PRAGMATIC ACTS IN SELECTED CULTURE-BASED PLAYS OF AHMED YERIMA
Culture is central to Ahmed Yerima‟s dramaturgy, and his culture-based dramatic texts largely project the cultural values of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, namely, Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. Existing linguistic studies on Yerima‟s plays have concentrated on the use of proverbs and politeness features, ignoring an in- depth pragmatic study of their cultural contexts. This study, therefore, undertakes an investigation of culture-motivated pragmatic acts (practs) and contextual features of language use in the espousal of cultural issues in the selected plays of Yerima, with a view to establishing their cultural relevance.
The study adopts Jacob Mey‟s theory of pragmeme, which accounts for context-ingrained utterances within social and cultural bounds. Six plays of Yerima‟s cutting across the cultural practices of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria were purposively selected: Mu’adhin’s Call and Attahiru (Hausa culture), Mojagbe and Ajagunmale (Yoruba culture), Idemili and Akuabata (Igbo culture). Eight hundred and twenty-eight culture-based conversations in the plays were purposively selected from the texts: Mu’adhin’s Call -128; Attahiru- 122, Idemili-112, Akuabata-119, Mojagbe-182, and Ajagunmale-175. Data were subjected to pragmatic analysis.
Eighteen practs and allopracts occur in the selected texts: explaining, informing, warning/cautioning, accusing, rebuking, persuading, insisting, assuring, praising, appealing, declaring, pleading, advising, condemning, inviting, confessing, invoking and lamenting. These are situated in three types of contexts: communal, traditional and emotive, to espouse different cultural issues in the play. Four main common ground features characterise the data: shared cultural knowledge, shared situational knowledge, reference and voice, indexed by metaphors and proverbs. Eight of the practs and allopracts cut across the six plays sampled, namely, explaining, assuring, informing, warning/cautioning, accusing, rebuking, persuading and praising. Ten practs occur exclusively in particular texts: two in Mojagbe: invoking which addresses the Yoruba concepts of immortality, death and reincarnation, within the traditional context; and lamenting which topicalises the Yoruba expression of grief in emotive context; two in Ajagunmale: pleading, which handles morality; and insisting, which deals with the subject of punishment in traditional context. Three are found in Mu’adhin’s Call: confessing, declaring and condemning which topicalise the Hausa concept of royalty in traditional context; one in Attahiru: advising, which addresses the Hausa philosophy of valiancy within traditional context. One is noticed in Akuabata: appealing, treating social crisis and patience in traditional Igbo context; and one in Idemili: inviting, which handles the Igbo concept of familial bonding, situated in emotive context. Overall, in Mojagbe and Ajagunmale, practs orient largely to Yoruba cultural predeterminism and communalistic checks and balances; in Ma’adhin’s Call and Attahiru, the language generally practs Hausa cultural directness; and in Akuabata and Idemili, utterances express the Igbo cultural accommodation and filial attachment.
Ahmed Yerima engages language within emotive, communal and traditional contexts in practing culture-constrained acts, which border on particular cultural practices of the Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. Thus, there is a motivated relationship between his pragmatic engagements and major Nigerian cultures.
Key words: Ahmed Yerima, Pragmatic acts, Culture-based plays
Word count: 475
Background to the study
Scholars‟ observations have shown culture as that complex whole, which includes knowledge, belief, art, moral, law, custom and any other capability and habit acquired by man as a member of society (cf. Williams, 1963, Bennet, 1998, Bhabha, 2002; Odebunmi, 2006 etc). Every society has its own culture, and it is the society‟s culture that specifies the way of life of that society. Thus, the value of culture in the society is marked. However, as significant as culture is in a society, it cannot express itself except through language. Hence, Odebunmi (2006) submits that there is an intricate relationship between language and culture. This relationship, according to Odebunmi, is exhibited in terms of language being a part of culture, and yet being its vehicle. Consequently, each culture is recognized with its own language and the specific language expresses that specific culture. Also, common to cultures are stories and myths specific to various communities. These form aspects of the oral tradition of each community and thus become part of the culture of that society. Eventually, these stories become rich sources of materials for African literary writers who re-create the stories to project African tradition and culture relative to the writer‟s worldview.
In this sense, Osunbade‟s (2010:1) observation that literature or a literary text reflects and embodies the way of life of a people is established. This is in line with Kehinde‟s (2005:88) opinion that for any literary work to merit any meaningful consideration, it is necessary that it bears relevance, explicitly or implicitly, to the social milieu in which it is set. Invariably, literature reflects the way of life of a particular set of people. The prosaic and the dramatic genre of literature are noted to have immensely benefitted from culture as writers in this category create stories with cultural historical links to effect change and development in their present society. As Yerima (2007) observes, cultural historical links are useful in the re-creation of historical anomalies, perfection of political events and correction of moral and social malice. With this belief, based on the culture and traditions of the three major culture groups in Nigeria (Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba), Ahmed Yerima creates stories that project and protect the cultures of
these groups. Such are Attahiru, The Limam, Mu’adhin’s Call, Idemili, The Trials of Oba Ovonmramwen, Otaelo, Aetu, Ade Ire, Yemoja and others.
Of interest is the use of language in Yerima‟s culture- based plays. According to Fowler (1996:3), the novelist‟s medium is the language, as through the use of language, we are exposed to the society‟s cultural heritage indicating the fact of Fowler‟s (1996) opinion that the meanings of words in a language are the community store of established knowledge. Invariably, Fowler‟s submission suggests that the language of a society (as depicted in proverbs, figurative use of words, wise sayings), are representatives of the society‟s cultural heritage; a knowledge shared by all the members of the community. In general term, language is considered as a guide to social reality as it powerfully conditions all our thinking about social problems and processes. Language use in drama texts, consequently, becomes a significant means for literary expressions, thus justifying Boulton‟s (1980) suggestion that literature is the art that uses language and offers a corpus for language study in the written mode. Subsequently, scholars have been interested in such issues as the examination of the language used by authors to express their intentions and how they are achieved in drama texts. In certain instances, author‟s intentions are implicit as there is no use of language to indicate such, except for a “deep look” (in the words of Mey, 2001), at the conversational context (based on socio- cultural knowledge “sck”) to appropriately determine the intention of the writer.
The intention of the author, in this instance, is the “pragmatic act” or “pract”. According to Odebunmi (2006: 157), a pragmatic act is performed when we communicate implicitly. Observation reveals that Ahmed Yerima largely does this in his culture-based plays through the cultural tools of religion, ethics, codes and conduct, habits, customs, proverbs, figurative use of words, wise- sayings and so on, thus making the plays areas of interests to scholars. However, existing studies have shown that very little has been done in this direction in linguistic scholarship. Through Jacob Mey‟s theory of pregmeme, therefore, this study carries out a pragmatic investigation of culture-motivated pragmatic acts and contextual features of language use in the espousal of cultural issues in selected culture-based plays of Yerima namely: Ajagunmale, Mojagbe, Idemili, Akuabata, Mu’adhin’s Call, and Attahiru.
Statement of the problem
Existing studies have shown that while literary works abound on the works of Ahmed Yerima, very little have been done in this direction in linguistic scholarship. A glean shows that from the literary stance, Adeoti (2002) examines the demonstration of identity, difference and indices of multiculturalism, in the expression of democratic imperative in Ahmed Yerima‟s the Silent Gods and observes that the play formulates some responses to the nagging problems of identity and difference in the quest for democratic governance in Nigeria. Adeoti (2007) studies Yerima‟s perspectives in some of his plays, and reveals that Yerima‟s concerns in his plays relate to issues on culture, ideology, politics and power. Adekoya (2007) examines the issue of ritual drama in Yemoja. He submits that elements of ritual drama such as character, action, plot, language, praise poetry, incantation and so on enrich Yemoja in creating a festive mood thus giving the play its gorgeous atmosphere of traditional festival that is both celebratory of life in all its multifariousness.
From the linguistic angle, Odebunmi (2006) examines proverbs in Yerima‟s plays from the pragmatic angle and Arua‟s (2007) is an examination of politeness features in the interaction of characters in Yerima‟s Yemoja. The fact is that there is a dearth of work on the extensive pragmatic investigation of Yerima‟s culture-based plays, and to the best of our knowledge, it is rare to find a work that attempts an in-depth examination of utilization of pragmatic tools in espousing African cultural experiences in Ahmed Yerima‟s selected culture-based plays despite Yerima‟s employment of language as communication tools within culturally defined contexts, especially with respect to on-going events in his society. The present study, therefore, hopes to fill this vacuum.
This study sets out to answer the following questions:
(1) what culture-motivated pragmatic acts and allopracts are performed in the selected texts?
(2) in what contexts are the practs found?
(3) what are the contextual features that characterize the practs?
(4) what issues do the practs address?
(5) which practs are peculiar to each of the cultures?
Aim and objectives of the study
The study sets out to examine culture-motivated pragmatic acts in Ahmed Yerima‟s selected culture-based plays. The objectives are:
(i) to locate the pragmatic acts performed in different contexts in the plays.
(ii) to identify the issues that necessitate particular pragmatic acts in the plays.
(iii) to determine the contextual features that express particular practs.
(iv) to examine how the conversational contexts of the practs that emerge in the plays relate to Yerima‟s thematic concerns in specific plays.
Significance of the study
The study will enhance an understanding of Yerima‟s culture-based plays by establishing a link between the plays and culture through a rigorous application of the theory of pragmeme. Also, judging from the fact that concentrations of studies on Ahmed Yerima‟s plays have been from the literary perspective, this study is a significant contribution to existing linguistic works, especially, considering its in-depth pragmatic explorations.
Moreover, as a cross-cultural study, it identifies and comparatively examines the particular pragmatic acts that are employed to relate to issues in the three main cultures in Nigeria based on context. Through this, one can ascribe peculiar pract to specific culture and identify the specific contextual features employed in specific culture to perform certain practs in given contexts. As such, the language used to express situations in the cultures is exposed giving us the opportunity to examine their similarities and differences. Also, the study contributes to knowledge, especially, on in-depth pragmatic explorations of culture-specific pragmatic acts in Yerima‟s culture-based plays and contextual features used to realize them.
Brief notes on Ahmed Yerima
Through our interaction with Ahmed Yerima, we got the following information. Yerima was born on the 8th of May, 1957 in Lagos. He attended St. Bernadette private School and Baptist Academy, Lagos. He did his certificate course in Drama and Bachelor of Arts at the
University of Ife where he graduated in 1981. He then moved to the University College, Cardiff in 1982 for his postgraduate Diploma in Theatre Arts. He was at the Royal Hallway College, University of London between 1982 and 1986 where he did an M Phil/Ph D in Theater Studies and Dramatic Criticism. Yerima specializes in playwriting and acting and these came as no surprise since he started writing in his secondary school days. He wrote his first play “The Man’s Daughter” while in form three. The production of “The Man’s Daughter” prompted Yerima to set up his own drama group called The Georgian and Victorian Drama Group.
Ahmed Yerima‟s formal training in theatre arts started with Professor Wole Soyinka. He also learnt a lot from Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, Laide Adewale, Kola Oyewo, Toun Oni, Peter Fatomilola and Gboyega Ajayi who were his senior colleagues. His association with the crop of talents mentioned above really enhanced his career in theatre, because as members of the University of Ife Theatre Company then, they are roundly experienced and accommodating. According to Yerima, Soyinka exposed him to dramatic criticism, satire and iconoclasm. Through Soyinka, he learnt that the playwright is relevant only when he contributes to changes within his society. This then forms the basis of his focus. Yerima thus sees the playwright in two capacities: the playwright as man and the playwright as God. As man, the playwright creates stories around his society with human thoughts, but as God, the playwright is omniscient and omnipresent. He sees everything and re-creates that all may be well. In the bid to be relevant to the society therefore, Yerima makes “man” the focus of his stories.
Yerima also sees man in the society as being central to things. According to him, man is complex and he has issues; these make him a two- face thing. A good playwright, therefore, creates his stories around man and the society. To Yerima, the society is a kind of a multi-culture thing. Using Nigeria as an example, he reveals that the country‟s official language is English but there exist the ethnic or local languages based on cultural segregation- Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. These local languages are formed by the elements and images inherent in the culture of the tribe.
Furthermore, Yerima believes in the cultural context of a story. To establish these cultural contexts, however, there is the need for historical links since it significantly set up the thematic preoccupation of a writer who in creating stories just passes comments on the people and situations around him. He, therefore sees himself as a storyteller who goes to the village square to tell his story under the moonlight to the delight of his listeners. The story teller never
offends anyone, he goes home and everybody claps. As such, Yerima‟s thematic preoccupations in his plays have always bothered around humans, their ways of life (culture) and what they worship (religion).
To achieve these, Yerima employs cultural historical tools, one of which is proverbs. He sees proverb as a major part of the language that makes us say things easily, even things beyond ourselves. Apart from the fact that proverbs are common to all the tribes, Yerima‟s ability to re- invent the proverbs through a change of the images, and metaphors gives the proverbs a new outlook. However, much as the linguistic elements in proverbs are substituted to match those of other cultures, the semantic orientation remains. Proverbs thus become his major tool of expression.
Ultimately, Yerima sets out to find out the similarities between cultures and how societies react to issues. This, according to Yerima, is Soyinka‟s reasons for getting the opening of the play right. According to Yerima, Soyinka is of the view that if the opening of the play is right, the plot will be right. A significant way of doing this (in Yerima‟s view as against Soyinka‟s opinion), is by building the essence of the drama around the story and not around a god or any significant being in the play (as Soyinka would do). Yerima believes that we should not be oblivious of the fact that life is not difficult except for its complexities. Hence, the tragic essence of man comes from man himself such that he becomes the villain and not the protagonist.
Furthermore, Yerima tactically locates his stories in the various Nigerian cultures to give it a sense of reality. Also, most of these stories are largely enriched in local languages of the tribes involved and usually, there are manifestations of the author‟s in-depth knowledge of the cultures of the people in the setting. In instances where this occurs, Yerima is known to criticize or condemn a particular cultural practice or individual‟s shortcomings towards realizing a dynamic and progressive society. Towards this end, Yerima has written plays that have to do with the Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo cultures. His treatments of characters and issues reveal a clear indication of Yerima‟s mastery of the people‟s aspects of culture such as proverbs, wise-sayings, norms, ethics and codes, religions and expressions. These all round knowledge and acquaintance make Yerima to stand out among his peers such as Femi Osofisan, Wale Ogunyemi, Bode Osanyin, Zulu Zofola, Bode Sowande, Cosmish Ekiye and so on.
In 1991, Ahmed Yerima was appointed Deputy Artistic Director of the Nigerian National Troupe, and in 2006, he became the Director General of the Nigeria National Theatre. As the Director, he has led the National Troupe to several memorable performances outside Nigeria. Indeed, Yerima led the National Troupe to a performance at the world intellectual property organization in Geneva. With the National Troupe, Yerima has also been on international outings in places like Ghana, Mexico, United States of America, Germany, Venezuela and so on. According to Adeoti (2007:2) working with the National Troupe, an organization that was founded on cultural integration, Yerima has at his disposal indigenous performance elements that could furnish him with themes and techniques, hence the exploration of myths, histories, religions and cultural beliefs of the Nigerian people.
Notably, Yerima is an award-wining, prolific Nigerian playwright, read both in Nigeria and overseas. He has published about 6 books and over 27 plays. Observation reveals that Yerima has written beyond his immediate ethnic group and brought to light the role of culture in the lives of women and men in various Nigerian societies. In the opinion of Eke (2011:543), “Yerima‟s plays cover every possible description: historical, religious, political, mythical, and satiric”. Based on his interaction with his society and romance with the theatre world, Yerima has written Attahiru (1998), The Sick People (2000), The Sisters (2001), Dry Leaves on Ukan Trees (2001), The Lottery Ticket (2002), Yemoja (2002), Otaelo (2003), The Angel and other plays (2006), Erelu-kuti (2006), Hard Ground (2006), Aetu (2007), The Wives (2007), Akubata
(2008), Tuti (2008), Mojagbe (2008), Ajagunmale (2010) among others. Yerima‟s play, “Hard Ground” won the Nigerian play for literature, 2006, and ANA/NDDC, J. P. Clark Drama Price, 2006, after which it went on a country wide tour. These achievements of Yerima as a scholar and theatre practitioner make him to stand out among his peers.
Ahmed Yerima‟s drama can be grouped into two viz; contemporary and culture-based plays. The contemporary plays are based on specific acts of humanity, moral conduct, political activities, and social relations. They are basically constructed to mirror or lampoon and implicitly criticize certain acts of the government towards realizing a civic society. Some of the contemporary plays are: The sick people (2000), The sisters (2001), The Lottery Ticket (2002), The Angel and Other Plays (2006), Hard Ground (2006), The Wives (2007), Tuti (2008), The
Silent Gods, Kaffir’s Last Game, The Bishop and the Soul with Thank you Lord, Dami’s Cross and Atika’s Well (2009, and so on.
On the other hand, the culture-based plays take their source from cultural historical links, in which case, the majority of the plays are based on historical myths and stories of heroic deeds of the Nigerian people‟s ancestral gods and goddesses. At times the stories are designed to correct certain historical or societal anomalies. Characteristically, the culture-based plays project the people‟s knowledge, belief, art, moral, law and custom. Yerima has written more in this direction as indicated by the number of publications. Some of the plays sampled for this study are: The Limam and Ade Ire (2004), Attahiru (1998), Dry Leaves on Ukan Trees (2001), Yemoja (2002), Otaelo (2003), Erelu- kuti (2006), Aetu (2007), Akuabata (2008), Mojagbe (2008), Ajagunmale (2010), Mu’adin’s Call (2011), Idemili (2006),The Trials of Oba Ovonramwen (1998,2007), and Ameh Oboni the Great (2006). A cultural classification of these plays is given below:
Hausa culture-based plays Yoruba culture-based plays Igbo culture-based plays
Mu’adin’s Call Yemoja Otaelo
The Limam Aetu Dry leaves on Ukan Trees
Attahiru Ade- Ire Akuabata
The Trials of Oba Ovonramwen
Ameh Oboni the Great
Table 1: Cultural classification of Ahmed Yerima‟s culture-based plays
Given that little effort has been paid to the in-depth espousal of culture-motivated practs in Yerima‟s plays in linguistic scholarship, purposively therefore, based on the three major cultures in Nigeria we purposively select Mu’adin’s Call and Attahiru (Hausa culture), Mojagbe and Ajagunmale (Yoruba culture), Akuabata and Idemili (Igbo culture) for this study as they offer more culture-based contents.
The conversations of the characters in the plays were considered and eight hundred and twenty-eight culture-based utterances, being culture-motivated, were purposively selected and they form the bulk of the data for this study. The utterances basically consist of; proverbs, figurative expressions, wise-sayings and so on. In Mu’adhin’s Call, there are one hundred and twenty eight (128) utterances, Attahiru, one hundred and twenty two(122), Idemili, one hundred and twelve (112), Akuabata, one hundred and nineteen (119), Mojagbe, one hundred and eighty two (182), and Ajagunmale, one hundred and seventy five (175). These were subjected to pragmatic analysis..