Title: THE GODS AT THE HARVEST
Playwright: PROFESSOR NELSON FASHINA
Publisher: IBADAN CULTURAL STUDIES GROUP
Year of Publication: 1998
Reviewer: Olutayo IRANTIOLA
The Gods at the Harvest is a book that has a great deal of traditional and cultural infiltration. It is truly an African text in English because of the fluidity of the language. This discussion is centred on some cogent dramatic elements in the text.
Although, there is a lot of controversy about the language of African literature but African literature written in European languages is African literature. Many attributes converge to produce a label for a particular brand of literature. The language of the text is heavily written with Yoruba flavouring, there is hardly a page in which Yoruba words and sayings are not transliterated and/or translated. Other elements of the language are incantations, proverbs and objects. This, therefore, implies that it is difficult to separate the nuances, the cultural values and norms of the playwright from the text.
Yoruba words such as o ti o! Pg. 13; aso-oke pg. 16; adin, sigidi pg. 21; esu, aremo pg. 22; ero pese ni tigbin pg. 24; ose eewo pg. 25; igba aye, modupe o pg. 26; ago onile pg. 30; langba-langba pg. 39 amongst others.
The text has substantial use of music which is a form of poetry in Africa, it serves different purposes but it has rhythm and that makes it delightful to the ears. Without songs and dance, the drama would have been boring and would not have enlivened the text. Songs in the text also serves the purpose of prayer and romance.
Every sect has a religion and each religion has the features of beliefs, rituals and experience. There is a deep belief in the African mode of worship of the Gbodo people. They had strong belief in Ogun (the god of iron); their major preoccupations include hunting and smithing. They also had deep convictions in the calabash called “Igba Aye” and “Igba Orun”. These calabashes disappear at will depending on the situation. Contrarily, the return of Oguntunde signifies the coming of another religion which was flavoured with the introduction of school, hospital as part of their mission.
Another reflection of the religious beliefs of the people of Gbodo Kingdom is taboos which entrenches the reality of what must be done when the annual harvest festival draws near. The taboos are:
Ø No one thrusts a pestle into the mortar
Ø No one splashes water on the face of the earth
Ø Ogunwale must never open the skirts of his beautiful wives.
Modern African literature has imbibed many qualities of oral tradition. Many writing is functional in the
sense that the literary creation aims at transforming the society into a more humane one. The oral content
of the drama is much; this involves incantations, Yoruba proverbs and sayings which a Yoruba person
would identify immediately on sighting the word. Also, praise singing which is done for the regal to tell
the deeds of their forefathers and the valiant deeds, this was done by Adesuwa, the King’s courtyard
Ogboriefon tells his son, Egunjobi, “You have to learn the rituals and esoteric incantations and songs of
The settings in the text involves the bush path, narrow colonial road, blacksmith shed, public square and Ogunwale’s compound and other places within the Gbodo community. It is equally important to mention places used in the book both fictive and factual names such as Osun Osogbo, River Owena, Erinmo Waterfall on pg. 43; Olumo Rock, Odo ogun, Idanre hills on pg. 69. Others are Orole rocks, River Gbodo, River Ogbese, Igbo Iyeye and gbo Odan.
These names and settings are typically that of the Savannah in Western Nigeria. The language as earlier
mentioned shows that the settings are within Yoruba land.
There are elements of contrast in the text, such as the Igba Aye and Igba Orun. Igba Aye is the royal powers of the lineage that must not meet the Igba Orun which is a representation of the terrestrial powers.
Another contrasting element is African technology and European technology. African technology has made traditional medicine, guns, carved woods, bead, cloth dyeing, pot making, hair weaving styles amongst others while Eurporean technology include automobile engineering, communication technology and road construction as evident in the text.
Every community has her form of entertainment Ayo-Olopon was used in the text to demonstrate how Yorubas relax before the advent of colonialism. The game was a means of competing, bringing young men together for fun and subsequently creating the only comic relief in the drama.
There were sideltalks although the play; it opened the text and also when Oguntunde returned from abroad.
The gods at harvest is a tragic text wherein pathetic things happened: Egunjobi who was not involved in his father’s avarice practice paid for it and became maimed. The townspeople who died during the struggle pg. 48, the death of Ogunwale despite all warnings. Could this be considered fatalism?
Yoruba people uphold the valiant display of manhood. Ogunwale went to die in the war because he cannot consider losing the heir to the throne. He would rather die instead of his son.
However, a critic would find some questions yet unanswered in the text. These include when Revd Copeland was asking Oguntunde what he was discussing with his folks. It is written in English and Revd Copeland was still asking what he was discussing with his people, does Revd Copeland not understand English? Also, the townspeople called a vehicle, Motor Car, and this was their first sighting of it, how do they know the name?
Prominent characters in the text are Ogunwale who represents the re-enactment of tradition; he is an incarnate of the deity of Ogun. He is lustfully driven towards women and he is impulsive in nature. Yeye-Ogun is the head of the local midwives and also of the market-women. She power that can help those who are oppressed. Her support for the king can be likened to that of Efunsetan Aniwura and Queen Amina of Zauzau. She upholds the tradition.
Others are Oguntunde represents the new order that brought civilization as a result of his contact with the whitemen. He is the early black returnee, interpreter for the colonialist, repatriated slave and foremost elite. Ogboriefon is the custodian of “Elegbara”, his quest for power made him maimed. Ogboriefon is actually a nickname for strong people. Adesewa typifies encouragement at all times. Her romantic fleece with Ogunwale set in the climax of the text. The farmer is the vocal comrade for the masses; he is brave, confrontational and has an unwavering personality.
The use of magic is abundant in the text. The character of the witches, the thunder that struck the ladies on pg. 14 and the supplication to the witches on pg. 42 all reflect the central role of the fabulous and mythic in indigenous culture that were once dismissed by the colonial aesthetic preoccupations.
African texts have the key to remain indigenous as much as the playwright is knowledgeable of the culture. African plays remains African because it is an African version of the English language which can be considered as bilingualism, which has created an identity for African writers and this, has been done dexterously by Professor Nelson Fasina.
(c)Olutayo IRAN-TIOLA, Lagos, Nigeria