- Blood on the Tides: The Ozidi Saga and Oral Epic Narratology by Isidore Okpewho
by Isidore Okpewho
U of Rochester P, 2014.
xii + 279 pp. ISBN 9781580464871 cloth.
Blood on the Tides is a masterful treatment of the performance, substance, and context of a well-known epic from Nigeria’s Ijo society. Isidore Okpewho has brought to bear his many years of study of African oral literature to generate an in-depth analysis that touches on the many levels and overlapping dimensions of an oral performance. Indeed, methods and ideas of three of Okpewho’s seminal works (The Epic in Africa, 1979; Myth in Africa, 1983; and Once Upon a Kingdom, 1978) have been seamlessly incorporated and applied to this complex and multi-vocal experience.
The version that Okpewho examines was originally collected by the Nigerian scholar and writer John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo in Lagos in 1963, as performed over seven nights by the gifted bard Okabou Ojobolo. Clark-Bekederemo first published a version of the epic in the form of a drama for the stage (Ozidi: A Play, 1966) then, much later, as a translated, annotated text version of the recorded performance (The Ozidi Saga: Collected and Translated from the Oral Ijo Version of Okabou Ojobolo, 1991). Professor Okpewho focuses considerable attention on differentiating between the two text versions as well as the recorded performance. This is a rewarding form of textual analysis, as far as helping the reader to understand vital concerns about translation from Ijo to English as well as the transformation from the oral to the written page. As a Nigerian, raised in the context of this and other related languages, Okpewho is able to evaluate other critical responses to the translation as well as adding his own assessment of Clark-Bekederemo’s difficult task. As a creative writer himself, he is particularly sensitive to the dictates of craft and style, both in written and oral narrative.
Okpewho spends a lot of time at the beginning of the book in situating the Ijo people physically and ecologically in their home area of the Niger Delta, as [End Page 191] well as providing a rather detailed historical and cultural overview that goes as far back as the earliest migrations into the region and the several other groups that interacted with and influenced Ijo ethnicity. He further relates these actual dimensions of the society to details found in the epic and takes these relationships into more detail as he discusses Ozidi’s actions and interactions as forming the core traits of a “Culture Hero.”
Professor Okpewho pretty much achieves unprecedented levels of rich and detailed analyses as he evaluates then backtracks over characters, scenes, cultural keystones, performance skills, musical signification, cosmology, themes, and historical references in chapters three to six, as their headings suggest: “The Narrative Art of Okabou Ojobolo,” “The Narrator and His Audience,” “Performance and Plot,” and “Music, Song and Story.” One unusual and enlightening recurring theme in his analyses is Okpewho’s determination to detail and conjecture over the historical and immediate context of Ojobolo’s performance in Lagos in 1966. There is a focus on how that performance, situated far from the delta homeland of the Ijo before a mixed ethnic and international audience at a particular time in Nigerian history, resonated in subtle and complex ways. It reminds us all that each oral performance has a specific place, time, and audience that inevitably influence not only the verbal artist, but also reception and interpretation of the event.
The last chapter of the book will inspire some scholars and seem too much of a reach for others. Early on in “Ozidi, the Ijo, and the World,” Okpewho laments the fact that due to the current conditions in Nigeria it seems unlikely that younger scholars will build on Clark-Bekederemo’s work on the epic. “Mainly, this has to do with the sheer philistinism inherent in the agenda of governments that have administered Nigeria since the country achieved independence from British colonization in 1960” (180). He goes on to provide an impressively concise yet wide-ranging summary of Nigerian history...