Kurunmi…and the corruption of power
By SOLA BALOGUNWednesday,
January 7, 2009
What price does the leader pay for daring to mislead his people? And what lessons do the people learn when their leader suddenly arrogates power to himself, urging them to do his suicide bid? These and other questions are what Ben Omowafola Tomoloju, renowned culture activist, journalist and theatre director tried to answer in the just concluded production of Ola Rotimi’s classic; Kurunmi, at the National Theatre, Lagos.As a major drama production by the National Theatre/National Troupe to bid the year 2008 a befitting farewell, Kurunmi aptly gave the Nigerian theatre lover a timely feast at yuletide, with a challenge on good governance and a sermon on the choice of peace rather than war.And so, Kurunmi offered a theatrical menu that was served in a conducive atmosphere, giving the audience a refreshing taste of total theatre in the air-conditioned Cinema Hall of the Theatre complex. There was palpable air of relief inside the well-decorated hall, even as the audience settled comfortably to watch the historical play.
The play opened with Kurunmi, the Aare Ona Kakanfo (the war generalissimo) of Ijaiye registering his protest against the newly crowned Alaafin Adelu of Oyo. The latter’s father, Atiba had just passed on and the kingmakers unanimously agreed to make Adelu succeed him. This, according to Kurunmi is against Oyo tradition hence his opposition and refusal to attend Adelu’s coronation.Meanwhile, the new Alaafin sends emissaries to Kurunmi, offering him a choice between peace and war. Kurunmi unilaterally chooses war, daring the king to the battlefield and summoning his people to a needless war. With danger in the air, the whiteman and his faithful in the Christendom vote for peace, but Kurunmi remains adamant, sticking to the choice of war and using his wealth and might to raise more troops to fight Oyo.
Rather than succumb to several peace moves by neighbouring communities such as Ede, Ibadan and Egba, Kurunmi seeks support repeatedly from Ogun, the god of iron to back him up at the war front. He even goes on to enlist his sons in the battle, claiming superiority over others and subjecting the Oyo kingdom under Adelu to ridicule.But neither the Christian fold nor the Ogun shrine rescues Kurunmi, as the Ibadan warriors under Bashorun Ogunmola and Balogun Ibikunle mount serious attack on Ijaiye at River Ose.
The brief intervention by the Egba warlords could not save Ijaiye hence tragedy ensues when Ijaiye warriors cross the river and fall into the waiting arms of fierce Ibadan warriors. In the end, thousands of lives are lost and even Kurunmi’s five sons are not spared. Eventually, Kurunmi receives the skull of one of his sons, accepts his fate and moves on to commit suicide.However, Kurunmi’s fall becomes a societal tragedy, as many lives are lost to the whims and caprices of just one man. And as the Ijaiyes count their losses, Kurunmi’s household too records a lion’s share of tribulation. The director evidently uses the play as a metaphor of the social political milieu in Africa. As for Nigeria, Kurunmi the tragic hero symbolizes such powerful and over ambitious leaders who sacrifice their people on the altar of ego and thirst for power and influence. Perhaps the beauty of Kurunmi lies in the quality of cast and the director’s ability to interpret Ola Rotimi’s historical vision.
Tomoloju achieves this in his choice of lead characters such as Kurunmi (Wale Macaulay), Bashorun Ogunmola (Ropo Ewenla), Balogun Ibikunle (Soibifaa Dokubo), Balogun Ijaiye (Phillip Okolo), (Okon Bassey) and Kehinde Adeyemo, who played several roles of the bereaved wife, warrior, priestess, among others. The play also benefited from rich traditional Yoruba costumes, props and accessories with the fairly large cast being dominated by warriors.
There is also the creative use of stage lighting, which helps to illustrate the moods of warriors and townspeople at intervals. Kurunmi’s incessant recourse to the Ogun shrine, as well as the various battle scenes, are well-illuminated in deep red hues. But perhaps the director preferred a less expensive, simple set to an elaborate one, which may have indeed cost fortunes. or the entrance of Ijaiye town Instead, he uses a bush path as center stage of action, and more of sound and lighting effects to depict bloodshed, and royalty.