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What Mama Said

An Epic Drama

Osonye Tess Onwueme

Publication Year: 2003

Renowned playwright Osonye Tess Onwueme's powerful new drama illuminates the effect of national and global oil politics on the lives of impoverished rural Nigerians. What Mama Said is set in the metaphorical state of Sufferland, whose people are starving and routinely exploited and terrorized by corrupt government officials and multinational oil companies—that is, until a voice erupts and moves the wounded women and youths to rise up and demand justice. Onwueme's powerful characters and vibrant, emotionally charged scenes bring to life a turbulent movement for change and challenge to tradition. Aggrieved youths and militant women—whose husbands and sons work in the refineries or have been slaughtered in the violent struggle—take center stage to "drum" their pain in this drama about revolution. Determined to finally confront the multinational forces that have long humiliated them, Sufferland villagers burn down pipelines and kidnap an oil company director. Tensions peak, and activist leaders are put on trial before a global jury that can no longer ignore the situation. What Mama Said is a moving portrayal of the battle for human rights, dignity, compensation, and the right of a nation's people to control the resources of their own land.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: African American Life Series


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pp. 7-14

Nigerian-born dramatist Osonye Tess Onwueme has established her reputation as one of the leading black female playwrights in Africa and the United States today. Onwueme has also carved out a niche for herself as a cultural interpreter and an investigator of African women’s lives, gender politics, and the impact of transnational or global politics on...

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pp. 15-16

With generous financial support of the Ford Foundation in 2000–2001, What Mama Said was first staged at the State Cultural Centre, Calabar, Cross-River State, Nigeria, on July 6, 2001, with actors and crew members from the Nigerian Theatre Guild. Though the play was subsequently adopted for Command Performances by the Delta State Government...

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pp. 17-18

All actions take place in the fictional State of Sufferland. There are two main activity areas. One is marked the GRA/OIL CLUB, with the sign: RESTRICTED AREA. KEEP OFF! A locked iron gate shields this restricted area, with all its nuances of affluence and upper...

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pp. 19-20

Please note that a number of the fictional characters in this play are named after rivers or bodies of water, both big and small. While the smaller waters act as youths, evolving and changing roles, the bigger ones remain fairly constant, even in their dynamic change of courses. Note, too, that when the lead actors are not engaged in specific roles, they...

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pp. 21-22

(The action begins now at the dark center of the village Market-Square. The space looks bare, tired, and sleepy, except for the glowing crescent moon, hanging in one corner of the dominant indigo sky. At first, a strident drumbeat greets the world, but it is soon silenced by the avalanche of gunshots, explosive sounds, war drums, and angry voices descending on this tired land. In the shadows, a sudden shrieking sound follows as two limping, terrified young women flee from locations in the audience to center stage. Wounded and out of breath, they support, nurse...

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pp. 23-32

(Right side of the Market-Square. It’s a hot afternoon in the GRA/Oil Club. Seated, and playing a game of Monopoly around a lounge table with a white canopy above it are the powerful allies: OCEANA as the foreign Director of the oil club, YOBE, the national Government Official of oil, and PIPELINE, the Traditional Chief. A large TV screen mounted above broadcasts the day’s news reports. An empty chair, a stool with a speakerphone set on one side and a radio with drinking glasses on...

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pp. 33-40

(Like many other villagers, hunting for food, water, and other essential commodities, OMI and IMO have joined the crowd of waiting hustlers gathering to buy fuel and kerosene at the barred Fuel/Petrol station in the Market- Square. As the long waiting and chattering continues, OMI displays some of the toilet rolls, soaps, and other...

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pp. 41-58

(IMO has joined the hustling and chattering of the mob behind the barricade leading to the fuel pump. They’re pushing, shoving, and cursing one another as everyone struggles to edge their way into the crowded space near the pump/hose. IMO pushes her way through the chaotic line, goes over, pumps, and plays with the empty fuel hose. A male voice shouts: “Yes, sistah. Pump am! Pump am well-well! I dey your...

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pp. 59-74

(Twilight. The Market-Square is empty except for IMO in combat attire. She crosses, pacing up and down between the marketplace and the locked GRA/Oil Club. She’s talking to herself as she displays some protest literature not far from the gate of the GRA/Oil Club. HADEJA as the Hawker/Seller soon appears with her fruit basket...

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pp. 75-92

(OCEANA, alone. He is smoking in the lounge area when BONNY/PRIEST joins him. Soon after, OMI appears at the gate. OCEANA is obviously uneasy, for he would like to let her in but can’t because of his important...

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pp. 93-106

(OMI returns to the GRA/Oil Club, where OCEANA and YOBE, the Government Official, are meeting. They are signing some documents, but as soon as they see her coming, they quickly dash into the room with the files. OMI waits outside, humming a somber tune until the men return and let her in. Just then, two young men [one of them is IKPOBA wearing a mask] try to open the iron gate. But they can’t. They...

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pp. 107-124

(Same location at the GRA/Oil Club. OCEANA, PIPELINE, the Chief, and YOBE, the Government Official, are in conference. The people’s drumbeats keep throbbing in the background. OCEANA is worried and exasperated...

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pp. 125-136

(OMI steals back into the GRA/Oil Club with her lover, IKPOBA now as Guard Y. They quickly grab Oceana’s loaded briefcase, put on his coat, and go into hiding. OCEANA returns from his meeting. He is visibly agitated, smoking and pacing up and down until the YOBE, the Government Official, and PIPELINE, the Chief, arrive for their meeting...

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pp. 137-154

(It’s twilight. IMO is in the Market-Square, chanting invocations to her ancestors to rise up and come to their aid.)...

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pp. 155-162

(Back in the GRA/Oil Club. OCEANA is extremely angry. He’s pacing up and down the lounge and the gate area when PIPELINE, the Chief, arrives for another emergency meeting.)...

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pp. 163-172

(An emergency cabinet meeting in a corner of the Oil Club. Present are YOBE, the Government Official, PIPELINE, the Chief, and the police. They are awaiting the arrival of the General. Masked, OCEANA plays the General here. BONNY plays Police Officer One. IKPOBA plays the role of Police Officer Two.)...

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pp. 173-180

(As the people organize in the dark, more explosive sounds can be heard. Voices of protesting women and the youths can be heard. They’re now ready to attack and they have Oceana’s gun. BONNY/GUARD X and the fugitive or jailed women, too, have joined them. Thereafter, OCEANA enters, groping for the light that’s since been cut...

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Epilogue: A Nation in Custody

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pp. 181-200

(Sunrise. Siren sounds mixed with military music. Tension. Barricades as stage opens, revealing the lounge at the Oil Club, now turned Supreme Court and awaiting the trial of the prisoners. The screen shows flashes of a very rowdy mob, struggling to get through the barricades but unable to do so. For a while, their charged voices fill...


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p. 202-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780814336786
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814331415

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: African American Life Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Petroleum industry and trade -- Drama.
  • Government, Resistance to -- Drama.
  • Political corruption -- Drama.
  • Africa -- Drama.
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