The play, Dance on his Grave, written by Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, an Associate Professor and Executive Secretary/CEO of National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), has been shown to reflect a perfect paradigm shift in African theatre and performance.
This position was the thrust of a paper, entitled, “A Feminist Reading of Barclays Ayakoroma’s Dance on his Grave” by Bernard Bem Assoh and Hycentha Madu of the Department of English, Nigeria Police Academy, Wudil, Kano State, presented at the 2016 edition of the African Theatre Association (AfTA) Annual International Conference, hosted by the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Abuja, Nigeria.
The AfTA Annual International Conference, which held from 21st–24th July, 2016 at the Main Auditorium of the Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Abuja Main Campus, had the theme, “Paradigm Shifts in African Theatre and Performance”.
Speaking on the tragedy of equality in Ayakoroma’s Dance on his Grave, the presenter, Hycentha Madu, opined that in Nigeria, women in most communities have been reduced to second class citizens, because in most of the traditional settings, it is assumed that the best place for women is in the kitchen, which is a serious misrepresentation of women right from the family level up to the larger circular society, where they are discriminated upon; and that the foregoing informed the paper’s analysis of Dance on his Grave as a reference to bring equity in the society.
The paper noted that, Barclays Ayakoroma, a male playwright, wrote from a feminist perspective in Dance on his Grave to promote equal rights for women with their male counterpart, which is a departure from other stereotyped portrayal of women by fellow African male writers, like Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, among others, who, the presenter stated, have been “accused of presenting negative images of women as prostitutes, nagging wives, gossips and as passive characters that play very little roles in society and are only good for sex, child-bearing and the kitchen”, in their works; adding that this advocacy by Ayakoroma is indeed an “inspiration for women in Nigeria” and also across Africa, which goes to show that there is hope concerning paradigm shift in African theatre and performance.
However, while commending Barclays Ayakoroma, a playwright, actor, teacher, author, culture enthusiast and social critic, whose other works include, A Matter of Honour, Castles in the Air, A Chance to Survive, Once Upon a Dream, and A Scar for Life, among others, for projecting the actualization of a proper place for women in Nigeria, the paper raised pertinent questions as food for thought.
According to the authors, in this male dominated world where women are hardly ever given enough space to develop their full potentials in both imaginative and actual reality, can men actually write to truly fight for the rights of women? And do men believe that women can and should have equal rights with them?
However, the authors queried whether Ayakoroma was only making fun of women in his work, against the backdrop that men do not suffer the same oppression women suffer, as such, cannot comprehend women experiences, which have necessitated the feminist movement, and hence men cannot constructively contribute genuinely to feminist movements or concepts.
The paper also wondered whether the men must die first before women can access equal rights as portrayed in Dance on his Grave, where the Queen, Alaere, in an attempt to win her position of insisting on equal rights with her husband, King Olotu, by having an input in decisions taken on the future of their daughter, Beke, resort to sensitive war of words about the true paternity of their daughter, which resulted in King Olotu taking his own life.
The position of the authors is that the play is an arousal to the need to recognise the role and position of women in contemporary African society, where they ought to be given a listening ear; be consulted in matters concerning them and their children; as well as to understand their agitations for an enhanced environment and recognition of their roles for effective social and family harmony.
In addition, they posit that paradigm shift towards equal rights for women with their male counterpart is not just clamouring for the female folk to rule over or dominate the male folk, as stated by the playwright through the character Alaere in the play, where she stated: “… I am not thinking of ruling this land, but the question is, should we not be consulted even in matters concerning our children and us? … and not argue? … now the time has come for us to speak with one voice ….”
The conclusion is that Barclays Ayakoroma, an African male writer and literary artist, has through the play, Dance on his Grave, added his voice to the liberation of the larger womenfolk towards the enhanced development of the African women by presenting the female in a more feminine light, portrayed in a serious manner that women are taking a firm stance in their decision for equal rights in a more organized and uniform way, which seems to be calling for immediate change for equality in the male-dominated society.
This call, the authors aver, should be emulated by other African male literary and theatre artist in the spirit of the much-desired paradigm shift in African theatre and performance.