Son of the Land(A True Story)
Monday in January 1965, was a remarkable day in my life. It was my first day in school. St. Peter’s African Church Mission School, Mbierebe Obio, was a big and popular school. It even had semi- boarding facilities for pupils who either came from distant villages or those nearby whose parents preferred them to live in the compound. The air was full of expectations as it was uncertain to me. Then a bell tang, and pupils from all directions ran to stand on lines according to their classes. The headmaster, one Mr. Edet, was busy trying to arrange those of us who were finding the whole thing rather strange. Drums beat, “The day is bright it’s bright and fair, oh happy day, the day of joy…” rend the air. Everyone marched to the rhythm of the school band to the assembly hall where hymns were sung from “The Church Hymnary”, then prayers, and announcement, before all went to their respective classes.
My class teacher, one Mr. Asukwo Ekong was very friendly. He just had to be to calm our nerves which at this time were visibly obvious. 1 was given a bench and a desk on the front row. We were three on a bench. My closest neighbour, who became my friend later that day was Peter.
Monday, March 1985, approximately twenty years after, an event in Uyo Circus (Now Ibom Connection), brought back in a splashing flash, the memory of the I965 first day at school experience. On my way to work in the then University of Cross River State, I came face to face with a thoroughly mad man, Peter. That same Peter whom l shared the school bench with. The one who was my first friend in school. This was the mad man in Uyo circus causing a stir that Monday morning in March 1985. I drew near to the scene to catch a glimpse of what exactly was going on, behold a mad man with striking features! As we made contact with our eyes, I immediately recognized him. He too instinctively recognized me in the crowd, despite his state. For a few minutes, the crowd which was watching the theatrics of his antics looked. at both of us wondering what was going on.
I had not known before then that Peter had become mad. I could not have imagined Peter mad in my wildest dreams, either. I was shocked. My day was now gloomy and ruined. Life seemed cruel and absolutely clouded with unprecedented mystery. I just couldn’t understand. I almost wept aloud.
Finally, I stroll-staggered to my office. My face wore an apparent unusualness which was outlandishly obvious for anyone who had known me to know that something was amiss. Dexter Lyndersay, the Arts Director for the Arts Theatre, my boss, was the first to ask me what the matter was. I narrated my shocking experience to him. His response was “Johnson, if you feel that much about it, write a play about it!” The Arts Theatre not really having much activity then, allowed me time to write a lot. In fact, right on my table there, was the manuscript of “A Jewel in the Flames”. I was still working on it. But Dexter was insistent, “Write about him”. I accepted the challenge and began my investigations that day. These are the results before your very eyes.
Son of the Land is therefore a true story. One that really touched my heart. It has been put in the drama genre for the experience to played so that it could truly impact on those who watch it. The names of the characters are fictitious. But they are allegorical. This is deliberate such that, (especially to an Ibibio audience), it might conjure the dramatic essence on the spot, (even before the actual drama rolls on), for psychological immediacy.
Let me thank Dexter Lyndersay for the challenge and motivation he gave me. I cannot forget Uwem Atakpo, the first person to direct the premiere production of Son Of The Land on the living stage UNICROSS Theatre, 1987. Let me heartily thank members of Theatre Volunteers, the team who were always ready for the service of humanity through theatre communication. Lastly, I most profoundly acknowledge all those I interviewed indirectly in my investigative bid to get to the roots of Peter’s insanity. Thank you so much. May the tragic experience which Peter had be the very last in our generation.