Not Without Bones (Play-Text)
Not Without Bones captures the essence of the women’s wars of 1929 on stage with bewildering theatrically. Not ready to tolerate the antics of colonialism any further, the women, led by their cast-iron leader, strategically and in an unstoppable swoop, force the colonial authority to bend. The masculine blood of the feminine martyrs, sow seeds of harmony between estranged parties. This exceptional theatre war, leaves a sprawling challenge to the smooth-talking ladies of today’s empowerment school.
“Not Without Bones”, the full idea meaning that Women are Not Without Bones, is based on the historical episode of 1929, popularly (though wrongly) referred to as the Aba Riot of 1929. Yes “wrongy” becaus a riot it was but not an “Aba Riot” per se. Rather it was a riot that swept across the entire breadth of the then Owerri and Calabar provinces. It was the women’s “war” against colonial in- justices – expressive in trade relationships and taxation between colonial Whites and Nigerian natives.
“Not Without Bones”, attempts to capture the essence of that riot which climaxed in the bloody outrage at the Consular Beach or Egwanga Beach in Opobo, with hundreds of women left dead either through bullets of colonial guns or through drowning in the creeks in a bid to escape from the cannons of the colonial authority vis-a-vis the ensuing pandemonium.
Though the play has a strong historical root, it is not history. but an imaginative recreation of it. Characters, dialogue and situations are invented. This makes it fiction. However, that some real name of colonial officers, such as, A.R. Whitman, Lt. H. Hill, Mr. R. K. Floyer and others such as Chief Mark Pepple and Madam Adiaha Edem, have heen retained, raises the play to the level of “faction”. Similarly. certain settings for the dramatic presentations are typical play-backs of the real venues where the women rioted along. All these deliberate attempts help advance the drama’s psycho-historical immediacy and accuracy.
Opobo has been chosen as the ideal locale for “Not Without Bones”, because it was in Opobo (now lkot Abasi) that the Women’s riot recorded perhaps its worst tragic moments. Several brave women lost their lives there… On the stage, three permanent sets are constructed, namely, the Village Square, The D. O.’s Office and Chief Mark Pepple’s’house. Action revolves smoothly around these three settings. With good control of lighting, this simultaneously scenic rotation can prove a rather fascinating aesthetic phenomenon. The play has an obvious large cast. This makes it spectacle- oriented. A good creative director will need to put his ingenuity into action by giving interpretative forms to the mass of movements typical of “Not Without Bones”. Handling crowds and attaining appreciable picturization through the crowd-structure on stage, is a task every director knows is tasking.
Another difficulty a director might face in putting this play on stage is that of finding White men to play the roles of Whitman, Lt. Hill, Mr. Floyer and Rev. Simon. This was a difficulty the author- director faced at the premiership of the play in the University of Cross River State (now University of Uyo) in 1990. How did he overcome that? First and foremost, he is an expert who believes that no problem is insurmountable in performance practice. He therefore used Nigerian “been-to’ s” with convincing western accents for the roles. Character make-up and historical costumes added credibility to those roles.
“Not Without Bones” is perhaps not a work for the amateur director. The fast rhythm and high tempo, characteristic of the play; the necessary large cast and alternative settings of dramatic ac- tions, the singing and dancing with their attendant choreographic essence, are not too comfortable demands for the inexperienced. A true master- craftsman with a creative aesthetic technique, stands recommended to take up arms against the forays of wild, “Not Without Bones”. One last issue and We are done. Whatever happens and whoever handles “Not Without Bones” on the living stage MUST make sure that the ROLES of Ekaiban, Whitman and Sergeant are not compromised. Why? Read the script and you will know why.
EFFIONG JOHNSON (Ph.D)
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