Research in African Literatures 35.1 (2004) 187-190
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Pierre Meunier, Nigerian Dramatist
Pierre Meunier was born in 1926 in the village of Grand in eastern France. At the age of 22 he arrived in Nigeria to work for the trading company SCOA; spending much of his time in Maiduguri, he became a naturalized Nigerian citizen in 1978 (and is not to be confused—though the coincidence certainly impedes Internet searches for information on his work!—with another Pierre Meunier, a contemporary dramatist, actor, and director based in France). While he has published poetry and short fiction, his main activity as a writer has been as a dramatist; to date, twenty-four of his plays have been published, the majority in six volumes that have appeared since 1999 under the imprint of the Ibadan-based publisher Spectrum Books (that some of these recent volumes have already been reprinted gives some indication of the popularity of Meunier's work).
Critical commentary on Meunier's output has so far been mostly restricted to a special issue of the journal ASE published in 1995, which collects a dozen or so essays on his plays together with one on the poetry.1 That volume contains frustratingly little biographical information and not a great deal on the performance history of Meunier's plays. There are, though, suggestive comments on the question of Meunier's critical perspective, as both insider and outsider to Nigeria, on the balancing of his (often harsh) critique of Nigerian society with an essential allegiance to his adoptive home (see Bayo Oduneye, who has staged several of Meunier's plays, in ASE: "What makes a Frenchman laugh is different from what makes a Nigerian laugh. Meunier throws a situation at you, makes you rethink the situation without making you get angry" .). There are also useful comments on the literary stimuli that underpin his plays, in particular the French satirical tradition, from Molière to Jarry's Ubu Roi, and Hausa dramatic and storytelling forms such as the tatsuniyoyi.
Meunier's early plays are wide-ranging in subject matter and in their approach to dramaturgy. They include a historical drama, Rabeh and the Scramble for the Chad Basin, set in the Borno kingdom in the 1890s. This has special interest in that very few published Nigerian English-medium plays are set in the north of the country (though it has to be said that while some of Meunier's more recent plays are also set [End Page 187] in the north, his depiction of that milieu lacks the dense specificity one finds in plays by Soyinka, Rotimi, and many other dramatists, the setting of which lies in different parts of the south). The Praise Singer and Every Rogue Has His Match (published in one volume with the domestic comedy To Every One His Turn) owe something to the Hausa tatsuniyoyi storytelling tradition, though the driving motif in both—that of the swindler swindled, the deceiver deceived—is common to satirical narrative worldwide: it is one employed with great verve by Zulu Sofola in her play The Wizard of Law (based on the medieval French comedy Maistre Pierre Pathelin), and one that Meunier returns to in a more recent work, The Comedy of Marriages.
Three other plays by Meunier have attracted particular attention (they dominate the discussion of his work in the ASE volume mentioned above). John Brigg's Paradise is a comedy of situation on the twin lives of a philanderer, notable for Meunier's decision to avoid any hint of an explicit corrective morality. Chinyelu takes as its starting point Molière's Don Juan, but with a female, rather than male, character taking the place of the libertine Don. Notable here is the candor of the play's dialogue on sexual behavior and the prurient approach to material that in much Nigerian English-language drama would be employed in order to generate didactic moral commentary. Barriers is a comedy that explores the contrasting characters of two businessmen held up at a barrier erected to prevent the use of an untarred road...