Odhiambo
Publication:South African Theatre Journal
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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