DRAMA: ITS BEGINNINGS ACROSS CULTURES


Origins:

The plural morpheme ‘-s’ in the word, Origins is intended. This is because, when talking of drama or literature in general, it has no single origin. So, one cannot correctly say that drama or literature began here or there. Literature is interwoven with the people’s ways of life and culture. Thus, so far a people exit, they have their own literature – drama, prose and poetry. In this sense, it is possible to discuss the different origins of literature (Drama) from the Egyptian background to the Greece, Roman, Asian, and Annang /Ibibio/Oro backgrounds.

For instance, in the ancient Egypt, rituals and religious ceremonies and commemorations of the actions of gods and goddess and the action to preserve these rituals, from generation to generation gave rise to dramatic acts among the people. The formulation of these rituals, and the consequent repetition and rehearsal, broke the ground for theatre in Egypt. These rituals were practiced as duty to the gods and it also brought entertainment and pleasure to the people.  Through these rituals, leaders, or actors of sorts, emerged. These acting/leadership roles were often filled by elders and priests.

The earliest example of ceremony and ritual evolving towards theatre came from the ‘Pyramid texts’ dating from 2800 to 2400 B.C. This contained dramas sending the dead pharaoh off to the underworld. These dramas also showed the continuity of life after death and the pharaoh's power. There was also the Memphite Drama, recounting the story of the death and resurrection of the god Osiris, and the coronation of his son Horus. 

The most important Egyptian ritual drama, though, was the Abydos passion play. Like the Memphite drama, the Abydos passion play concerns the story of Osiris. this drama was enacted at the most sacred place in Egypt, Abydos- the burial site of Osiris. It was Performed annually from 2500 to 550 B.C. This passion play is the first of its kind ever recorded and is the first example of ‘theatre’.

In Greece, the story is almost the same. Drama originated from festivals enacted to celebrate gods and goddesses. The Greek Drama began around 700 B.C. with festivals honouring their many gods. One god, Dionysus, was honoured with an unusual festival called the Dionysia. The merrymaking festival was led by drunken men dressed up in rough goat or ram skins (because goats, rams, bulls and all horn animals were thought to be sexually potent) who would sing and play in choruses to welcome Dionysus. Tribes competed against one another in performances, and the best show would win the contest. Of the four festivals in Athens (each reflecting seasonal changes), plays were only presented at one festival -- the City Dionysia.

Plays were performed in large, open-air structures consisting of a semi circular terraced theatron or "seeing place”, and a round orchestra, the “dancing place” for the chorus.  An altar of Dionysus was usually located in the centre of the orchestra.  A temporary structure called a skene on the far side of the orchestra served as a backdrop for the action and was where the actors stored their masks and costumes and performed quick changes out of the sight of the audience. 

The three best-known Greek tragedy playwrights of the fifth century are Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.

In Rome, the story was quite different. Though the Roman theatre had some relations to religious festivals, many of the Roman dramatic cultures were set in a much greater variety of performance – from chariot racing, juggling, gladiatorial shows et cetera. There were also carnival-like festivals including acting, flute playing, dancing, and fighting to the death between wild animals or between gladiators. Almost all festivals used music, dance, and masks in their ceremonies. The first performance that could be called theatre probably occurred in Rome around 364 B.C.

By the first century B.C., the Roman empire had displaced the Greek city states as the dominant power in the Mediterranean world.  The Romans have been known for copying other cultures and practices and improving upon them. The same can be said of their approach to the theatre. Romans borrowed Greek and Etruscan methods in their own theatre, but made them distinctly Roman through modification.

Unlike the ancient Greece, comedy was more popular in Rome than tragedy. Titus Plautus was a famous Roman comedy writer. He is credited with 130 plays including The Braggart Warrior, The Casket and Pot of Gold. Publius Terence was another Roman comedy writer who wrote six plays, all of which have survived including Mother-in-Law, Self-Tormentor and The Brother.
Few playwrights of tragedy are known from Rome's early, republican period. In the later imperial period Lucius Seneca enjoyed some popularity as a tragedian.  He wrote his own versions of The Trojan Women, Medea, Oedipus, Phaedra and Hercules.  Seneca was also the Emperor Nero's tutor and principle advisor.  He was a noted stoic philosopher and generally regarded as an accomplished statesman.  Nero ordered Seneca's death in 65 AD.

Most of the Roman plays mentioned were held a space called Circus Maximus – a large theatre that could hold up to 250,000 people.

The Romans also staged extravagant recreations of sea battles for which lakes were dug up by the order of Julius Caesar or amphitheaters like the Colosseum were flooded for the occasion. Christians were often the victims of the Romans' thirst for blood, and many were sentenced to death by battle in the Colosseum.

In the Asian territories, the Buddhists developed a form of theatre to illustrate the central concepts of their faith. More so, in many parts of Asia, including China and India, the theatre was understood as a mixed medium emphasising songs and dance as a way of developing narratives and many forms of performance. This tradition has been preserved till today to in Bollywood movies.

In the local communities of Annang, Ibibio and Oro the festival of the communities gave birth to the development of dramatic arts. These festivals included among others: Ekpiri Akata, a public outing meant to expose anti- social behaviours through songs sung mainly at night by masked performers. Mbre Mmong, a biannual aquatic festival connected with a fertility cult and ancestral worship in Nsit Ubium. Usoro Ubine Ikot, a- hunting expedition and lifting of sanctions on seven-year fallow farmlands for cultivation. Ekpe Outings, a feast for protection of farm crops and domestic animals. They are displayed by beautiful masquerades. Ekong Festival, an entertainment festival that witnesses the display of colourful masquerades. It is meant to re-establish peace, love and order and to publicly disgrace transgressors. Feat of Etefia Deity, a clan celebration of appeasement and thanksgiving to the communal deity of Uyo. New Yam Festival, a thanksgiving feast to the gods and ancestors for yam harvest. Usoro Abasi, a thanksgiving and appeasement of the communal gods before the celebration of the New Yam.

Still, there were others like Mbobo Initiation, Age Grade Games, and Wrestling March.


 Idiongo Ebong

3 comments:

  1. i am a student of uniuyo, basic studies abak, i am Daniel David bassey and i am a proud supporter of feminism, it is high time Nigeria encourages girl power, women are also of good relevance in the bible and in the society.
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  2. proud of this . i am Bassey Daniel David .i am a student of Uniuyo basic studies and i am proud supporter of feminism. It is high time Nigeria embraces GIRL POWER because Women are of great importance in the society and even in the Bible.you should notice most popular women today have noiseless breakthrough. hence, Nigeria wake up from you old babaric nature and completly embrace EQUAL GENDER RIGHTS.
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