By Anote Ajeluorou
IJEBU-IGBO people are at a crossroad. The British army is camped just some 10 miles away; they have their sight on the town’s rich natural resources and a crippling tax regime on the local people for the King of England. The reigning monarch Oba Akintola and his council of chiefs are keen on making peace. Defying the Portuguese had cost the town its last king and paved the way for the unlikely emergence of Oba Akintola at the expense of the heir-apparent, Oluwole, who was sent to Lagos to be educated. Prince Oluwole would return and settle for the lowly job of a classroom teacher, having given up all claims to the throne that cost his father his life.
But there’s the chief adviser to Oba Akintola, Chief Gbadamosi, who’s bitter that Prince Oluwole got a better deal than him; he wants to cause him trouble at all costs. Cunning and conniving Chief Gbadamosi would seize on Prince Oluwole’s love interest in Olasope to plot Oluwole’s downfall, but strangely, it turns out the unravelling of both himself and Oba AKintola and the encamped British army. This forms the nucleus of Cash Onadele-Aiyeko-ooto’s historical play, The Yellow Tulip (3P Financial Network Corporation, Texas, US; 2021). Set at the dawn of the 19th century, Onadele-Aiyeko-ooto dramatically documents the political power play and love interest that decides the fate of a community torn between integrity, values, string cultural alignment and betrayal of communal trust and standing the truth on the head for ephemeral gains.
Chief Gbadamosi is the chief architect of the new, wayward order that negates truth and what’s just, so he could get the ear of Oba Akintola and undo Prince Oluwole. Every decision he takes is aimed at plotting Prince Oluwole’s downfall; it’s an obsession with him. Even Iwinsala, his cousin he conscript into his evil plot against the prince is appalled his relentless pursuit of Prince Oluwole. Sadly, Gbadamosi’s plots somewhat aligns with the supernatural powers that reign in the netherworld of Ijebu-Igbo, where the Crow and the Eagle have made a bet on the love life of Prince Oluwole and Olasope. When Olasope’s unwitting girlish wish for the man who will ravish her flower, as harbinger for the evil that will befall her, the supernatural powers would chuckle at man’s fickleness. These supernatural powers capture Olasope’s deadly wish and stirs it into the deadly brew of prophesy that would threaten to end her life and love for Prince Oluwole.
Oba Akintola reign is characterised by all manners of illegality. Having secured the friendship of the British camped close by, he cuts the deadly deal to continue trading in slaves, felling of economic trees and mining of natural resources that do not benefit the community. Chief Gbadamosi is his right hand man, who’s bent on enriching himself and the other council chiefs. The Oshugbo cult members protests these violations to the king, but Chief Gbadamosi shoves them off.
Prince Oluwole is the reluctant king-in-waiting. Forced to live his life outside of the pomp and pageantry of kingship after his father died fighting the Portuguese, he does not want anything to do with either the kingship or the deadly Oshugbo cult that as prince he’s entitled to lead. He pledges to the simple life of a teacher, hunter and Olasope’s love and husband-to-be. But Chief Gbadamosi has cast a long spell of hate and evil against him and is determined to make life difficult for Oluwole. He too wants to be king; only Prince Oluwole stands between him and his ambition. Therefore Prince Oluwole must be made to leave town by all means possible. He makes his cousin Iwinsala to spy on Prince Oluwole and every of his moves.
Every information he gets Chief Gbadamosi deploys to Prince Oluwole’s harm. He instigates Akeredolu to contest the hands of Olasope with the prince, but Oluwole easily floors him. Next he turns Major Scott Huddersfield’s infatuation on Olasope, who ends up raping her when her parents reject his marriage proposal. This singular sacrilegious act raises the anger of the community except the Oba-in-Council, with Chief Gbadamosi dismissing the crime as anything but serious. He coaches Major Huddersfield on what to say to downplay the seriousness of the sacrilege by insisting on his proposal to marry Olasope, as compensation for raping and deflowering another man’s betrothed.
When eventually Apena and Orisadupe, who had tried in vain to woo Prince Oluwole to take his rightful place among Oshugbo cult leadership, meet him, Prince Oluwole does not hesitate any more. The soul of Ijebu-Igbo is in peril; something urgent must be done to repair the damage both Oba Akintola’s council and the British have wreaked on the community. What is worse, his manhood and honour have also been violated by Major Huddersfield’s assault on the culture and soul of Ijebu-Igbo traditions, with the rape of Olasope; no betrothed maiden goes to her husband’s house without her hymen in tact. Rape is a major cultural violation that must be met with repercussions. It dawns on Oluwole that the soul of the community has been shredded and he can no longer remain neutral or indifferent. Although he’d remained noncommittal while the community was under attack and physically raped in the form of indiscriminate logging and mining, raping one of the town’s maidens becomes the last straw. Although Olasope openly courted what happens to her, it is no excuse for a man to behave in such beastly manner. Such a man must be held to account. That’s how Prince Oluwole is forced to join Oshugbo cult as its leader that he’d rejected for the church and his teaching service.
But before Oshugbo cult can effectively deploy the exorcism that needs to rid the community of evil, the Crow and the Eagle, who control all supernatural occurrences in the five towns, must give consent from the ancestors. And when Prince Oluwole and Orisadupe begin to turn the boiling pot of supernatural powers and align it with the witches’ powers, all roots of evil in town begin to give way for the restoration of the order that lies, injustice and subversion of truth upended since the reign of Oba Akintola and his terrible adviser, Chief Gbadamosi. When Oshugbo cult begins to act on behalf of the community for the restoration of its impaired soul, Oba Akintola and Chief Gbadamosi find themselves at unknown places for the enthronement and restoration of order and justice in Ijebu-Igbo.
Prince Oluwole finally ascends his father’s throne and goes in search of Olasope, his yellow tulip that Major Huddersfield crumpled in Chief Gbadamosi’s mad political power play. As the Crow tells the Eagle, “be patient, we shall see. The strength of humanity is not in being right but in ability to forgive others! This is the last tests he (Prince Oluwole) faces.” Does Oluwole pass the test of love to claim the hand of Olasope after the disgrace she suffered? Wasn’t Olasope’s violation equally the violation of Ijebu-Igbo as a community? What becomes the fate of Chief Gbadamosi and Oba Akintola, as tables turn?
These form the dramatic historicisation of Onadele-Aiyeko-ooto’s Crumpled Yellow Tulip. This is a play for then and now; it’s message has strong resonance for today’s Africa. Although historical in context, it is a play much in tune with modern Nigerian reality across board. Leadership is still a challenging phenomenon in the country. To leade, in today’s Nigeria and much of Africa, is equated with appropriating the commonwealth onto oneself, as Oba Akintola and his chief minister Gbadamosi play out in the play. Leadership tenure is seen as a chance to plunder the resources of the people, selling many into slavery and joining forces with external forces to ruin the community’s wellbeing for personal gains. Major Huddersfield’s rape of Olasope becomes the final rape on the life on the community that could not be condoned. While the community leadership actively defends the heinous crime, the ancient, but sidelined communal traditional power rises in revolt to thwart the bad leadership for a better order to be enthroned. And it takes only a handful of Oshugbo cult members to cause the realignment of the cosmic order that finally enthrones justice.
Modern Africa and Nigeria are imperilled because there is no such ancient traditional power as Oshugbo cult that can help renegotiate the balance of power to restore order in the community. That is Africa’s double jeopardy.
What lessons are there for a modern society like Nigeria? What cosmic powers should be invoked to force leadership to toe the oath of honour and exercise power with a human face and compassion. And who can command such supernatural powers into being in an era where foreign religions hold sway and undermine ancient, traditional ones? What modern power equation should be called into play? These are unresolved but nagging questions at the heart of Onadele-Aiyeko-ooto’s Crumpled Yellow Tulip, a dramatic historicisation that resonates with Nigeria’s current ugly socio-political reality.