Odum Egege: Allegory Of N’Delta Question (I)

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Being a paper presented by Adagogo Brown of the Humanties Department Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Port Harcourt at a seminar organised by the department, recently.

Literature, in the main, is fictive and includes poems, narratives and dramas. These forms are imitations or fictive representations of some types of “natural discourse”. This explains why literature is seen as a reflection of society. It is from this point that Miesoinuma Minima’s Odum Egege  can be appreciated as a work of art that tries to capture political, social and economic activities and relationship between the Azumini (Ndoki) and the Opobo (Ibani) peoples of the Oil Rivers in the 19th century. Conflict eventually arose from the relationship when the economic survival of the trading nations was threatened. Minima puts it clearly:

King Jaja has persuaded his alapu (chiefs) that military actions against rebellious countries and the condemnation of Odum Egege to death were informed by a sense of duty and the desire to check the menace of the white man and make the state survive.

Odum Egege and his people, it must be noted, also asked for survival by trying to assert and protect what they felt was their inalienable rights. Survival, a fundamental human issue, is often the raison d’etre for various human actions even though there can be no unanimity of opinion as to the extent, in given situations, to which those actions are just and justifiable or morally acceptable.

Ordinarily, one would not have bothered to go beyond.

Miesoinuma Minima’s play in the search. However, this has to be done in order to show the importance of the question of the vulgar Marxist: Does it or doesn’t it contribute to the reality and the cause· of the present social truth among contemporary Africans by insisting (vulgar Marxit style) that literature, as part of ideological superstructure, must divorce itself from the luxury of art for art’s sake and ally itself with the Marxist dictum that art, as an instrument in the class struggle, must be a reflection of the basic economic struggle?

In order to reflect this basic economic struggle by the Niger Delta people in contemporary Nigeria, Miesoinuma Minima carefully explores the literary technique of allegory, ‘An allegory’ according to M. H. Abrams, “is a narrative in which the agents and actions, and sometimes the settings as well, are contrived both to make coherent sense on the ‘literal’, or primary level of signification, and also to signify a second, correlated order of agents, concepts and events.”

To achieve this meaning, Miesoinuma Minima selects agents, actions and settings that are able to convey and make both literal and figurative senses. Beyond this, Odum Egege is also an historical and political allegory, “in which the characters and actions that are signified literally, in turn signify, or “allegorise” historical personages and events. These historical events revolve around King Jaja of Opobo and Odum Egege of Azumini. In all of these, most important, is my perception and summary of Odum Egege as an allegory of ideas, in which the literal characters represent abstract concepts and the plot serves to communicate a doctrine or thesis. These literary concepts and plot are seen in the events surrounding the relationship between the contemporary people of the Niger Delta and the Nigerian State. From all perspectives of allegory, Odum Egege is a statement on the political, economic and social relationship between the people of Niger Delta and the Nigerian State. It is a statement which has economy, derivation, resource control and survival as themes. For me, Odum Egege is all about, struggle for survival which is also a reflection of the Niger Delta question.

From the Marxist stand point, Odum Egege can be seen as a work that does not only advance some social revolution in Nigeria but also reflects the reality and present social truth of the Nigerian State, What Odum Egege tries to do, as can be seen from the point of view of Terry Eagleton, … is to deliver the story of the struggles of men nd woomen to the free themselves from certain forms of exploitation and oppression.

The play opens with a protest scene in front of Nna Odum Egege’s house. The people of Azumini, whose livelihood is dependent on farming, complain of how they are exploited in produce trade by the Opobo people. The awareness and agony of deprivation is felt in the voice of Chijioke:

Imagine! Today my household went to the market with loads of goods: pots and pots of oil; baskets of kernel; eggs; two fat rams; ten cock; five hens; heaps of plantain and bananas. (Demonstrating) only these panga full of oporo, these akasa sunju, some quantity of salt, two packets of biscuit that I received in exchange …. (pi).

The complaint of Chijioke is only one out of several others including an old woman who receives unfair and raw deal in the hands of Opobo traders. This unfair deal is an understatement of exploitation and disposession of the Azumini people by Opobo people.

To be continued.

 

Adagogo Brown