Colour Of Rusting Gold: A Dramatic Impression Of African Culture

A scene from the play

A scene from the play

The Colour Of Rusting Gold is an excellent delivery of the genius of the great playwright, Esiaba Irobi. The production, which featured on the February 19, 2016 of the University of Nigeria Nsukka’s (UNN) convocation was very well articulated and the technical ability of the directors, Greg Mbajiorgu and Ikechukwu Erojikwe was evident. This special skill gave life to the essence of the drama, which was tailored in parts with comedy and in others with tragedy.

The cast was well put together and all the actors were exciting to watch. The beauty of the costume, imagery, music and choreography within the act was illustrative of the creativity inherent in the Theatre and Film Studies Department of UNN. The dramatic excellence on display and the effective communication of the moral message was captured in the words of the Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II, who described the performance as ‘one that he would remember for the rest of his life.’

Written in 1983, the storyline is clearly one that could have been set in today’s Nigeria. The character, Ogidi, is a young apprentice to the powerful Dibia (medicine man), Otagburuagu. Among other things, he is charged with ensuring that Otagburagu’s court is orderly before the Dibia starts attending to his penitents. In one of the comical scenes Ogidi insists on a regime of ‘turn by turn’ meaning each penitent will take his turn in order of arrival. His repetitive insistence elicited a regular response chant from the audience. Interestingly the moment the politician, Nanimgebi who wants to jump the queue introduces money into the equation; Ogidi abdicates his role and all morality and ensures that out of turn regime becomes the order of the day.

The scene is a clear illustration of what happens in organisations, where officials who are paid by the taxpayers’ money choose to hold the same taxpayers to ransom in clear contempt for the unique position of the privileged position that they hold. For instance, the police officer at the road block, who wants to make an issue of everything in a passing vehicle so that he can create opportunity to demand for money or to have his/her ‘victim’ offer money to him/her. It illustrates the attitude that is often seen even in the private sector, where people are wont to profiteer from the positions of trust they hold.

Nanimgebi is the classic Nigerian big man. He is in a hurry to finish his business and move to other things. He believes everybody is corruptible and can, indeed, be corrupted, even a young apprentice.

As an illustration of the traditional belief that punishment must be meted out for all crimes, Otagburagu ensures that immediate punishment is meted to Ogidi for his betrayal of trust. It is instructive that a quick trial is carried out by Otagburagu despite he already has the insight through his spiritual powers.

The above age long question of ‘who will guard the guard themselves’ or ‘who will watch the watchdog himself” has puzzled many a philosopher and lawyer over time. Plato, Socrates, St Augustine, Cicero, John Staurt Mills all considered this a moral dilemma in their respective seminal works. The paradox has always been an issue of how to ensure that even the custodians of the law themselves are held accountable for their actions. Irobi captures the resolution of this conflict within the context of traditional African religion.

Upon the death of the politician, Nanimgebi, his relatives immediately deposit his corpse at the home of Otagburagu. They accuse of killing their kinsman. The Dibia refutes this by insisting that it was the oath Nanimgebi took that killed him. Nanimgebi’s kinsmen will have none of this and they maintain their position on the basis that Nanimgebi’s death was avoidable, as Otagburagu knew that he was lying and that the oath will kill him. Otagburagu’s problem is that, if indeed he killed Nanimgebi, then he had breached his oath to the oracle that he would never spill blood. He, therefore, maintains a justification of his position.

This does not help as his conscience thinks otherwise and continues to molest him with the echo of the voices of his fellow Dibia’s with ‘You killed him, you killed him.’ He then goes into a mad fit and kills Ogidi his understudy and the madman. This creates a societal problem as a powerful medicine man with immense spiritual powers runs amok, killing all that he encounters in his wake.

The traditional religious justice system of the Igbo’s then comes into action and introduces three fellow Dibia’s of Otagburagu’s who all act in consultation with a view to taming the powerful medicine man and arresting the menace. The enormity of the task before them is not lost on them, but they must find a solution to the menace. As far as they were concerned, justice must be meted out to Otagburuagu. Mmaju the female Osuagwu (priestess) is brought in to save the situation and she does a marvellous job that leads to the arrest of Otagbururagu.

This interesting dénouement showcases the place of the rule of law and justice within the context of Igbo culture.

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