JAGUNJAGUN: FEMI ADEBAYO’S TWILIGHT TALE
(A review of the movie Jagunjagun).
The field of theater performance is one of the most exciting areas of cultural analysis (Hauptfleisch1997) and an indication of the importance that performance has in the life of a people and a community. From the inception of the Minoan culture of Crete – and the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, the classical Helladic culture of the Greeks, Romans and the Byzantines – to the advent of space travel and the computer age, theatre has always found a space in the society (Nicoll 1966, Esslin 1977, Arnott1981, Hatlen 1992). There is a profitable and symbiotic relationship between theatre and society. Theatre as a social institution is fed with ideas and nourished by the complex interactions in society, which is why a theatrical performance is usually regarded as a mirror that reflects society.
I joined the host of Nigerians to watch the Femi Adebayo’s trending movie Jagunjagun. A movie that’s isotonic to both fiction and nonfiction. It is important to note that there is a perfect relationship between both literary genres. Here, I will be selecting important moments and concepts that made the movie an outstanding one. Also, I will try to work around a bit of appraisal for the bromancey between the producer and the director of the movie. I won’t leave out, of course, the mistakes I noted in the movie.
To start with, kindly note that when it comes to the Yorubas, their language, art, and traditions have held audiences spellbound for years. From the South-west hub in Nigeria, across seas all the way to Cuba and Brazil where patterns of Yoruba speech can be found in Lucumi, many marvel at the beauty of Yoruba heritage. In this case, film writers have recently buried themselves into research about the typical Yoruba traditional storyline, bringing out the aesthetics, phenomenon, mythical occurrences and legendary acts of the ancestors. Such is the movie we are looking into; JAGUNJAGUN.
Jagunjagun is the story of a great warlord who has a private and dreadful military academy. Threatened by the rise of a young man who seems to be dedicated to take everything away from him became unsettled, and made moves to clip him off, but instead, fortified this young man the more and gave him the support of the gods against his tyranny. Also feeding his fear is a King who called his attention to his potential destructor.
Theatre as we know it is a powerful tool that can be sharpened to become a weapon. Over the years, the stage has become a bunch of things, like it being a voice for the oppressed (Read Theatre of the oppressed by Augusto Boal). In his work, Augusto have insight on Theatre becoming a form of Arts using dialogue and interaction between audience and performer to pass important messages. Beyond this, Theatre speaks volume by educating, informing, explaining and exploring occurrences using actors and actions. Also, theatre can be staged to start a war (internal or external as the case may be). “In many parts of the world, theatre has been used to educate, socialize, indoctrinate and raise consciousness. In contemporary Africa, theatre practitioners have lamented the fragmentation of human life and the erosion of peace as a result of human rights abuses, income inequality, poverty, lack of access to services, crime and wars.” _ PATRICK EBEWO: Journal of Peacebuilding & Development: Vol. 4, No. 3 (March 2009), pp. 21-32.
Why did we go there?
In Africa, religion is a very sensitive subject matter. Every devotee wants to respect and have people respect his belief, free of prejudice and be at liberty to practice. Putting this in mind, staging religious-sensitive ideas on screen should take strict guidelines in order not to paint something that will “offend” the devotees of such religion we are trying to depict.
In the movie, Ogundiji sent Gbotija to attack Ilu Ajé as his third stage of his assignment to becoming a ranked officer. It is unethical to attack a symbolic people like that, especially at the point where they are performing their ritual rites. Gbotija knew this but still went ahead to destroy the peaceful people of the town. The devotees of Ajé would not find this act appealing and this can start a cold war, especially for the theatre practitioners.
There is no disputing in the fact that the problem of religious violence casts a serious doubt to the stability order of the country. This is because without doubt, the country has recorded very bizarre experiences in the domain of religious violence (Ikenah-Metuh 1994:2; Ogege 2001: 23-26). Some of the prominent examples include those of the Kasuwan Magani in 1980, Zango Kataf and Gure-Kahugu in 1987, Kafanchan and Lere in 1987, Ilorin and Jerein 1989, Tafawa Balewa in 1991 as well as that of Zango Kataf in 1992 (Eniola 2010: 77-81; Teehan 2010: 145-147) The category of conflicts exists mostly in the Northern part of the country where the main protagonists are Hausa/Fulani Muslims and Christian ethnic minorities. The ‘pagan question’ it has been argued, seems to play a major role in creating a climate of suspicion and intolerance among the groups (Sulaiman, 2015: 111-120; Eniola 2010: 7781).
For instance, the religious crises in Kafanchan in 1987 which started from the College of Education was precipitated on 6th March by what was considered as blasphemous remarks when a convert from Islam to Christianity was said to have misinterpreted the Holy Qur’an while preaching. This led to a fight between the Christians and the Muslims on the campus. Later it was spread to the Kafanchan town as well as other six towns in Kaduna State: Kastina, Funtua, Zaria, Kankia, Daura and Kaduna. In the process, hundreds of people were killed, many Churches and Mosques were set ablaze, and hotels were destroyed, altogether resulting in massive destruction of people and property (Obioha 1999: 45; Eniola 2010: 77-81). Also, the April 1991 violence in Tafawa Balewa was also precipitated by a quarrel in the market between a Christian butcher and some Hausa/Fulani people. In the ensuring impasse, many Muslims were killed. On carrying the corpse from Tafawa Balewa to Bauchi town a reprisal was launched on the Christians in the town. This led to the massacre of many Christian settlers in the town. The invitation of the army to restore order only worsened the situation as a result of series of massacres in which thousands of people were alleged to have been killed’ (Alanamu 2005: 165- 170; Armstrong 2014:10).
The above further explained how tampering with people’s religious believes can easily become a fire in the forest in summer. In view of this, Theatre practitioners should take into cognizance the effect of every act performed on stage or onscreen.
On the other hand, Theatre has significantly helped in calming religious issues here in Nigeria. The feud between the Muslims and Christians in the northeastern part of the country is a typical example of this. In May 2018. The United States Agency International Development (USAID) reported:
“The Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria has created a culture of fear and distrust among religious groups in Michika, a local government area in Adamawa state. This distrust is prominently seen among Muslim and Christian groups who blame each other for the insurgency.
The feud between both groups became so intense that local government officials assigned separate market days at the community’s largest market, Michika Central Market, to avoid conflict.
But for the first time since the Boko Haram insurgency divided the community, dance and drama performances at the central market have drawn a common audience of both Muslims and Christians. USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives supported the Michika local government council to host monthly cultural theater activities imbued with peace and reconciliation messaging in the market to help increase community cohesion and foster a sense of reconciliation in the local government area.”
That established, I will proceed to air my view on the act, based on the concept of the movie itself.
Ogundiji intentionally gave Gbotija such frivolous assignment hoping that the young man would be weak enough to turn back and not carry out such silly task. And if eventually, he carries it out, he is bound to face the wrath of the gods. Meaning, Ogundiji’s task is not just a test of loyalty, but a trap to end Gbotija, an ardent young man who has to survive in order to: i. Revenge the death of his father ii. Get the chance to live with his newly found love.
According to a report by the office of communication at the American University of Nigeria in 2021, Dr. Bakare while discussing on the topic THE RITUALISTIC PERSPECTIVES OF YORUBA THEATRE noted that “with the post-colonial transformation of most Yoruba societies, there has been a shift in the thematic focus and performance aesthetics of rituals and festivals from pristine traditionalism to the contemporary concerns of socio-political and economic experiences of the people.” One out of many is the epic film titled Sango by Femi Lasode (1997). Lasode dramatized the Yoruba ritualistic celebration of Sango (the god of fire and thunder among the Yoruba in Nigeria and diaspora). Another one is the story of the Osun Osogbo Festival which has been adapted to various films. Stories, legends, and tales about Ogun, the god of iron have been adapted in many Yoruba films too. And now, Jagunjagun, where Lateef Adedimeji dramatized the bravery of a modern Nigerian youth that has been a victim of the scheme of those in power.
For his first task where he was asked to face his father-in-arm, the idea of the fight is to set the up-and-coming warrior against his finest warrior, any result would be in favour of Ogundiji since his intention is to get rid of any both of them anyway, therefore, one of them would be doing him a favour of eliminating one of his headaches. To the competitors, this is a very difficult task since they both have sworn an oath of allegiance, but then, Ogundiji decrees, he doesn’t suggest.
To his second task, he was to be placed in a coffin for seven days, and see if he can survive. Now, according to Femi Adebayo’s “Ageshinkole”, we were made to understand that there’s a spiritual fortification that happens when a warrior is to encounter a sure death, with the backings of the strongest witches, such a warrior would be put in a coffin and buried. After few days the coffin will be brought out and the person will be magically raised. The meaning of this is that such person has died and cannot be killed again. It is an extra level of voodoo in the Yoruba tradition. In this case, Ogundiji, unaware of the ability of Gbotija to speak to the woods and call them by their names believed that camping him inside the coffin for seven days would kill him met with utmost disappointment when his “daughter” went to visit her lover and he comfortably answered her call. The rest is history. Thirdly, he was to face the people of Aje town and destroy them. He fought alongside three other warriors but singlehandedly won the battle. Believing he has completed his mission and all left for him is to go back and be decorated, Agemo, the messenger of death appeared from nowhere and started attacking him. With the aid of the woods of the forest, he was able to vanquish. However, reality dawned on him when he realized that the dreaded messenger of death he just sent back to the gods is no other person than his lover. He immediately realized the cruel nature of the warlord they all looked up to as their master, hero and mentor.
He carried the remains of his estranged lover and took her to the barrack. At the barrack, he took the form of an eye opener. The director made him a vessel to pass a message to not just his colleagues, but the viewers at large. He took the stage and pulled the viewers’ attention towards the satirical concept of the movie.
“why? You gathered all of us here, and turned us to slaves. He manipulates young people, and uses them as he wishes. If any of us dares to be wise, you find a way of turning us against each other…. Listen to me, we all came here to learn how to fight so that we can defend our villages. But after we are done learning, we started fighting each other. Isn’t that so? Youths wake up, kids wake up from your slumber. Don’t let them keep using us as tools for the rich… They are like dogs who protect their puppies but devour the offspring of grasscutters. Ask them all, where are your children…” (1:59:39 – 2:01:30)
Gbotija used this to point out the trends and rottenness within the rich cum politicians. He disclosed how they hide their children abroad and make use of the available youths whose future they’ve taken away through their poverty scheme, turn them to political thugs and use them against the “woke” youths. An instance of this is the #ENDSARS protest. Political thugs and dogs were used to infiltrate, disrupt and flaw the action. He therefore brilliantly charged the youths and the children that are coming up to wake up and stand for justice.
Jagunjagun is worthy of being rated almost a complete movie left for some concepts inserted for the beautification of the actions. These insertions watered it down from being a complete Yoruba traditional act (like the Kungfu act). However, it has a very solid plot and storyline, for people that are familiar with the traditional Yoruba histories and those that are just getting to have a taste of the richness in the culture. It is theme packed, ranging from:
Theme of war: Chaired by the major factor that brought the warlord into prominence. To
Theme of bravery: As championed by Gbotija. To
Theme of betrayal: Ogundiji betrayed his wife by having a son out of wedlock, not only that, he kept the son away from even his wife who he swore to that he would never have a child since they have traded the womb of the supportive woman in exchange for power. To
Theme of political foxiness: The royals that are manning Ogundiji all grabbed the throne they are sitting on. None of them deserved the throne, but thanks to the war machine, they are able to grab the stool and even eliminate their competition. Also, the cunning ways of the kings made Oba Alayaki ignite the spark of fear in Ogundiji towards Gbotija. Etc.…Theme of spirituality: There are several points at which Yoruba spirituality took a giant form. Take for instance the rite of passage in Aje town, the festival of Ori by Ogundiji himself. The movie as a whole rally around spirituality, including the supernatural power that was inherited by Gbotija himself and everyone from his lineage.
It is noteworthy that songs played a prominent role in the movie. The songs used took the viewers away from their comfort zone to an epic realm where they are able to connect all dots in the concept of the story.
The visuals of the movie are massive, it shows the improvement in the Yoruba movie industry over the years. And the angles at which each scene is shot is topnotch. Also, the technicalities, the choreography, the stunts, etc. are all magnificent. Also, the use of words, adages, expressions, the character selection process, the role interpretation, the acting is superb. To crown it all, the dialect is flawless. The costumes used project the true art of the settings and also, the make up department did excellently well.