By Prosper Ifeanyi
Emerging into the Nigerian literary scene is the playwright, Emma Eregare, who in his play ‘The Broken Cycle’ limns a projection of the African culture and Nigeria culture on a microcosmic level, drawing from his Delta lore. The dramatist tries to give a portrayal of how love plays an important aspect in human life. Avid readers of Ola Rotimi’s ‘The Gods Are Not to Blame’ and Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Rex’ may find similiarity in Eregare’s ‘The Broken Cycle’, especially in it’s engagement with destiny and fate of humans. However, that is where the similarity ends. While the aforesaid books are tragic in nature and form, ‘The Broken Cycle’ is a tragicomedy. The events in the play are foreshadowed and dramatically ironic, as one with less scrutiny may find it hard to place a finger on the trajectory of events. The play uses culture as a touchstone and bedrock to make the events which unfold relatable.
Hitherto, cultural projection seems to be centre of post-modern African and Nigerian art forms. That is what Eregare pushes as, as he flawlessly captures the maxim: ‘we are all pencils in the hands of the creator.’ There are references on feminism, patriarchy and love; however, he dwells more on cultural projection, portraying the Ukwuani customs, festivities, and gods. Throughout the play, we see that there are many allusions to this. There is reference to Ikenga— an aspect of the pantheon of gods among the Ukwuani people, palm wine drinking act, and kola offering.
‘The Broken Cycle’ is about Chioma—an ‘Ogbanje’ daughter to a river goddess, who arrives in Umukwata to bring joy to the Atas, her family which had no child until her arrival. Chioma and her co-travellers are meant to inflict pain on whoever they are sent to as their lives are short-lived, as they die and go back to their marine kingdom. But Chioma is sad as she doesn’t want to bring pain to the Atas who are kind and hospitable, but one way or the other she comes to terms with the fact that she would leave this earthly plane on her 18th birthday. While all of these issues are unfolding, a hunter, Ogbu, who has seen it all before hand, is quick to tell the Atas about the arrival of a girl-child in their family and asks them for her hand in marriage even before she is born. While in the process of seeking her hand in marriage, his son Enekwe falls in love with Chioma unknowingly and calamity strikes when they all find out the truth. In the denouement, Chioma tries to go back to the marine world but she has become too attached to the people of earth. Ogbu reminds her of this as he comes to terms with the fact that Enekwe is the husband for her. Chioma is left to choose between the spirit world and the earthly world; she chooses earth and breaks all ties with the spirit world to recast her destiny.
‘The Broken Cycle’ is an engrossing play. It is communal in every sphere, for it parades a trove of characters that are pawns playing themselves out for a greater cause; they circumscribe themselves to a communalist tenet of society which includes amorous lovers, poor old woman, childless couple, gods, and even opportunists. The play is divided into five acts delineated into scenes. The method of dialogue is methodical: this can be attributed to the fact that Eregare is also a film and stage director, and in addition to its narrative structure, the language is accessible; it doesn’t subject itself to deep description of events, as the readers are left to decipher and catch up with the pace of actions.
Eregare’s ‘The Broken Cycle’ suits and dovetails the cultural projection and propensity of Nigerian and African writers to delineate their society in their works. In ‘Representing Black Culture, Racial Conflict and Cultural Politics in the United States,’ Richard Merelman considers the theme of “cultural projection,” as a conscious or unconscious effort by a social group and its allies to place new image of itself before other social groups and the general public. Nonetheless, the culture projection in Eregare’s play is confined within the continent, because on a microcosmic level the setting of the play intersects the minority Niger Delta region of Nigeria. ‘The Broken Cycle’ is a cultural relevant story though a twisted one. It is not about a people showing their culture and living their lives in tandem with those norms. Instead, it is about the preconceived belief of the role gods play in the life of men, the relationship between “the potter and his clay.” Only that the land is filled with tapestries and intricacies which disrupt this preordained system of things in the overarching cosmological chain. Eregare seems to aver that Nigeria, hitherto, is an output of those norms. In ‘The African Imagination: Literature in Africa & the Black Diaspora,’ the literary critic Abiola Irele observes that the modern Nigerian poet-playwright recognises that in the African context, the task that faces a creative writer in English is more than that of adapting the foreign language to the reality of the African environment; it involves rather a total appropriation in order to bring African expression into a living relationship with the tradition of literature in English, and this is what Eregare does.
How might we key into Eregare’s cultural perception? There is no gainsaying the truism that Eregare tries to correct the seeming helplessness in the face of one’s destiny. To begin with, Africa is replete with such notions. This Afro-pessimism is what he subtly descries and deflates in his play. Who should we consider the the pessimists? Is it those who we consider custodians of these preconceived and narrow-minded beliefs or those who create an image of such thoughts or semblance of them in their minds? If there is any prophylaxis in the play, it is that: Chioma, being the protagonist, shows how breaking free from the shackles of the traditions can reconstruct the way we perceive our role in the universe. ‘The Broken Cycle’ is pertinent and exigent, in view of the barrier and limitations humans place on themselves when it comes to self-fulfilment and actualisation. It is a play that scholars of African culture and tradition may find useful when discussing and critiquing the politics that governs and gives rise to certain modes of thoughts.