Saturday, July 2, 2016 7:44 am
Biography of Hubert Ogunde, Doyen of African Theatre, on the way. Beyond his thespian prowess, he was highly political, a disposition that made him suffer persecution under colonial and post colonial governments.
On 10 July, 2016, the late dramatist and doyen of African Theatre, Chief Hubert Adedeji Ogunde, would be 100 posthumously. Many activities have been lined up to mark the late playwright’s centennial post-humous birthday celebration. One of these is the presentation of his abridged biography, Hubert Ogunde: The Doyen of African Theatre, being written by young poet and author, Adedara S. Oduguwa.
While the book may not be ready before the late Ogunde’s centennial birthday, the author has released an abridged version of it to whet the appetite of readers and millions of the late dramatist’s admirers.
The author wrote about how Ogunde spoke truth to power without minding the consequences: “Ogunde was an outspoken contemporary political commentator, who was ready to risk the possible destruction of his Theatre in order to fight for the freedom of his people from alien rule. He was jailed and banned on several occasions for fighting and standing against the devious colonial regime with all his brains.”
History of African opera, play, drama and theatre would be incomplete without mentioning the name of this great and very industrious dramatist, who, more than any, contributed in no small measure to the commercialisation of drama in Nigeria, West Africa and Africa as a whole. To many, he was the doyen of African theatre, father of Yoruba operatic theatre, a respected pioneer of the Nigerian drama. Very often he was referred to as ‘Father of Nigerian folk opera’.
Olooye Hubert Adedeji Ogunde was a folklorist, Nigerian actor, playwright, musician, dramatist, theatre manager, policeman, teacher, teetotaller, human right activist, seer, prophet and a nationalist of class. Like any mortal, he was born into a modest but reputable family of Mr. Jeremiah Dehinbo Ogunde and Mrs. Eunice Owotunsan Ogunde on Monday, July 10th, 1916 at Ososa in Ogun State.
Elder Ogunde was a pastor at the Baptist Church, Ijebu Ife and a disciplinarian, whose father and forebears were Ifa worshipers and founders of Ososa town, while Madam Eunice Ogunde was a trader whose parents were also worshipers of Ifa deity. Ogunde’s mother was a pagan at the time he was born. But after his birth she was converted to Christianity. The duo raised and taught their children about African culture and demagogues, an act which helped young Ogunde later in life.
At the age of nine, young Ogunde entered Saint John’s Primary School, Ososa for his elementary education and left the school in 1928 for Saint Peter’s Faji School, Lagos State where he was until 1930. Between 1931 and 1932, Ogunde was at Wasimi African School, Ijebu-Ode. His graduation from Wasimi African School actually marked the end of his entire formal education. He altogether spent approximately seven years acquiring formal education. Despite his few years in formal education, Ogunde’s command of English was not only excellent but much better than many university graduates of his time.
Between the age of 17 and 25 (1933-1941) young Ogunde was a school teacher at Saint John’s Primary School, Ososa and a dedicated church organist. As a pupil teacher, Ogunde taught in the elementary classes for eight years, an act which was predominant among few educated Nigerians at the time. He organised his first band as a teacher at Oke-Ona United School, Abeokuta. It was during this period he developed special skills for opera and folklore, which in later life propelled him to become the greatest Nigerian folklorist of all time.
OGUNDE: A POLICE OFFICER
After about eight meritorious years in the teaching profession, he joined the Nigeria Police Force in December, 1941,during a holiday in Ibadan in a bid to serve his motherland better. He was later to be transferred on training to the Police Training School, Enugu which later led to his appointment as a Third Class Police Constable. As a Police Constable, Ogunde was diligent and performed his duties with all his brains.
For this, he was transferred to Nigeria Police Force ‘C’ Division, Ebute-Meta, Lagos. By March, 1945, approximately four years in the Nigeria Police Force, Ogunde resigned from the Force in order to pay full attention to his passion- acting. His passion for opera was mind-blowing. His resignation was spurred by reckless and gross misconduct of the colonial regime, which was demonstrated by Ogunde in his much talk about 1945 opera entitled ‘Worse Than Crime.’
The opera was a political satire on the colonial masters which was aimed at establishing that ‘Colonialism in any shape or form is worse than crime.’ This earned Ogunde and Mr. G.B. Kuyinu (His co-director) two days in the police custody. The opera was staged at Glover Hall and the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe chaired the show.
Mr. Ogunde’s altruism also pushed him to produce an opera ‘Strike and Hunger’ in 1945. The Opera was topical. “It narrated the events leading to the famous general strike by trade unions for better wages, cost-of-living allowances and improved conditions of service. The strike began in late June 1945 and lasted for forty-four days.” This play shot Ogunde to national prominence.
BIRTH OF OGUNDE’S DRAMA
Monday, 12 June, 1944, was a special day in the life of young Ogunde. That was the day he produced his first and oldest opera ‘The Garden of Eden and The Throne of God’ at the Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos, through the support and sponsorship by Church of the Lord, Ebute-Meta. The content of the opera was biblical. It enunciates the ‘fall of man and his expulsion from the Garden of Eden.’ The folk dance by Messrs Hubert Ogunde and G.B. Kuyinu were loudly applauded. Other characters in the opera included: Miss Kotoye Oshodi, Mr. S. O. Okeowo, Mr. E.O. Adeleke, Miss M. Samuel, Miss M. Adenuga, Miss C. Bajomo, Miss K. Ashabi and Mrs. King. “The audience that night which was over 1000 all clamoured for a repetition of the play at no distant date.”