With hear word! Ifeoma Fafunwa mirrors plight of Nigerian women

A scene from the play


In the course of identifying with plights of women and girl-child, the Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousafzai, said: “I raise up my voice — not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard … we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

As a way to give Nigeria women a voice, where it is faint or suppressed, Ifeoma Fafunwa recently staged a play, Hear Word! Opening with women perceived to be mothers of girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram sect, the women in their angst, ask when will their daughters be back.

The women raise other issues that border on government neglect to pursue the case of kidnapped Chibok girls to a conclusive end, thus, leaving the fate of their parents in limbo. Performed at the National Theatre and produced by iOpenEye, a Nigerian production company that utilises performance art to challenge the status quo and inspire social change, the play with its multifaceted themes, dwells solely on women issues.

Moving from touching subthemes that include, women molestation, sex education, prostitution, child marriage, women neglect, women inheritance, and other harmful cultural practices against women, the play exposes how these inhibitions have reduced many Nigerian women to household items that must be inherited, used and throwaway or used to entertain guests.

It also reveals how some cultures do not appreciate women without male children, even if such women have given birth to many female children. In such communities, the number of male children a woman has determines her status in the community. Directed by Ifeoma Fafunwa, who is also the co-playwright, the over 10 cast, all female, depicting over 20 characters accentuates attitudes, norms, values and harmful practices that cut across different ethnic groups in Nigeria, while not forgetting pop culture, which is the byproduct of colonisation, acculturation and inability to hold tightly to our local culture.

Written in Pidgin, the language makes it easy for the audience to comprehend and relate with the issues. It is down to earth in approach and presentation. Witty and arresting, the cast from all dimension showed high level of professionalism. Their body languages, tonal expressions and carriage leave no one in doubt that they were all telling their personal stories. They put themselves in the story, thus interpreting their roles seamlessly and bringing out the expected messages. Their costumes were so apt, while the songs and sometimes, background music helped to buttress the messages each scene presents.

Using moral suasions to appeal to the people, including women who also encourage such harmful practices, to jettison them, the play showcases the psychological torture women pass through all in the name of keeping their husbands or observing some fiendish practices.

For instance in one of the scenes, a character said, I think say na your daughter for come keep me warm this night, but since na you come. I no mind, I go take you. Here, the culture has reduced daughter and mother (women) to objects of entertainment, not minding what the outcome would be. It shows no regard or dignity for the woman. Here also, the culture exposes the masochism of the male gender; his self-centeredness and viciousness. It depicts how the male folk see women, not as contemporaries, but as object to be conquered, dominated and oppressed. What could be more devastating than to ask a widow to sleep with her dead husband for days in a dark room or to drink the dirty water used to wash the husband’s corpse.

Despite the evoking storyline, it must be noted that the play was long; lasting a little above two hours. Though, the dances and songs make it worthwhile, the duration could however be reduced downwards. Doing this would entail merging some of the subthemes into one.

The themes of the play are truly in line with title, Hear Word! It is not only profound, but a clarion call to everyone, especially opinion leaders and custodians of our culture to take a second look at these harmful practices with the aim of reforming them for a better and greater society, where women would be able to express themselves and aspire to greater heights.

Using Nigerian as focus, the play through its theme song, Hear word, make una put mouth for the matta. We be your sista, we be your mama, make una hear word!” yells for all to be proactive to these changes beginning from our homes.

In the words of Malala Yousafzai, the play has raised the voice of women so that those without a voice can be heard. t has raised women voices, so that those under these oppressive hellish practices can be set free, so that women folk across the country can succeed.

Speaking on the play, the co-playwright, said: “Hear Word! is based on real-life experiences of some Nigerian women. We aim to highlight their voices and hope to inspire real change.”According to her, the issues raised are some of the ugliness she thought is reducing with enlightenment, education and exposure, only to realise they are still very much alive in our society.

In this article:
Ifeoma Fafunwa
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