Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

The Agony and the Ecstasy: Sierra Leonean Dramatists' Confrontation with the Sierra Leonean Landscape

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

The Agony and the Ecstasy: Sierra Leonean Dramatists' Confrontation with the Sierra Leonean Landscape

Article excerpt

THE TREMENDOUS TRANSFORMATION in the Sierra Leonean literary and cultural scene in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s was largely due to the rise of plays in the vernacular written by a group of young indigenous dramatists who wished to change not only the nature of the local theatre but also that of the theatre audience. Dramatists such as Dele Charley, John Kolosa Kargbo, Clifford Garber, and Akmid Bakarr formed indigenous drama groups that were quite different from the British-oriented ones that had preceded in Freetown, introduced professionalism to the Sierra Leonean stage, and, in plays in Krio such as Charley's Titi shine shine (1968), Kargbo's Poyo Togn Wahala (1979), and Bakarr's Sugar Daddy Nar Case (1983), produced works that packed the Sierra Leonean theatre and with which the ordinary citizen could identify.1 A major shift thus took place in the nation's cultural scene. However, brilliant though some of these plays were, they could not readily find publishers, mainly because there were hardly any willing to take tiie risk of publishing plays written in the vernacular. Such publications would have found an extremely limited audience. Some of these dramatists, however, also wrote remarkable plays in English that were received with great acclaim by Sierra Leonean audiences and even beyond, but still found no publisher. Dele Charley's Blood of a Stranger, for instance, was the Sierra Leonean entry to FE ST AC, the African Festival of the Arts held in Lagos in 1977, and it was rapturously received in that magnificent Nigerian national theatre building. Scholars wanting to study and teach these plays were therefore severely handicapped. It was thus with great enthusiasm that one saw the recent publication of five of the most popular and most important of these plays in English edited by Iyunolu Osagie.2 This essay will attempt a detailed study of these five plays by Dele Charley, John Kolosa Kargbo, Julius Spencer, Tonie French, and Mohamed Sheriff.

Let me Die Alone is a powerful tragedy by the late John Kolosa Kargbo, who was arguably the most important and, certainly, one of the most prolific of the younger generation of Sierra Leonean dramatists. Most of his extremely well-crafted plays were written in the vernacular, Krio, and warmly received when staged in Freetown. They were popular precisely because they addressed some of the fundamental ills that seemed to be endemic to Sierra Leonean society. Drama, of course, has a way of bringing home to the people, in a very direct way denied to the novel and even to poetry, the inimical and inequitable nature of the environment in which they live, and Kargbo's plays did just that. Poyo Togn Wahala, in particular, brilliantly demonstrated the corruption, incompetence, and indifference of the ruling elite. Because of this, Kargbo incurred the wrath of the government of the day, and he was forced to go into exile in Nigeria, where he continued to expand his education in the field of drama and exploit those aspects of the media that he could. Let Me Die Alone is one of the few plays he wrote in English and, like the others staged in Sierra Leone, it was warmly received. Even if one disregarded the achievement of the plays written in the vernacular, this play alone would be sufficient to propel John Kolosa Kargbo to the front rank of African dramatists. Demonstrating that he could flawlessly deploy the resources of the English language to maximum effect and yet, like Achebe and Soyinka, introduce ingredients from the indigenous Mende language and thus create a genuine African environment, Kargbo gathers up in this play most of the concerns that have been at the heart of modem African drama: the conflict between a proud traditional society and a haughty and even contemptuous alien civilization bent on imposing its will; the conflicts and struggles within that traditional society itself as various elements jockey and bargain for power and dominance; the responsibilities of rulership and the qualities needed for the successful exer- cise of the same; the limits of human authority; the battle of the sexes and conflict between genders in a rapidly changing society; and the importance of traditional dancing and singing as well as traditional beliefs, both to the themes and to the nature of the environment as a whole. …

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