A Study of Festival Theatre to Flekstival Theatre: Emuodje Flekstival of Ekakpamre in Southern Nigeria as a Paradigm.

Author:Okpadah, Stephen Ogheneruro


There are metaphysical forces that control the affairs of the living as well as dictate and determine the existence of humanity. Covenants and oaths, form the nucleus for the continuous relationship of goodwill between these supernatural forces and the living. The regeneration, rejuvenation and renewal of the pacts, oaths and covenants between the living and the supernatural beings, is manifested with the medium of festivals. Festivals therefore, act as a bridge-a nexus between gods and the society. Furthermore, festival is a medium through which the historical is made known, regenerated and rejuvenated.

African societies are delineated with their cultural practices. These cultural practices encompass their mode of dressing, the language with which communication is effected, the kind of food they eat, the system of governance, and so on. Beyond the socio-cultural, political and the economic gamut, is the spiritual plane. The spiritual facet does not only control the other planes, it is also manifested in festivals. Festival has the cultural constituents of a people, manifested in it, hence, festival is found in culture as much as culture is found in festivals. The implication of the above assertion is that festival is predicated on the culture of a people. Most festivals in African societies are rich in ritual aesthetics. Thus, AbdulRasheed Adeoye articulates that "these ritual festivals are based on the remembrance of some heroes, their deeds and events of immense significance" (112).

The ritualisation, deification and mystification of the heroic figures being remembered and celebrated, forms the authenticity of traditional African festivals. The originality of traditional African festival, is not far-fetched from the fact that, it is an event created for the communion and reunion between the living and their ancestors and also, it is a periodic occasion, for the meeting of gods and mortals. In fact, rituals nay, the sacred, form the nucleus of traditional African festivals. However, in recent times, the sacred constituents of these festivals have been watered down, and it becomes difficult to decipher the core of the festival from mere entertainment. Hence, the secular components in recent times, have become pivotal in traditional African festivals. Consequently, this study, argues that ritual festivals in Nigerian, have-to a great extent, lost the ritual potency for which they originated. I further explore transition from festival theatre, to flekstival theatre, using Emuodje flekstival of Ekakpamre people of Southern Nigeria, as a paradigm.

A Conceptual Clarification on Flekstival

Flekstival is a portmanteau word for "Fleks" and "Tival" (culled from festival. Fleks is a slang in Nigeria and some parts in Africa, and it means enjoy, have fun, amusement or delight in. My concept and notion of flekstival is the secularisation of traditional African festivals. In recent times, the sacred constituents of these festivals have been watered down, that it is difficult to decipher the core of the festival from mere entertainment value. Festival becomes flekstival, when there is a transition, nay, a transformation from its sacred value, to the secular.

A Retrospect on Festival theatre in Nigeria

The manifestation of festivals in Nigerian cum African traditional societies is an indicator of the uniquely laden culture inherent in these societies. In fact, in Africa, there is hardly a society without one form of festival, or the other. This is exemplified in Egungun culture and tradition expressed in Egungun festival. Moreso, some major festivals inherent in Nigeria, are Oyise-Owhe Festival in Owhe, Isoko land, Alapata masquerade festival in Osun state, Osun-Osogbo, Ogun, Sango and Obatala festivals in Yoruba land, Oramfe festival in Ondo town, Obalogun festival in Iloko, "Oromo festival in Ethiopia" (Dugo, 51), among others. These festivals are a re-enactment of significant occurrences and feats in a particular culture. While "the annual Egungun festival is connected with the remembrance of departed ancestors, Obalogun festival is celebrated in honour of Obalogun, a great warrior and a deified hero" (Vidal, 234).

The foregoing portends that festivals are a salutation, a commemoration a documentation and the historification of the past as Adeoye (79) also submits that "ritual festivals are based on the remembrance of some heroes, their deeds and events of immense significance". In other words, festivals are socio-historical constructs. They are a basic constituent of the culture of a people. Explicitly, they are an expression of the culture of a people. Hence, citing Jas Amankulor, Anigala (17) defines festival as "a periodic or occasional celebration, merry-making or feast day of special significance in the cultural calendar of the celebrants". Festival is a periodic event. Every festival is periodic. There is a specific time of the year set aside for every festival. It could be on annual basis in the case of Emuodje festival, once in three years or once in every five years in the case of Oyise-Owhe festival of the Owhe people in Isoko land. Festivals conform to the cultural calendar of a people. Every festival involves celebrants. They are usually the community people. "The festival which may involve one or more activities is an occasion for general merriment or rejoicing. During most festivals, the celebrants usually throw their door open to entertain visitors and neighbours, as a sign of friendship and goodwill" (Anigala, 17). In the metaphysical plane, the celebrants are the spirit beings. The spirit characters that are being celebrated, join in the celebration, as it is believed that festivals facilitate a communion between the living and the living dead in course of the celebration and merry-making.

Festivals are also celebrated, either to appease, pacify the metaphysical beings or to remember a heroic deed such as Sango, Ogun, Osun, Ifa, Yemoja, Emuodje and Ijakadi festivals respectively. Here in lies the ritualistic facet of traditional African festivals. Noting the point of divergence between the western and African traditional theatre modes, Enekwe (152) notes that "while the mainstream European theatre is syllogistic in form, the Asian and African theatres are ritualistic". Specifically, most traditional African festivals and festival theatres are ritual laden. In fact, ritual forms the nucleus of most festivals. Hence, Omatsola (371) articulates the presence of ritual in his study of Umale-Ude (leg rattle masquerade) masquerade festival. He states that "dance is also a ritual drama and theatre". Indigenous Nigerian festivals are embodiment of rituals, these rituals most times serve as a means of salutation to the spirit beings. "Man as a material being in a material world, fears what we perceives as immaterial, for it cannot be contained or dominated. This defensive impulse is to concretise, to make the invisible visible, the infinite finite, and the superhuman human" (Horn, 183).

Ritual festivals therefore, make the invisibles, visible. These rituals are expressed artistically. In the display of the ritualistic, the theatrical abounds. In fact, drama is located in the rituals performed. Traditional African Festivals are a display of various arts as Rotimi (77) corroborates that "ritual displays that reveal in their style of presentation, in their purpose, and value, evidences of imitation, enlightenment and or...

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