Sunday, May 13, 2012

Indeginous African theatre

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Indigenous West African Theatre Pre-colonial

African traditions of professional entertainment date back to ancient times. Storytelling, music, and dance have all played a central role in African culture, because they help preserve history and religious and social customs Traditional drama in Africa combines storytelling, songs, and dances with costumes, masks, mime, and drumming. Another important part of that tradition are traveling entertainers, including griots (poets) and singers who praise tribal leaders and other important figures. Playwrights today draw upon these traditions for dramatic material. Contemporary social issues or political events, such as the struggle for independence or tribal warfare, also supply themes and plots for plays. (I thought this would be good introduction for our section-both groups- I was thinking of doing it).

Presently the Drama in French West Africa has been fostered by French-language academies. In West Africa, theatre artists received their training in public schools and universities fashioned after European models. However various factors have been responsible for the indigenous Pre- colonial West Africa Theatre.

How indigenous West Africans came up with their play

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Class formation and social innovation were very much part of pre-colonial history and were reflected closely in the performing arts. The way in which pre-colonial African societies organized their labour to create the necessities of life was meditated in an initiating way by popular theatre. A good example of this is the Kote-tlon theatre of the Banama people in Mali.

· The Kote-tlon was a group of young Banama comedians. Their plays were based on showing how the system of the “age-grade association” was good for their community.

What was the “age-grade association”? Banama labour teams were organized through age-grade associations known as Ton and were not allowed to marry nor have total freedom until a certain age. The Ton was called Ngonson ton when it acted as a collective agricultural labour force or was used on public work projects initiated by the council of elders; the same group, under the age-set leadership, called Flamekew, operated as an entertainment society, known as Koteba ton, for the production of theatrical performances. These groups through acting showed their frustrations in those “age-grade associations”.

The Kote-tlon portrayed through acting that if there were no “age-group association”, the young men would in return become greedy, unfaithful morons. Such stereotypical problems would reduce the productivity of agricultural, which the community was very dependent on.

The labour exploitation system enforced ate marriages. This resulted in frustactions, which led to their themes of plays to have satire on sexual themes aimed at unfaithful wives, impotent old men and cuckold. This is a typical case of youth venting their sexual frustrations in an inhibited manner.

· A good example of a pre-colonial masquerade, which developed a sophisticated system of satiring caricature, was the Okumpa drama of the Afikpo from Nigeria Cross-river region.

The Okumpa masquerades, like those of Banama, were very related to all-male ancestral cults, controlled by the elders in the Afikapo society. It was particularly the wealthy, titled male elders who displayed their influence over the Okumpa by acting as patrons, for the plays, either through direct support to the performing troupes or by “dashing” the actors during arrangements for the plays. To start with, the timing of the performances (in the dry season after the harvest) was one of the economic adjustments, when prominent farmers wished to show their wealth.

The satires referred to general targets, especially members of alien groups such as Muslims. More often, however they referred to specific individuals in the society. There were two favourites groups of targets women who intruded on the all male privacy of the cult and greedy, selfish or ineffective elders. The stereotypes were backed up by stylising masking, costume and props.

· Another focus of pre-colonial conflict, which performing arts helped to meditate, was that of tension between the chief’s desire for centralized control and commoner’s tendencies to cut themselves off from the royal palace.

Such tension can be seen in the early nineteenth-century state of Benin, where the conflict between the “pure” metropolitan Bini people, loyal to the Autocratic Oba and peripheral Ekpo community of ex-salves was expressed in the performing arts. The rituals of the Bini people centred on the semi-divine Oba who controlled the judiciary, the system of tribute, patronage and the granting of title; the theatrical elements at court constantly reintegrated the Bini people into that power nexus.

Special Effects

Masks in Africa have been part of the early theatrical traditions of both East and West. Masks helped enlarge the actors features for visibility at great distances, and they express basic emotions, such as grief, anger, horror, sadness, or pity. They helped create an altogether different presence for the actor wearing the mask. That presence can be stately, heroic, awesome, or mysterious.

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