ktravula – a travelogue!

art. language. travel

Sad News

Boluwatife could not be saved. She died on last Monday, I heard.

Thanks to those who tried to help. They raised over 320 thousand naira so far, but it was either too little or too late. Or both.

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Challenges of Translation, et al

Q: Thinking about your main target language, what would you say are your biggest challenges when translating from English into that language?

A: The biggest, classical, problem in English to Yoruba translation is the problem of one-to-one equivalents. There are expressions in English that cannot be rendered with the same number of words in Yoruba (“I’m sorry” is one). There are also tones of those in Yoruba as well, that you can’t express in English without having to write an epistle. (“pẹlẹ” is one such, or “ẹ kú ilé).

It is a “problem” easily surmounted if the target text allows for it. But while translating for mobile communication, or computer/software jobs, it forces one to be creative, since the client usually requires one-to-one translation as much as possible, and there is usually not enough space to elaborate.

The other problem is that of diacritics – the fact that tone and vowel markings in Yoruba need to be present to avoid ambiguity. While most computers can be manipulated to place the tone marks on the translated words, many software may not be able to process them, and some clients don’t have need for them, so the translator is forced to send in products that are unsatisfactory and can cause ambiguity.

Read more of my interview with Translate Africa, on my work in translation, the #tweetYoruba project, language attitudes, among others, here.


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Deji Toye on Segun Adefila’s “A Dance…”

Writer and friend, Deji Toye, takes on my latest review of Segun Adefila’s production of A Dance of the Forest and produces something fine and beautiful – a wide and robust review of not just the work itself and the genius of its creator but the director’s work in particular, and his influences. An excerpt:

Adefila’s discipline could produce a revue on the point of a pin. Then, as a director, he has that propensity to strip a script to its bare essence and recast it in a mould all his own. A director who pushes the directorial licence farther than most, for him, a constant Brechtian jolt of his audiences to see through the seductive entertainments of the show into their own shocking reality is almost an obligation. And to achieve this, that stand-up comic trick of ‘something happened on the way to the theatre’ is an artistic reality. 

More here.

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WRITER HENRY LEE DUMAS (1934-1968) Turns 80! (July 20)

The great god Shango in the African sea
reached down with palm oil and oozed out me.
                                Henry Dumas, “Knees of a Natural Man” (1989)

Dumas’ Rebirth in Word-Deed

Awake as a quake, dreamin’ Henry wrought

Hank into “Ankh,” Dumas into “Samud.” Named

his poems “sabas” & “ikefs,” his friends

“Headeye” & “Jonoah,” his settings “Sweetwater” &

“Harlem,” his vessels “afro-horn” & “soul-

boat,” his heroes “Probe” & “Sun Ra”

& his brothers “Fon” & “cosmic arrows.”

                        Eugene B. Redmond, “Arkansippi Memwars . . .” (TWP 2013)

henry-dumasWriter Henry Lee Dumas (1934-1968)–whose posthumously published works include “Ark of Bones,” “Jonoah and the Green Stone,” “Knees of a Natural Man” (poems) and “Echo Tree”–would have been 80-years-old today (July 20). Born in Sweet Home (Arkansas), and raised in Harlem from the age of 10, he was a teacher at Southern Illinois University’s Experiment in Higher Education (East St. Louis).

Among his colleagues at EHE were Katherine Dunham, Edward Crosby, Joyce Ladner, Oliver Jackson, Hale Chatfield and yours truly. As literary executor of the Dumas estate (with the consent of his widow, Loretta Dumas), I have received invaluable support from Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou and James Baldwin (among scores of others) over the past 46 years. Morrison, who called Dumas “magnetic” and “a genius, an absolute genius,” published his works while an editor at Random House, noting that a “very deserved cult” had grown up around him. One “cult” member, the late Jayne Cortez, referred to collective efforts to keep his work before a reading-listening-studying public as “the Henry Dumas Movement.” The Henry L. Dumas Foundation, whose goal is to create a namesake Library and Cultural Center, has been established in Sweet, Arkansas.

HD is patron saint of the East St. Louis-based EBR Writers Club which turned 28 this year. –EBR

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A Dance of Complexities

“One of the magical things about theater is that it gathers a crowd of people in a quiet space, and each member of the audience gets to see how people respond differently to the different things being said on stage. The person next to you will laugh at something that you’d never think of laughing at, and you’ll get a glimpse into all the different ways of viewing the world. Unfortunately, so much theater today is less nuanced. It gives you a large dose of one way of thinking, in hopes of getting as many of the same type of people into the theater as possible.” – a thespian recently features on the Humans of New York page.

IMG_2113 I begin my review of a stage production of Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forest (1963) by Segun Adefila’s and the Crown Troupe of Nigeria from this, a succinct appraisal of theatre as a vehicle to entertain and inform a populace without catering to mass appeal alone, but rather individual tastes through a large but severally tailored offerings.

Perhaps no other play could be used as a poster example for the complexity of theatre and its ability to regenerate itself in a myriad of colours to diverse people than this production which, produced to mark the 80th birthday festivities of its playwright, was only one of the few other performances of the author’s play around the same time. In actual fact, another production of the same play, at a far larger and ambitious scale, was performed on the night of the celebrant’s birthday itself, right across from his front yard in Abeokuta, with trees, shrubs, and real life rock formations as a live set. Photos from that ambitious performance posted on social media depicts a throbbing energy of an audacious imagination, with an air of theatrical verisimilitude for which the author should be extremely proud: an ensemble of real life masquerades, for starters. But I digress…

IMG_2131Segun Adefila’s production was a far less ambitious enterprise, which shouldn’t be surprising giving the grand and colourful exertions the play itself embodies. A Dance of the Forest, first performed in 1960 as an iconoclastic satirization of Nigeria’s independence celebrations, has been described as one of the author’s most complex and most difficult to understand works. However, effort was made, not just in the utilisation of the small stage that Terra Kulture (the venue) provides, but also in improvisation on the script of the play itself. Most of the improvisations were with songs, jokes, costumes, and slangs. At one point in the play, a character sings from Omawumi, a contemporary Nigerian musician who was definitely not born in 1960: If you ask me, na who I go ask…? An obvious oversight that could have worked for great dramatic effect happened when the corrupt civil servant was presented a bribe in broad daylight. The token was… a loaf of bread. Audible gasps in the audience suggested that it could have worked way better with a bag of rice. I agree.

For a low budget production which, one assumes will not, except with some sponsorship, recoup its cost of production (even with the 3,000 naira, $20, gate fee), the play was well rendered. The hall was full, and the audience engaged, with songs, dance, drumbeats, and a dialogue that flowed in the right cadence, at least for most of the night  (except for a few understandable omissions or stammers here and there). For a member of the audience with no knowledge of works by Wole Soyinka, this might be a rough introduction, helped only by the dynamic acting of some of the cast. A green-white-green motif featured prominently throughout (a reminder to the audience that Nigeria is the real subject of this play), while the masquerades dressed in white fitting overalls.

IMG_2173For someone watching the production of this play for the very first time, not much is lost. In fact, a few things are illuminated; how, for instance, the two undead characters loitering around the forest in search of someone to take their case were actually metaphors for the evils of slavery from an earlier time. Why the author chose to depict the man as a castrated being is his to explain, but the depiction leaves no one in doubt. That explanation is just one of the many layered metaphors that earned the play its reputation as a difficult but ambitious experiment. Patient readers, and audience members of future performances will benefit even more unveiling of the work’s many nuances.

There are others head scratchers. Names of Fela! Awolowo! Balewa! were repeated at a number of times as chants to what came before. But there was no Azikiwe. Why? What defines this group which takes only three names: Fela, Awolowo and Balewa? In any case, by 1960, none of these men had achieved much of what gave them the great stature that eventually stamped them into immortality. Definitely not Fela. It is also highly improbable that the author had written the names of any one of these into a script written as early in the life of the country as 1960 when much of what toppled that first democratic experiment had not even unfolded yet.

IMG_2121And while we’re on oversights, why was there never a consensus before, during, or after rehearsals as to what the right pronunciation would be of Demoke the murderous carver, a major character in the play? Is it “Démoké”: [A + dé + ọmọ + kẹ] “We crowned a child to pet”, or “Démókè”: [Adé + mú + òkè] “Ade held onto the heights”. It seemed a bit distracting after a while, I would assume even for those who don’t speak the language of source, that the pronunciation of the character’s name changed at will without any logical, textual, or dramatic justification.

And there end the knocks.

“Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich; But theatre will make you good.” Terrence Mann was said to have quipped. For me, as theatre typically guarantees, it was two and a half hours of mental and aesthetic stimulation. Definitely a well-spent time.


Read a review of the work itself here, and – even better – here.

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