Funeral of the Minstrel
by Nnorom Azuonye
Olu Oguibe, 2010
Esiaba Irobi taught me
Theatre History, Improvisation, Basic Acting Skills and
Introduction to Playwriting at the University of Nigeria,
Nsukka between 1987 and 1989. He was the most engaging
teacher I have ever had in my life. The only person that
came close to him in the classroom was Eni Jones Umuko.
These two people had drama flowing through their veins. They
made learning fun, and made us proud to be dramatic artists
at a time some people still sniffed at Dramatic Arts or
Theatre Arts as it is known in some institutions. Irobi and
Umuko made us feel it was the best thing in the world to be
a part of.
Twenty-three years after I
first encountered the wonderful soul that is Esiaba Irobi,
after we went from having a teacher/mentor-student/mentee
relationship, to becoming friends and collaborators, and in
the last few years, brothers, the earthly interaction was
suddenly cut short by death.
I was particularly affected
by Esiaba’s passing in a way I found difficult to
comprehend. It was like I lost somebody to whom I was
related by blood. I shut down and could not work for a few
days. When a mutual friend, Molara Wood, the Art and Culture
Editor at Next, Nigeria, asked me to write a short piece on
Esiaba, I wrote “Esiaba Irobi, the intellectual terrorist”
virtually on auto-pilot between the hours of 4 and 5 in the
morning. I also spent hours on end reading A Ceramic Life, a
poem Esiaba dedicated to his friend Chukwudi Eboh who died
in a motor accident years ago. It pained me that the baton
had been passed to us, Esiaba’s friends to write about his
own ceramic life.
“Funeral of the Minstrel” is
my own little monument to the memory of Esiaba Irobi. Esiaba
himself is a character in this play. Or should I say, his
spirit is a character in this play. I have generally created
his words in this play. Where I use his own words, I have
put them in quotes.
The world has truly lost a
rare gem. He has however not died. It is our collective
responsibility not to let him die.
June 9, 2010
(A group of 20 or more
ex-students of Esiaba Irobi)
(Other Esiaba’s ex-students,
members of the New Ekumeku)
(Esiaba’s ex-student who
(An Ngwa elder)
(Leader of Esiaba’s age
Ezidiegwu (Age grade member)
Chiehika (Age grade member)
Esiaba’s Age Grade members
The Action Sequence
The scenes in this play blend into each other. There are
no breaks and no set changes.
The stage is pitch black. Out of the darkness the sound of
stamping feet and angry voices rise. Lights rise to reveal
men within the age range of 40 to 50 years. Their feet
stamping and chanting rise to a fever pitch. ONYEBUCHI leads
and the rest respond.
- Obu ngiri?
- Iwe, iwe njuru anyi obi, Iwe.
- Obu ngiri ndi iwe anyi?
- Onwu. Onwu Esiaba, Onwu.