About the Text
Text Women of Owu
Writer Femi Osofisan
Publisher University Press Plc
Year of Publication 2006, 2008, 2009
This play was inspired by the reading of Euripides The Trojan Women during the period of Iraqi war
WOMEN OF OWU at a Glance
WOMEN OF OWU re-enacts the bitter and gory historical experiences of the people of the then Owu Kingdom which happened sometimes around 1821. What is shown in this play is the aftermath experiences of war, the defeat and the accompanied sorrow and pangs of the survivors whole are women of nobility and beauty.
ANLUGBUA Former Owu war leader, son of Oba Asunkungbade, ancestral founder of Owu Ipole, now deified as Orisa.
LAWUMI Mother of Oba Asunkungbade, now also deified.
ERELU AFIN Wife of Oba Akinjobi, the reigning Olowu of Owu Iponle.
GESINDE Ijebu soldier, herald and staff officer of the Allied Army.
ORISAYE Half-mad daughter of Erelu, votary of the god Obatala.
ADUMAADAN Widow of Lisabi, grandson of Erelu.
OKUNADE The MAYE, Ife war leader, General of the Allied Forces.
IYUNLOYE Erring wife of the Maye.
CHORUS OF OWU WOMEN
Scene by Scene Summary
The play opens with the sad event of the war that left the Owu City in complete ruin.
Two women sent to fetch water met with an old man who asked to know what city it is that lies in utter ruins, shouldering. The women in response gave the whole account of the devastating war and the brutality the allied forces from Ife, Ijebu and the mercenary soldiers from Ibadan unleashed on the city; how they destroyed every male, both young and old, sparing only the beautiful women and those of the royal line, to keep as booty, especially for the generals.
They feared for the old man and advised him to run for dear life before the soldiers would sight him and waste him as they did to other men of the city. They were shocked when they discovered that the old man is Anlugbua, their ancestral god who also is one of the founders of the city. The women at this revelation raised alarmed and later expressed their disappointment at Anlugbua’s late coming; for they believed if he had come, as they expected any god would to defend his worshippers, the city would had been spared.
Anlugbua told them that the oath he took many years ago when he was departing prevented him from coming to their aid unless either the priests, chiefs or the diviners invoke his spirit as instructed.
The women, in describing the gory attack, gave detailed account of what was responsible for the people’s plight.
Okunade, The Maye led the allied forces under the pretext of rescuing the oppressed Owu people from the despot king, Oba Akinjobi; and for seven years his army camped around the city after failed attempt to penetrate and invade it.
Okunade the notable craftsman had abandoned his trade to train as a soldier and in the process rose in ranks to become the Maye, to avenge his favorite wife, Iyunloye, who was taken captive alongside others, by the Owu soldier when they invaded the Apomu Market.
Owu City was built round with very formidable walls and gate which kept the invaders off.
Unfortunately for the people of the city, there arose a drought in the third year of the siege, which brought about untold hardship, hunger, disease and death among the people. In the face of these suffering, the people did not relent in sacrificing to the gods. The famine had been severe that in the fourth year of the siege, the city gate having being shut away from the invaders, they endured till the seventh years when one day the city woke up to see that their allied forces had left after seven years of futile attempts. They did not know that it was a tactics used to deceive them.
While the city was celebrating the end of the siege, they were shocked seeing their city set ablaze. This forced them to axe down the city gate to escape death. They soldiers who hid in the forest came out at once and unleashed terror on the people.
Those who attempted to counter has lesser weapons to fight back as they had only their cutlasses and incantations as against the formidable guns the forces acquired in the course of trading with the Europeans on coast of Lagos.
A night prior this attack, Oba Adejobi with some of his chiefs had escaped from the city through some of the secret exit routes.
In the process, the sacred places were desecrated as the armies killed both men and women who ran there to seek refuge.
Anlugbua and the women parted, both to nurse their pains: Anlugbua to mourn the loss of a dear city and worshippers; the women the loss of their beloved ones and the bitter experience of slavery.
The air is pervaded with the lamentation of the women as they mourn their losses. The marauding allied forces had finally turned the once-flourishing city of Owu Iponle, which they besieged for seven year, into a ‘relic of history.’
Erelu Afin, the queen of Oba Adejobi, sprawled on the ground, mourning. Her eyes already have grown weary of shedding tears but now full o0f talk as she counted her losses and the fate that is yet to befall her.
Other women who are as well victims of the war, who seemed to have accepted the whole as their fate, made every attempt to placate her to also take courage since the loss is irreversible. They took turn to tell her that they were all witnesses of all the ills that befell her, that the memory of the horrible death of the princes as well as the rape of the princesses stuck still to them. They also reminded her that they too lost things of greater values to the war.
During the invasion, all the five princes who are sons of Erelu Afin were slaughtered in the full glare of other helpless survivors. The same soldiers also raped the princesses who ‘were engaged already to be married to kings’.
The women in their sorrow cursed the soldiers who wrought the terrible acts in their city while they attempted to go back to their homes. They made a pronouncement that they would be afflicted and would not get back to their motherlands.
While in their lamentation, the women made reference to The Apomu Market which was the supposed root cause of their doom. Apomu Market was notable for its uncommon merchandise and thus had attracted people from different lands to do their trading. There they trade in prized goods such as gold, silk, ivory and slaves. This market had since been in contention between the people of Owu Iponle, the Ife and the Ijebu.
Some years before the war, the Owu forcefully took control of the market forcefully from the Ife, killing their traders and also attacked the Ijebu traders whom they felt are threat to them. The Owu soldiers looted the stalls of the Ijebu traders, killed many of them and sold others as slaves.
Erelu Afin then observed that the soldiers as they put out the fire and started packing their loot with the readiness to embark of their journey home. So she called the attention of the women to this. They all realized at this point that it was pointless to contest their fate as each of them would be shared out among the soldier also as booty. Then the two women who met Anlugbua arrived with the news.
The news of the coming of Anlugbua, their ancestral father was welcome with much delight and they immediately braced up, calling on other women who already had reclined behind in their hiding places to join them to confront the soldier. The coming of Anlugbua suggested the intervention of the gods.
The women were soon disappointed when they got the whole news that Anlugbau himself conceded to defeat and had returned back to heaven as a helpless victim.
Hearing this disheartening tale, they were encouraged themselves to be prepared for a life in slavery. So they danced on to the dirge the chorus raised.
Lawumi appeared to Anlugbua you still remained at the spot where he appeared to the two women of Owu brooding over the destruction of beloved his city. He made to move away from Lawunmi who he knew was responsible for the act. Lawumi did not deny but persuaded Anlugbua to wait to hear her reason for allowing it. The meeting finally turned into a historical discourse over what was responsible for the fall of the Owu Kingdom.
Lawumi explained that she incited and edged the allied forces on to perpetuate the destructive war because of Owu Iponle’s arrogance against her and Ife which was the origin of the city of Owu. She went into the account of the sins of the Owu in the past how they started the fire: Owu’s early attack on Ife and Ijebu traders at the Apomu Market.
Owu Iponle held the belief that they were the superior kingdom amongst all the seven Yoruba kingdoms. That was one of the allegations Lawumi leveled against them.
Owu, though founded by Oba Asunkungbade, was founded on the help and blessings of Ife. Asunkungbade was then a priest who married Lawunmi, an Ife princess; and for this Lawunmi’s father agreed to crown him king. Thus Owu Iponle became one of the seven kingdoms of Yoruba.
Owu prospered in the couse of time and became a very formidable city and was very prosperous. One of the reasons for Owu’s prosperity was the slave trade. It was an act that violated the law Sango amongst all the Yoruba kingdoms. Sango had decreed that no Yoruma should sell other Yoruba into slavery. Thus, Ife attacked Owu at the Apomu Market which served the Owu Kingdom as her slave market. It was the source of Owu Iponle’s prosperity.
Owu sent his army against Ife and raised it down, reducing it to dust to retaliate the earlier Ife attack.
These are the details Lawumi gave for the dreadful attack the allied forces made on the city of Owu Iponle. She also was determined to punish the allied forces because of their disregards for not sparing those who ran into her groove for refuge and for desecrating the sacred places as well as defiling Orisaye who was Obatala’s vestal votary.
For thes she persuaded Anlugbua to team up with her in meting out the punishment. She informed him that Esu, Orisa Oko and Ogun had already promised to lend helping hands too.
Gesinde, an Ijebu officer and the herald to the allied forces came just as the women had anticipated to relay the decision of te generals to Erelu Afin. Gesinde had since been known to the Owu Kingdom being the one who had served as the go-between who took the generals’ messages to the Owu from the day the kingdom was besieged.
Seeing him, Erelu knew he had not come with good news. As far as her memory could recall, she cannot point to a particular time he had borne a single good tiding. So she asked him to relay his order. Gesinde’s order was simple: the women should prepare because they would soon be shared out to their ‘future masters’. He was furious when a woman asked if the sharing would be ‘separately or together’. By this response he confirmed their fear that there would be no preference for none of them no matter the status. He added that he would be taking Orisaye to Balogun Kusa who had requested that she should be added to his harem.
Balogun Kusa did ask for Orisaye because he realised she was a virgin, having been betrothed to Obatala, the god of purity and creativity, since birth.
When she could no longer protest what the generals had decided about her daughter Orisaye, Erelu asked him what their decision is about Adeoti, another daughter of hers. Gesinde hesitated at first, finding it her to tell but when he found his tongue said Adeoti had been sent to a place ‘where pain can no longer reach her’. Although Erelu could not decipher the whole truth of her daughter’s whereabouts, she knew this officer was hiding something important from her.
She further probed what was decided for Kesobo, whose husband, Sakula, died while defending the city, and Iyunloye who was the actual cause of the war.
As for Keosbo, she would be given to Otunba Lekki, the general who killed her husband. Iyunloye’s fate would be announced at a later time at the arrival of Maye Okunade, Iyunade’s wronged husband. He added that Okunade would soon be with them.
Erelu persisted at least she needed to know that had been determined for her. To her utter dismay, it was Balogun Derin who asked that she be allocated to him. She lamented what her fate would be in the house of the man she knew as a dog and a double-dealing liar.
Having heard all and no mention of their case was hinted, a woman in the chorus enquired what the generals decided. She was hushed and told that commoners like them would be visited after the fate of the royal line is sorted out.
Gesinde then ordered one of the soldiers who were waiting on him to fetch Orisaye whom her new master had asked to be brought to his camp immediately. He was stopped at the sight of fire and warned the women against any attempt to commit suicide.
Erelu seeing how Gesinde jittered scolded him for being frightened at the sight of Orisaye running around with a torch. She explained that such display was the impact of shock she experienced through the war that ravaged the city.
Orisaye, who was deranged, emerged with the torch in her hand and pleaded that no one should take it away but should get his instead. She already knew what the generals decided and so began to tell them what the torch was meant for. She knelt before her mother to ask to stop crying for her and beg for the mother’s blessing.
In her ranting she declared what fate awaited her prospective husband and her own end. Her ranting which she claimed are revelations shown to her by Obatala was dismissed as incoherent babbling and futile prophecies on unsound lips.
Gesinde at last began to deride the prophecy, imagining how Balogun Kusa who was revered and feared from Nupe Kingdom down to the Dahomey Kingdom could be smitten by a mad woman; and wonder how the general could stoop to ask for a lady who is known to all as unsound mind when there was a bee-hive of beautiful ladies would be glad to marry him.
As he made to take Orisaye away, he notify Erelu that it would soon be her turn soon as Balogun Derin is ready to set out. Orisaye was furious at the news of her mother becoming a slave to Balogun Derin’s wife as declared by Gesinde. She cursed Gesinde for uttering such bad statement. She announced to him that her mother would die on Owu’s soil rather than being taken away as a slave. Gesinde asked her how Erelu would die since he was ready to prevent anyone attempting suicide. Orisaye in her right chose to keep her response as a secret not meant for the ears of an enemy.
Instead she declared that Balogun Derin whose homeland was just three weeks away from Owu would wander for seventeen years in suffering, anguish and fighting without respite before reaching it.
Orisaye danced as she was being led away. Erelu, unable to bear this, fainted. The women rushed to help her. When she came to, she was mad with them for rescuing her from the claws of death; and rebuked the woman who suggested they call on the gods for help. She shifted the blame of it all on the gods for being silent in times like this.
They remembered what state they were in the previous day, that is, a day before the annihilation; how the whole streets of Owu were thrown into jubilation when they thought the invaders had left the city gates, seeing they all had deserted their camps, no smoke, or movement was perceived and no horse in sight. This departure of the allied forces marked the beginning of a new life for the city besieged for seven years.
What the people of Owu thought was the end of famine and travailed soon became a bloodbath. First, arrows bearing torches were fired into the city. The thatches of the roofs caught fire. In a twinkling of an eye, the whole city was on fire and everyone began to scurry for safety. There was chaos in the streets because there were no more places to hide. Smoke from the balls of fire engulfed every corner of the city of Owu. People headed straight for the gates in blind daze. In panic, the gates were hacked down. It was too late for them to realize they had been deceived. The enemies who had gone to hide in the surrounding forest began to troop out and open fire on the helpless victims whose best weapons were only cutlasses and incantations.
This gruesome massacre was blamed on the gods who had reclined at the time the city needed them the most for defense and deliverance but let them face extermination helplessly.
The women hinted at what the Owu priests told them when the siege was on: that Owu’s fate was the handiwork of Lawumi. Rather than just accepting their plight in good faith, the women decided to rain curses on the soldiers.
The actions to be taken lingered till the dawn of another day as the women are awaited the order of their new master who would take them away. They still are in mourning as they raised their dirge. The delay was owing to the misunderstanding that ensued among the generals over the sharing of the loots. Just then they observed an approaching figure. It was Adumaadan, the widow of Prince Lisabi, with her son, Aderogun, strapped to her back.
Adumaadan had asked her new master to allow her fetch whatever belongings she could in the rubble.
Erelu Afin’s agony surged up again by the memory of the loss of her child which is responsible for Adumaadan’s fate. Rather than looking her mother-in-law with pity, Adumaadan fired back at her for the role she played in aiding the hand of destruction on the city.
Many years ago, when Dejumo was born, the gods decreed he be killed because he was destined to bring destruction on the city of Owu. Because Erelu would not allow it, child was spared. Erelu became very protective knowing what she had done to preserve her child’s life. It was because of this that Adumaadan had held on to the belief that if it was only Dejumo she loved amongst her son. Having lost her husband to the war, she held Erelu responsible for her loss.
When he grew up, Dejumo was the one who took Iyunloye to wife when she was brought in among those captives taken from Apomu Market. Iyunloye was then the wife of Okunade, the notable craft man who had turned the Maye. It was because of her Okunade came to take revenge against Dejumo who took his wife after he finally learnt where Iyunade was taken to.
Erelu reminded Adumaadan that she only lost a husband, but she lost her husband, her five sons and a daughter safe, believing she still had Orisaye and Adeoti only to be told Adeoti was slaughtered during the onslaught. Adumaadan to her she found her dead at the entrance of the shrine of the goddess Lawunmi. Then Erelu realized what Gesinde meant when her said Adeoti had been sent to a place where pain can no longer reach her. While she mourn for her daughter, she thanked Adumaadan for the kindness she should her daughter in closing her eyes and pouring sand on her which was the last respect given to the dead.
Adumaadan considered Adeoti lucky because death had freed her from such terrible fate the survivors would have to experience. She pitied herself the most for being completely hopeless. She blamed her devotion to her late husband which she considered was what opened her up for the reason for being picked by her new man. For this Erelu cautioned her and encouraged her to learn to cope with the new life since she still had the boy. For as long as the boy lived, the kingdom was not wiped out.
While saying this, Gesinde, whom Erelu addressed as ‘man of misfortune’, came in to announce to them what new order the generals had given that the boy should be killed. Balogun Derin warned the allied forces that as long as the boy lived, their own future is not safe is they spare a single heir to the Owu throne.
Having warned the women not to resist, Adumaadan gave up the child and requested she hold him to her bosom for some moment before she finally surrendered him to be killed. Since it was a taboo to shoot a baby, the instruction was that its head must be bashed against the tree to crush its skull.
As the boy was being taken away, the women raised a dirge to mourn the ‘last hope of the land and last lamp that is about to be extinguished’. Not long after the dirge was raised, Maye Okunade emerged with a detail of armed soldiers. He ordered that there be silent and announced to them that he had come to decide the fate of Iyunloye having had his rival Prince Adejumo killed through the hand of one of the lower ranked soldiers. He had concluded she would be killed but how and where are what he had not finalized. He ordered two of his detail to bring Iyunloye out dragging her with hair from amongst the women. I wanted to hear her screaming for mercy.
Erelu on hearing this was please beyond measure and felt vindicated by the gods for the first time. She told Okunade he would have her blessings if he killed her. Her request startled him, and he asked if she ever knew him. Erelu introduced herself, telling how she was connected in the whole episode. She warned Okunade ahead of time not to look Iyunade in the eye because that could call up the affecting he thought had died in him years back.
Just as she said, Iyunade cunningly got him to listen to her side of the story. All she could do to keep Okunade’s memory was to continue with the making of adire cloth and named it after him as Faari Okunade. She countered that all her effort to escape from the kingdom were aborted discarding the evidences Erelu gave against her.
Okunade asked his men to take Iyunloye away to his tent to ride in his caravan as she would be stoned by the women of Ife who joined in the search with their husband and lost them in the process.
Though Erelu could not contest Maye Okunade’s finally decision but advised him to let Iyunade ride in a different caravan to avoid being won over and the hand of justice averted. Okunade left for his caravan and Iyunade was also led off. At this victory, Erelu raised a song of victory.
While the women rejoiced, Gesinde comes in to deliver the baby’s corpse alongside with Adumaadan’s last wish for her baby’s burial. He relayed to them the current state of things at the generals’ camps. Orisaye’s prophecies had started to find fulfillment. Otunba Lekki left in a hurry because he received a message that war had broken out back at home and his father’s throne had been seized.
After according the baby the honour, some women took it away to be buried. They observed a fresh fire burning in the palace. Gesinde came in the same moment and explained that they were instructed to be razed down whatever might still be standing. He told them that very soon, the horn would be blown which would suggest they all have to march along to the caravans with their captors to their new destinations.
Then Erelu announced to the women that it was to say goodbye but the chorus leader reminded her she owed the departed souls one last duty being ‘the mother of the city and the only mouth left to speak to the ancestors’. After much persuasion, she agreed to take up the responsibility. The women asked Gesinde and other soldiers to excuse them and would join the caravan a moment after since the ritual must not be done in the presence of a stranger. Gesinde agreed, instructed them to be brief and left.
The women raised the song of invocation, broke into two columns of choruses dancing around Erelu. Erelu and the chorus leaders soon were conducted into a trance. As the incantatory chant got to the climax Erelu was possessed by the spirit of Anlugbua. The same moment Anlugbua himself appeared at the scene, watching. Erelu voice changed as she responded to the chant declaring the mind and the position of the gods and what had been determined aginst the land and the survivors before he finally departed.
Erelu screamed as the spirit of Anlugbua left her and she collapsed. It took the women a while before they realized she was dead.
Anlugbua who stood on the other side then responded, making his comment on the effect of war on both the living and the gods. He promised to see to it that Owu rises again, though not on the same site where it was and not as a single city again just as Lawumi would not allow it to be so, but as little communities elsewhere within the cities of Yorubaland; which was ‘the only atonement that can be made against ceaseless volition of self-destruction’.