- Rituals in Cameroon Drama: a semiological interpretation of the plays of Gilbert Doho, Bole Butake and Hansel Ndumbe Eyoh
In this interesting work Chiangong displays a penetrating awareness of rituals as a process of signification. She postulates the existence of a system of signs in Cameroon drama, then corroborates its existence and effectiveness as a means of communication in the works of Gilbert Doho, Bole Butake and Hansel Ndumbe Eyoh.
Chiangong’s first chapter highlights her hypothesis while revealing the relationship between drama and society in Africa. She explores different views of traditional performances in African drama before decrying the lack of studies on semiology and Cameroon drama, thereby emphasizing the relevance of her study. To confirm the thematic and stylistic wealth of the genre, Chapter 2 explores scholarly views of various aspects of African theatre, before establishing that rituals in African plays constitute theatre through the wealth of movements and signs involved. To emphasize this, Chiangong explores diverse features of African ritualized behaviour in order to reveal their rich theatrical character and effective communicative potential when considered in the context of the classical understanding of dramatic structure. She thus traces the origins of European and Greek drama from rituals, and then seals her point by exploring and confirming the similarities between Greek and Cameroon traditional theatre.
In Chapter 3, she advances a theoretical framework for studying rituals in African drama by examining different semiological concepts before focusing on an approach that could ease the interpretation of ritualistic elements in Cameroon drama. Chiangong concludes that a semiological approach is suitable in contemporary social criticism and philosophy since elements of ritual are significant ways of communicating. The appropriateness of a semiological study of African theatre, via the interpretation of rituals in African plays, is thus fully justified.
Having established that cultural signs have a practical use in redefining the social and historical milieu of contemporary drama, she moves in Chapter 4 to a critical survey of selected plays. In these, the overall cultural atmosphere and many of the dramatic incidents cry out for purgation – a cue for the entry of ritual with its communicative and cleansing power. Going beyond atmosphere and Weltanschauung – as explored in Chapter 4 with the chosen plays as backdrop – in Chapter 5 Chiangong switches to an exploration of many different ritual tools (roles, symbols and occasions alike) as means of processing, transmitting and interpreting messages and societal values.
In Chapter 6, she is concerned with the dramatic agency of women. Their roles in the rituals have already been analysed in Chapter 5; now, the goal is to prove that the plays communicate splendidly and so are dramatically more effective when the roles played by women are better understood.
Chapter 7 scrutinizes certain paratextual components which, from a semiological point of view, are germane in establishing the importance of rituals in the communities portrayed. Chiangong concludes her study by establishing that, before colonialism, most of Africa experienced ritual display as a routine social phenomenon – it was commonly enacted during initiation, propitiation rites, and on many other occasions. Alas, this rich heritage, she laments, has suffered attrition until recent salvaging efforts by modern African theatre.
Chiangong’s task is daunting. She recognizes this by focusing chapters 1–3 on educating her readers about semiology and rituals, while at the same time authenticating the existence of traditional theatre in Africa. Accordingly, she [End Page 670] delays in engaging the goal of semiologically interpreting targeted plays and attendant rituals. This pedagogic foreplay can be unsettling, an outcome exacerbated by a certain structural awkwardness engendered when sections of the work abut rather abruptly on those that precede or follow, without a strong sense of cohesion.
Sections of this work, it must also be said, are also more innovative, interesting and richer in detail than others: why, within the same section virtually, is ‘The Mvet performance’ (Section 2.2.1) discussed without the background material on the Fang and...