Writers' Forum

Q: What prompted Igbo Masks: The Oneness of Ritual and Theatre?

Ans: When I was in the university, most of our lecturers sounded as if we didn't have drama in Africa. Eventually when we started reading something by (Ruth) Finnegan who had done a lot of work in the area of African oral literature, many of the lecturers and scholars were repeating the same thing. I actually doubted what they were saying. When I got to the United States I came in contact with drama works from other parts of the world. I saw Japanese and Chinese drama. But above all how drama was presented in Japanese culture for instance. Further I studied history of drama and I realised that many of my teachers were wrong in supposing that we don't have drama in Africa. They felt that the dances which were ritualistic in nature lacked dramatic impetus because they believed that ritual and theatre were opposed to each other. But this is only the Western concept of drama which does not pertain to other cultures.


By the time I went to the U.S. to do my doctorate, I spent a lot of time thinking about this. My special authors were Shaw, Steinberg, and O'Neil. In fact I thought I was going to write my thesis on Shakespeare. But because of the realisation I had concerning our own drama, I decided to research into this. When I went to my supervisor and told him that I was researching into Igbo Masks, he asked me 'What was that?' I told him that it was African Theatre. Initially he was doubtful if such a thing actually existed. Fortunately, around this

time a group from Yale theatre advertised for papers in African Theatre and I sent in a piece which they published. In fact when I was taking the book to my supervisor, I was afraid because I was not sure what his reaction would be. But he was excited and encouraged me. He was impressed.


.... Even in deciding to write on this Igbo theatre, I was sent to the department of Anthropology. The practice in Columbia then was that if a substantial part of your work falls into another discipline, a professor from that discipline will need to be part of your supervisory team. So they asked me to go and talk to a professor in the Department of Anthropology to see if he would join the team. I took it for granted that the professor would agree. But when I called him and told him “Prof, please I am writing my thesis on Igbo Masks,” he said “Yes, I know you very well. What has that got to do with me?” and dropped the phone. I picked up the phone and called him again. He said “Are you taking my course in anthropology?” I said “No.” He dropped the phone again. Then in the evening a young Yoruba saw me and said that the Prof said he was in a bad mood when I called him. That I should call him again. But when I went to my supervisor he advised me to keep clear of the man. The man has already shown that he was prejudiced. So I had to find another prof, this time, a white and he was quite happy to supervise me.


From Functionalism and Aesthetics in African Literature

African Literary Journal ALJ B5 2005