Entertainment

Bode Sowande’s Mammy Water’s Wedding

In celebration of World Environment Day on June 5, 2024, a five-day stage play titled ‘Mammy Water’s Wedding’ was performed at the Wole Soyinka Theatre, University of Ibadan, from June 4 to 8. The play was written by Bode Sowande, co-produced by Cinema Road Media Ltd, directed and co-produced by Olanike Bennett Onimisi (pen name: Ọlánikẹ́ Àṣàkẹ́), and stage-managed by Quazim Modiu. It was endorsed by the Oyo State Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and supported by the Department of Theater Arts, University of Ibadan as well as The Waste Museum, DBN Multimedia, Walton Art, FanMilk, Food and Comedy Festival and others.

This performance was a treat for the senses, with vibrant colours, flashing lights, brilliant instrumentation, and sonorous voices singing in Yoruba and English blending to create a rich tapestry of experiences. The choreography was entertaining, with the makeup and costumes making it come alive. And of course, the enterprising acting on show tied it all together. The stage decoration was innovative, using plastic bottles for the background, fishes, sea corals and seaweed, and paper for parts of the throne and jellyfish. This design promoted the theme: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Some of the Cast on Stage

‘Mammy Water’s Wedding’ champions environmental stewardship. This performance issues a powerful call to action, urging us to treasure and safeguard our planet for future generations. The play is a fictional folktale set in a riverine area of Lagos, a captivating love story exploring the delicate harmony between the earth and the sea. It tells the tale of Akinla, a skilled swimmer from Lagos, representing the earth, who finds himself in an underwater world of mermaids after a near-death experience. Enchanted by the daughter of the Sea Queen, Tarella, representing the sea, Akinla must navigate the environmental differences between their two worlds to be with her. 

Tarella’s passion for music was the spark for their romance. It drew her to the shore, where she sneaked to listen to the villagers’ melodies, particularly Akinla’s alluring voice. And it was her love that saved his life when a fierce storm struck, sweeping him away by the waves as he attempted to save others. As fate would have it, he entered the underwater world through Tarella’s roof window.  Thereafter, music became the thread that wove their destinies together, along with a shared appreciation for the beauty of cleanliness, forging an unbreakable bond between the mermaid and the mortal.

The Sea Queen (depicted as Yemoja, a Yoruba goddess of the sea), though initially hesitant, ultimately honoured the ancient tradition of a wife joining her husband’s household, allowing her daughter, Tarella, to venture into the foreign, polluted human world. Tarella and Akinla had their memories of each other erased by the mermaids’ spell, a necessary sacrifice to allow them to leave the underwater world. Yet, during their daydreams, they would recall fragments of their past, their minds momentarily freed from the spell’s grasp. 

For Akinla, time in the underwater realm passed in the blink of an eye, yet in the human world, 28 days had elapsed. His miraculous return sparked both awe and confusion, as he was hailed as ‘The Prince of the Sea’ and ‘The Gifted One.’ People flocked to him, seeking blessings and marvelling at his resurrection from the depths. But Akinla, overwhelmed and exhausted, was utterly bewildered, his eyes reflecting the turmoil in his mind as he struggled to comprehend the commotion surrounding him.

Celebration after Akinla Returns to Land

In a twist of fate, Tarella is reborn as Okuntoro (the ocean is pure, a name given to her by Akinla when she was a baby), the daughter of Adagunodo (stagnant water), a wealthy businessman who pollutes the sea with toxic waste. As their love blossoms, Adagunodo’s destructive actions threaten the natural balance between the earth and the sea. The devastating consequences of his reckless pollution came to a head during the village’s annual Fish Festival, as the very waters that were meant to be celebrated were instead found to be devoid of life. The once-thriving aquatic ecosystem had been ravaged by his toxic waste, leaving behind a sea of dead fish, a stark and haunting reminder of the destructive power of human neglect. 

It wasn’t until the Earth and Sea reunited after 24 years that the veil of forgetfulness lifted, and their memories came flooding back. With their love rekindled, they sealed their fate with a tender marriage, their bond stronger than ever. Through the union of Akinla and Okuntoro, the play advocates for environmental protection and the importance of preserving the ‘green balance’ our world so desperately needs. This powerful African drama is brought to life through vibrant dance, music, and poetry, making Mammy Water’s Wedding a truly unforgettable experience.

Akinla and Tarella (Okuntoro) Reunite

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Mammy Water’s Wedding, and I can honestly say it’s a stage play that will leave you yearning for more. I was deeply moved by the powerful message conveyed through this captivating play and it is evident that drama is a potent platform for amplifying environmental awareness and advocating for a sustainable future. By weaving eco-friendly themes into a performance, you can captivate audiences, evoke empathy, and inspire action. World Environment Day presents a unique opportunity to harness the power of drama.

One character who particularly stood out to me was Mama Eleja, Akinla’s mother, who embodied the unwavering love and devotion of a parent. Her 28-day vigil by the sea, praying for her son’s safe return or at least his dead body for burial, was a testament to the unbreakable bond between mother and child. She and her husband, Baba Eleja offered a boat filled with symbolic gifts to the sea while hoping for their son’s return: a bottle of milk (food of a baby), honey (food of the wise), water (drink of man), wine (for the gods), a silver necklace (for the Queen of the sea), silver bracelets (for her princesses), and a basket of food. In a heart-wrenching confrontation, Mama Eleja fiercely resisted Baba Eleja, and the men who tried to carry her away from the seaside, her eyes fixed on the horizon, awaiting the return of her son. Her maternal love and devotion anchored her to the shore, the place where she last saw him and where she hoped he would again reappear. Akinla himself was a shining example of integrity, refusing to be swayed by bribery and staying true to his convictions as his friend Adagunodo wanted him to be a part of the water pollution business. Adagunodo is instantly memorable, an eccentric and entertaining character, he embodies the destructive tendencies of those who prioritize personal gain over the planet’s well-being. His charisma and wit are memorable, but they also highlight the harmful consequences of human actions.

Adagunodo

The play featured poignant personifications, notably the sea being depicted as a mother of the earth. The Sea Queen delivered a poignant poem, lamenting humanity’s mistreatment of the environment and abuse of water. She passionately declared, ‘Humans hate water, yet they come from water,’ illustrating the paradox of man’s relationship with the environment. She also depicted the symbiotic relationship between fire and water, describing how the sun draws water to itself, stores it in the clouds, and then rains it down upon ungrateful humans. Furthermore, she lamented the scourge of noise pollution, exemplified by the constant din of generators. Her powerful words resonated deeply, leaving a lasting impact on the audience. The extra scene, ‘The Elements Dance’, was a delightful addition, showcasing Air, Water, Fire, and Earth in a vibrant dance and rhyme sequence. The audience was fully immersed, with some even mimicking the actors’ repetitive phrases, such as ‘The spell of the sea binds us’ said by the mermaids whenever they visit Akinla and Tarella during their daydreams and ‘All I see is dead fish’ said by Adagunodo after he couldn’t see anything else as punishment for his wrong doings. There were also moments of unity when the audience sang along with the actors on stage.

One of the Daydream Visits

While the play started late, leaving the audience waiting for over an hour, it was a minor hiccup in an otherwise enchanting experience. As we say, ‘African time’ can be unpredictable, but it was well worth the wait! With its beautiful scenery, powerful story, captivating performances, and memorable music (I’m still humming ‘Mama Mammy Water’!), it’s an experience that will stay with you long after the curtain closes.

Ojeniyi Ololade Esther

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