85. The Gods are not to Blame by Ola Rotimi
Title: The Gods are not to Blame
Author: Ola Rotimi
Publishers: University Press PLC
Year of First Performance: 1968
Place of First Performance: Ife Festival of Arts, Nigeria
Year of First Publication: 1971 (this edition, 1990)
In this play, Sophocle's Oedipus Rex, is given a Nigerian treatment and having not read Sophocle's, I really enjoyed Ola Rotimi's rendition. The gods are not to blame is a play that questions destiny: are we in control of our destiny or we are the product of our destiny? Can we escape it? At the end of the play, the question is still not answered as an individual can argue both for or against this theme.
The play opens with someone narrating the events surrounding the birth of King Adetusa's first son. Queen Ojuola, King Adetusa's wife, has just delivered her first son and the soothsayer has been summoned to foretell the future of this newly born son. The soothsayer, Baba Fakunle, announced that:
This boy, he will kill his own father and then marry his own mother!
To avert this taboo from materialising, the baby was sent to the evil grove and offered as a sacrifice to the gods.
The first Scene of the first Act opens thirty-two after, when King Adetusa has been succeeded by King Odewale after a series of battles and conflicts with neighbouring villages and Kutuje has become somewhat peaceful but for the sudden deaths and sicknesses that have befallen the people of Kutuje. Having nowhere to go and not knowing what to do, the people brought their grievances, their problems, to bear before King Odewale.
Yesterday, my twins died - both of them. My third child ... [unstrapping the baby on her back.] here, feel her, feel how hot she is ... come feel.
However, since the King himself has not been spared the sickness because 'sickness like rain falls on every roof', he has sent Aderopo to the oracle of Ifa at the shrine of Orunmila to seek the cause of their tribulations. Returning home, Aderopo - fearful for the results he was carrying - decided to tell the chief, in private, the response the oracle has given him. Haughty and temperamental as he is, King Odewale demanded to receive the information right in front of his people, to the hearing of everyone, mocking Aderopo in the process. After several cajoling, mocking, insulting, and pleading, Aderopo told them what the oracle had said:
Very well. Ifa oracle says the curse, your highness, is on a man...
A full-grown man...
The man has killed another man...
King Adetusa - my own father, the King who ruled this land before you....
Having been told this, King Odewale set out how the murderer would be punished
Before Ogun the god of Iron, I stand on oath. Witness now all you present that before the feast of Ogun, which starts at sunrise, I, Odewale, the son of Ogundele, shall search and fully lay open before your very eyes the murderer of King Adetusa. And having seized that murderer, I swear by this sacred arm of Ogun, that I shall straightway bring him to the agony of death. First he shall be exposed to the eyes of the world and put to shame - the beginning of living death. Next, he shall be put into lasting darkness, his eyes tortured in their living sockets until their blood and rheum swell forth to fill the hollow of crushed eyeballs. And then, final agony: we shall cut him from his roots. Expelled from this land of his birth, he shall roam in darkness in the land of nowhere, and there die unmourned by men who know him, and buried by vultures who know him not... (Page 24)
Thus, like biblical David, King Odewale narrated his punishment even before the culprit was found and he did so, in anger and arrogance, swearing before the townspeople and the gods they serve. Baba Fakunle was called forth to deconstruct the message he gave to Aderopo. Approaching the palace, Baba Fakunle, the soothsayer, refused to move farther claiming
... I smelled the truth as I came to this land. The truth smelled stronger and stronger as I came into this place. Now it is choking me...choking me. I say. Boy! Lead on home away from here.(26/27)
Again, the anger and arrogance of King Odewale would not allow the soothsayer depart to his village until the truth is squeezed out of him. Several verbal struggles ensued with attempts of morphing into physical persuasions until the soothsayer blurted it out:
The truth that you are the cursed murderer that you seek.
King Odewale took this as an insult even as the soothsayer went on to call him a 'bedsharer'. Before Baba Fakunle finally departed he told King Odewale that it was his 'hot temper, like a disease from birth, .... that has brought you trouble' and that
King Odewale, King of Kutuje, go sit in private and think deep before darkness covers you up ... think ... think ... think!
Instead the King saw this as a plot to get him out of the land because he was an Ijekun man ruling the people of Kutuje. He accused Aderopo - son of King Adetusa - as behind this plot, together with some of the chiefs and his own bodyguards. Here the 'blindness' that mostly follow leaders came into play. As the play unfolds King Odewale made several statements - unconsciously though - that affirmed what Baba Fakunle had said, calling Aderopo, his brother and inviting him to also come and sleep with his mother. Again, like Macbeth, the King became almost demented began accusing everyone of plotting against him.
Then a series of events occurred. His best friend Alaka suddenly appeared in his palace in search of his long-lost friend. Through conversations, and again, through his quick temperament, Odewale nearly killed his friend when the issue of his birth came up, for Alaka had called him a bastard in front of the townspeople. Again, Alaka promised to tell Odewale how he came to be in Ijekun in private, but again Odewale refused, setting the stage for the denouement.
Though Baba Fakunle linked King Odewale's 'hot temper' to his curse, was it really that? Or was it his attitude against insult and falsities? Or even his unbending attitude towards unfairness? I would prefer the last two and not the first.
The play could be interpreted in several ways. For instance, King Odewale's message to the people when they approached him for the solution to their problem is almost like a social commentary on the political scene of Nigeria or most countries for that matter, or even on human nature. He asked them what they have done for themselves in order to mitigate the effect of the sickness instead of rushing to him. He says:
But what have you done about it, I ask. You there - Mama Ibeji - what id you do to save your twins from dying? ... each one of you lies down in his own small hut and does nothing. ... Well, let me tell you, brothers and sisters, the ruin of the land and its people begins in their homes. (Page 12)
This is a beautiful play and even though one could tell how it would end, it is how the events unfolded that makes it beautiful and worth the read. The adaptation of English by Nigerians and making it their own is clearly seen. Interspersed with proverbs the dialogues are natural and roll off the tongue leaving taste of satisfaction on the reader's tongue. It is recommended to all who love good plays. If you have never read a play, give this a try.
Brief Bio: Emanuel Gladstone Olawale Rotimi (1938 – 2000) (AKA. Ola Rotimi) was born April 13th 1938, in Sapele, Nigeria, to Samuel Gladstone Enitan Rotimi and Dorcas Adolae Oruene Addo. Ola Rotimi became one of contemporary Africa's leading playwrights and theater directors. He obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Boston University, and the Master of Fine Arts from Yale, where he earned the distinction of being a Rockefeller Foundation scholar in Playwriting and Dramatic Literature. His graduate project-play was declared “Yale University's Student Play of the Year."
His publications include six full-length plays (two of them award-winning), and a number of scholarly articles on Theater and Drama. He is featured in such reputable international records as: the Encyclopedia Britanica, the Encyclopedia of World Authors, Cambridge Guide to World Theater, and the International Authors and Writers Who's Who. (Source)
Read my review of his Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again
Read my review of his Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again