An Analysis of the Ògwù Traditional Festival of the Igala People as a Theatre of Mythological Metaphysics
Catalogue Vol.26 No. 1 An Analysis of the Ògwù Traditional Festival of the Igala People as ... a Theatre of Mythological Metaphysics



The concern of this paper is the mythology and mysticism that differentiates African performances/theatre from the Western theatre type which borders on the re-enactment of human actions. The African theatre encapsulates the activities of both the mortal and the immortal worlds. It transcends the world of the living/mortals and has its root in the supernatural world. It is this reverence for supreme deities, ancestral spirits, and other benevolent spirits that characterizes the Ògwù traditional festival of the Igala people of Kogi State, Nigeria that the paper explores.

Innocent Asouzu’s mythological model of the concept of African meta- physics drives the discourse. The concept posits that nature has hidden secrets and mysteries that could be revealed through beliefs and practices relating to ultimate reality. The core of the concept is that a thing exists whether seen or unseen, and it is upon this premise that Africans believe that spirits exist even when they don’t see them, knowing that their qualities are immaterial. The paper concludes that the Ògwù traditional festival is theatre of mythological metaphysics given that the content of the performance hinges on the spirit essence, mythology, and mysticisms. The theatre is assumed to encapsulate the activities of the spirits and those of human beings.

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The Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Arabs, Europeans, and Americans have their own forms of theatre which are peculiar to their needs, aspirations and worldviews. The theatre is a manifestation of people’s culture, which is drawn from their experiences. There could be different reasons for people’s theatrical performances. The reasons could range from war, religion, occupation, and social etiquette. Osanyin enunciates more on the above assertion thus:

...The realm of culture is the matrix of activities of the African. All his creative and artistic endeavors go into the crucible – his finest moment and his glorious hour. The theatre, being the synthesis of all the art and the melting pot of all creative activities is particularly to the African, a communal institution, life is fulfilled in creativity. For the purification of the soul, a man needs to create. (153).

Before the influx of the colonial masters into Africa, Africans had their ways of life, their norms, peculiar aspirations and ethos. The African people existed like any other people elsewhere. Based on the above premise, Illah succinctly observed that:

… and with varying emphasis into African systems of thoughts, beliefs, modes of worship, and generally into African cosmologies… African people have an approximately similar way of looking at their existence – the past, the present, and the future within a cosmic framework… in other words, there is what we call an ‘African religion’ (1).

What is central to the people of Africa is that they have their reverence for the almighty God, deities, ancestral spirits and other benevolent spirits, coupled with masquerading, dance, musical entertainment, feasting and other social activities. Nwabueze highlights that:

I have drawn attention elsewhere to the complex nature of African festivals and their affinity with Western theatre, taking in Igbo masquerade drama as a paradigm… I have also accepted to demonstrate that since the ritual that envelopes some of these festivals have been punctured by either alien intervention or acculturation, these ritual performances have been forced to yield to the demands of entertainment, the ritual being a mere umbilical cord that links the present with the past (94).

The act of masquerading, dance, and music ritual display is a serious endeavor as it is an obvious representation of the people’s worldview. The essence of Western, American, and Asian theatres is a re-enactment of actions. In the same vein, every activity in a typical African festival is either a re-enactment of actions of the past ancestors and gods, or true representations of such actions. The subjugation of the African people by the colonial masters has failed to destroy the fabric of the African theatre form because it is a theatre that transcends the world of the living/mortal and has its root in the supernatural world.

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