A dance on contrasting platforms: African tradition and revolutionary aesthetics in Esiaba Irobi’s plays
Igbo African tradition, characterised mainly by rituals and myths, has often been regarded as too codified and therefore a dead end of sorts, as M.J.C. Echeruo observes in his article “The dramatic limits of Igbo ritual” (1981). But Esiaba Irobi, in his plays of revolutionary aesthetics, decodes this and has practically given it limbs, sinews and all, breathing into it a Marxist revolutionary life. The result of this miscegenation of forms is a dramaturgy that is rich both in the African tradition and culture of songs, dirges, anecdotes, and the age grade system-propelled communal festivals of ritual sacrifice, on one hand, and the Marxist Brechtian revolutionary aesthetics, characterised by a dramatisation of what Frantz Fanon (1963: 255) sees as “the blood-thirsty tension fed by classes”, dialectics, and the alienation techniques on the other. In Esiaba Irobi’s Hangmen Also Die (1989) and Nwokedi (1991), we see this “blood thirsty tension” fully and boisterously, if psychoanalytically, dramatised. For what he presents in these plays is a psycho-dramatic portraiture of characters, especially disenchanted characters, bitterly going against their oppressors. These model “victims of the system”, as Francois Maspero (1980: viii) would say, have been driven to the fringes of reason by vicious and blindfolding oppression and they fight back sporadically and blindly at whoever they stumble on especially in Hangmen. But in Nwokedi they have matured into a visionary vanguard force, having realized the collective nature of the struggle to dislodge their oppressors. In the end, Irobi has literarily responded to Fanon’s (1963: 255) clarion call that “we must invent”, that “we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man”, while recognizing (and creatively appropriating) “the sometimes prodigious thesis which Europe has put forward.”
Key words: Esiaba Irobi; Nigerian theatre; revolutionary aesthetics; revolutionary violence.