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This study aims at the analysis of social history and the dramatist with focus on Ola Rotim’s Ovonramwen Nogbaisi as a case study. It also aims at examining social history and its impact in Nigeria. The study locates the problems associated with ignorance, leadership and cultural ethics, as a framework for analyzing the nature of human groupings with the belief that it will give the younger generation enough encouragement to interpret the past. The study employed both secondary and primary sources in obtaining data for the study. The primary data involved interviews and oral discussions, while secondary data relied on books, historical material and other publication. The study reveals that drama is a content of culture and culture itself is a content of social experience. Furthermore it also reveals that changes in one aspect of the social system affect the entire system. The study therefore recommends that socio-historical change involves rapid alternation in the pattern of relationship within a society over the years. Social history envisage that a change in any social organization denotes developing new norms, modification of role expectation, a shift to new types of laws and the introduction as well as use of new production technologies in dealing with societal problems.




1This study attempts to highlight and justify that drama is a medium for documenting events as they occur in history of a particular society or nation. Through this medium the dramatist addresses the problems that human-beings encountered. For centuries, the theatre has been recognized as functional not only for entertainment value but also as a means of education and as a means of disseminating information. In this regard, Orson Welles have reasoned that “drama and theatre is functional in that it can make statement. With a view to forgoing an alternative society, maintaining the status quo, reflecting in the social history. And exploring man’s relationship with the visible and incomprehensible forces he is compelled to grapple with” (1984:32).

There are various functions of Drama in its various ramification be it religious, entertainment, philosophical, historical, political or satirical dimensions. Welles also argued that dram is a very strong means of influencing social change and propagating ideas, whether such ideas are aimed at encouraging support for the government of the day and its programme or at eliminating customs and practice deemed atavistic (1984:38). Such authorities as Paulo Freive, August Boal, Ross Kidd and Jesse Stuart have identified theatre and drama, as a strong weapon against non-formal actions Stuart in particular stated that:

“Drama and theatre can raise consciousness because it is a mode of communication that has a life of its own.. As a form of skillfully contrived escapism, it allows the audience to take collective and imaginative refuge on a more pleasurable realm of existence than their every reality” (1981:216)

        Indeed, drama and theatre has come to function as a variable tool and means of education, in search for a meaningful human development. In order to enhance the prospects of sustainable development in human society, drama is the only means through which intellectuals try to communicate with the people most disadvantaged in their society. This is done by presenting plays to them in which the problems of the society are articulated from the people’s point of view or by getting them to present plays to themselves, which increasingly help them to analyze their society and correct their own social vices.

        Over the past few centuries’ drama have reshaped cultural orientations, influenced politics and played important role in disseminating vital information about the social history of a particular society. In recent times people ask and speculate endlessly about their past cultural heritage and what the future hold but sometimes their vision is more idealistic than realistic. Where can we turn for a reliable view of our history and what lies ahead? The situation is similar or many today who feel anxious as they think about their future.

        These are the few questions about social history and the attempt at using the study to proffer solutions to problems the earlier generations are not able to cope with. Furthermore the study is an attempt to provide the reader with a guide to analyze some social and historical issues raise in the play text.


The work is an attempt, at examining the various generational problems. Using social history to analyze the society and proffer solutions to these societal problems. The various societal problems are important enough to merit serious consideration. These societal problems can inspire fire in the writer enough to comment on them. The dramatist in Ovonramwen Nogbaisi uses historical tools to address generational problems associated with;

Imperialism: This is assumed by liberal scholars to be a natural outcome of the collective social existence. It is a product of the habits and instincts which turn people into warriors in the struggle for survival and supremacy. To this extent, it is a universal tendency of people to expand their area of influence due to national pride and the quest for glory. Imperialism is seen as the product of the natural desire of man for expansion and domination. This is the major product that brought about the generational problem in the play, the quest for economic and political dominion of the Europeans over the Bini people. The dramatist believes that every imperialistic ideology has a linkage to a material motive such as economic accumulation. It is the economic, domination, subordination and exploitation of weak economies by powerful and developed economies that gave rise to the ultimate crisis in Ovonramwen Nogbaisi.

Colonialism: Which happens to be a manifestation of imperialism is of utmost importance in this study because it was colonization that acted as the major vehicle of European penetration in Africa and Bini in particular. The impact of colonial imperialism on periphery societies, in Africa was decisive. All over Africa colonialism created indelible effects in a wide range of social-cultural, economic and political aspect of Africans social life. As a first step, the varied but uniquely and independently organized pre-colonial institution, kingdoms, empires and tribal governments lost their sovereignty to the dominant colonizing state through gunboat diplomacy, and hinterland expenditures. Therefore, the breakdown of old patterns of autonomy of the African states and kingdoms were forcefully and quickly achieved. This development meant that African chiefs, emirs, and kings lost their autonomy and became subordinate to European powers. The king of Buganda, Shaka of Zululand, Ashatilune of Ashanti kingdom, Kosoko of Lagos, Jaja of Opobo, Emirs of Hausa/Fulani states Nana of Itsekiri and of course Ovonramwen Nogbaisi are good examples of kings and territories that fell to the colonial imperialist power.

With these views I will say that colonial rule denigrated the African personality and cultural values.

Interdependency: Is a means in which the European invasion of Africans in general and Bini in particular, politically, socially, and economically subdued the Africans. Interdependency, which still hunts and disturbs us till date is a system in which colonized territories were encouraged to specialize in the production of raw materials needed by industrialized European countries, while the European states specializes in the manufactured goods. The implication of this structural dependency is that it rules out the possibility of the emergence of a developed state in any colonized territory so long the basic character of this relationship exists. Then the result is that the African economies become incoherent, incapable of economic growth and self-dependent.

One may say the inter-tribal wars in the 18 and 19th centuries Nigeria have had the same ethical characteristics as may be found all over the world. People have disagreed over food sources and territories, kill one another, these wars characterized the 19th century African kingdoms, this work strives to proffer solutions to these warfare that still hunt us till date. In retrospect, it is easy to see that tribal wars were futile solve, no problem and does not proffer solutions, which is also true of inter-tribal wars involving lien tribes.

For instance one of the most memorable skirmishes that also lead to the Ouster of Oba Ovonramwen was the so called Bini Massacre of 1896 in which warriors who were among the fiercest in the south, routed a British contingent enrooted to Bini, nine white men were beheaded and 280 men were ambushed and killed. The party killed were said to be unarmed. A quick reprisal followed, with few months Bini was sacked; the Oba was deported to Calabar, and the British took over the administration of Bini. Relentlessly, British expeditionary forces continued the war of subjugation. They sacked Ilorin in 1897, the Arochukwu’s in 1901 Borno in 1902, Kano in 1903, and TIV in 1906, as pointed out earlier these were really inter-tribal wars. The acquisition of territories and economic advantage lust for power and of course, the desire for plunder, the only difference being that the aggressive tribe was from outside Nigeria. When Benin was sacked the result of the war was that they lost their arts treasury which symbolizes their cultural heritage. It was not only the British that invaded other tribes with a view to occupation and plunder. Indigenous tribes did the same in other to acquire land and properties. The great armies of Bini during the reign of Oba Esigie waged such war of aggression against the Alafin of Oyo Empire.

Finally this work will look at the various impact of Europeans infiltration on African traditions and cultural values. First of all, we look at leadership in African before the coming of the Europeans. In pre-colonial Nigeria there were two main types of government. According to Elechi Amadi “Monarchy and a democratic form of gerontocracy. The former featured in kingdoms ruled by Oba, Emirs Obongs, Obis and powerful tribal chieftains, who wielded power in styles ranging from absolute dictatorship to near democracy” (1982:94). These types of government existed and gives room to a total rule of law and harmonious co-existence between the various, groups, persons and clans that made up the society. Also cultural heritage like masquerading, ritualistic ceremonies and festivities that form part of the people’s way of life was affected by the invasion. Religion, ties the pre-colonial Africans. Throughout history they have felt the need to worship, and they have turned to God to fill their need. They believed so much that they can always get answers to their prayer to God through minor deities like Osun, Amadioha, Ogun, Ebini Ukpabi and so on, but the Europeans brought an alien religion that shattered their existing mutual relationship with their goods.

The essence of the work is to address the problems associated with the above problems, to sensitized the readers on the advantages and significance of learning about our history, how our past heroes lives their mistakes can be avoided. Education they say is the key through education Africans can adopt the concept of social cultural and behavioral change for the betterment of the race.

I intend using this research to educate the reader on several other agent of social change and history, but social history as a branch of sociology of drama have not be given the desired documentation and research due to the fact that there is few or virtually no literature on the subject, which made it difficult for proper documentation.


The play Ovonramwen Nogbaisi a historical play, about the Bini’s of the Southern part of Nigeria. For the inadequacy of research materials, this work will be restricted the socio-political and economic life of the Bini people, using the play text as a model of data to investigate the Bini social structure and how these structure influences their action and behavior. The study will also be restricted to Bini and the play text Ovonramwen Nogbaisi.

The Bini social and political organization started with the family and rose in ascending order of magnitude to the imperial organization. Each family was headed by the eldest male member who becomes regarded by other family members as the intermediary between them and their dead ancestor. Thus the family head had the right to apply sanctions to those under him without questions. According to Talbot ‘although political organization started in the family, the village was generally recognized as the basic unit of Bini political organization. Each Bini village is made up of village head whose headship was not hereditary’ (168:47) Bini tradition also recognizes hereditary village headship. The hereditary village heads were either the sons of the past Oba or descendants of loyal followers of previous Oba’s who were appointed in recognition of their services to the palace. For instance, Oba Ovonramwen actually inherited the kingship from his father Adolo who also inherited from his own father. Oba Osemwede, then at the central government level, the Oba was at the head of administration he lived in Benin City. The Oba and his chiefs constituted the council of states which took all major decisions for the good administration of the Empire. To make administration easy the kingdom was divided into village various people closer to the Oba were kept in charge of these tribute paying villages. Tributes were paid to the Obas’s household in form of foodstuffs and live stocks by these communities. Refusal by any vassal territory to pay tribute was regarded as a rebellion and this was therefore put down by force.

The economic organization of the Bini kingdom comes through various sources of income because they engaged themselves in various economic activities. This revenue came chiefly from Agriculture, trade, hunting, tributes from vassal states as well as income from arts and crafts for which Benin was famed. With revenues coming from these sources and coming to the central government the Oba was able to expand, equip the army, and finance the civil administration of his empire. Part of the revenue was also used in adorning the palace with magnificent works of art and other treasures.

Therefore with the above organizational structures the content of the social actions contained in Ovonramwen Nogbaisi consists of the social processes that form the Benin society. The intention of Ovonramwen Nogbaisi as a historical play is to influence the socio-dynamic growth of the society.


This work is aimed at analyzing the content of African culture in Ovonramwen Nogbaisi.  The play contains the social history and culture of the Binis in its struggle against European invasion.

In traditional religion like every powerful weapon has played a particularly important role in ethical philosophy all through the ages because it has been a useful instrument for enforcing moral codes. In the Bini traditional religion the priest of Ifa and Osanobua as seen in Ovonramwen Nogbaisi acted as intermediary between men and gods and interpret their commands, which often contain patterns of behavior. In Bini, religion and tradition guide their actions and way of life. Culture, tradition and religion has answers to virtually all questions.

Festivities and cultural practices has been of tremendous influence on the Bini people. Like the Ague festival Bini people like every other African empire are very religious and culturally inclined. Burials for instance form part of the terminal religious ritual for the dead. And in highly emotional matters such as religion, it is futile to think in terms of material values, in such religious/cultural rituals, man becomes blind, deaf and dumb, consciousness dissolves and the other insubstantial, illogical and elusive part of him takes over. The Ague festival for example, functions and guides the social, religious and political life of the Bini people. It is seen as a sacred festival, during the period it last, visitor are not allowed to step into Bini, if it happens the consequences will be enormous.

Before the advent of the British and colonial government in Nigeria the political authority of the cultural groups like the Ague was supreme, it acted as and was virtually the government of the day. Its rules and regulations were laid which could not be flagrantly floated without serious repercussions. The penalty of death was imposed on anyone who resisted an envoy of the society or on a non-member who witnessed any of its secret rites. The British men who were attacked refused to head and respect the ritual festival being performed, at the time of their arrival to Bini. This action by the British men brought out the anger and vengeance from the Bini chiefs who felt that their land had been desecrated and this custom trampled upon.


The study justifies the need to compliment historical writings in a way to give the readers enough encouragement to interpret the past from the present system of values. This is done through looking at how our ancestors lived, low peace, stability and goodliness are maintained during their period.

Like virtually all African tribe, the Binis made laws and instituted abominations to control unacceptable behavior in Bini, it was quite possible to abstain from crime like murder, theft and arson and still be looked upon as an unsatisfactory member of the society. The mere accordance of bad behavior is a negative virtue. To be regarded as positively virtuous, one is expected to be helpful and useful to ones neighbors because African ethical philosophy emphasizes positive virtue. For instance in Ovonramwen Nogbaisi we see the punishment melted out to the two chiefs that committed murder.

J. A. Sofola lists the following cardinal virtues as typically African: “an emphasis on wholesome human relations among people’s respect for elders; community fellow-felling, as reflected in communal land tenure and ownership” (1973:4). Sofola’s book is concerned with the totality of African culture is general and the Nigeria ethics in particular which can also applies to the Bini’s.

Secondly, Rotimi in background Ovonramwen Nogbaisi state that: The head that came to wear the Benin crown in that uneasy age was Ovonramwen Nogbaisi a man long portrayed by the biases of colonial history in the mien of the most abominable sadist, but in actuality, a man more looks surreal and emotional. It portrays Ovonramwen as a lenient and disciplined leader who tried to protect the kingdom from external attack, but met opposition. From the British invaders, again the dramatist introduces us to Idugbowa the son of Oba Adolo, who later on 1888 took over the mantle of leadership after the death of his father. Taking the title of Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, Idugbowa became powerful, prosperous,a nd popular during his time. It was not until aboput five years after being conferred the Obaship title that the Europeans, British in particular who had been in contact with Bini since the 15th century began to paint ugly pictures of their once admired friendly country. Benin was variously described as uncivilized, barbaric and a city of blood. Incidentally, this was the period when the rulers of many African States, including Benin were protecting their domain against indiscriminate rush by numerous European merchants into African hinterland for trader.

The lesson to be derived from this various steps taken by Ovonramwen is that of exemplary leadership, he choose to die for his people, even when he did not give the order for the killing of the white men he still defended his people who carried out the actions.


This study is mainly based on the analytical mode of methodology it focuses mainly on written or printed library and archival sources, such as books, journals, theses, reports, literary work such as plays. Data are collected from these and analyzed in relation to the research objective.

These can also be referred to the secondary sources of data collection, which has to do with the earlier studies or critical works on the subject matter which I find relevant to my own research because they focus to some extent on my subject or other subjects comparable to it.


DRAMA: The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of current English defines Drama as “a play for the Theatre, Radio or Television or series of exciting events (352)”.

        Drama could be seen as a play put together by one person or group of persons aimed at creating audience awareness or an imitation of action with a view to avert or warn the society of certain activities.

        F. R. Leavies defines drama “as an art most capable of recreating men typical experiences, though speech and action” (1945:216).

DRAMATIST: According to the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary of Current English is defined as a person who writes plays for the theatre television or radio, (352).

        Bamidele define a dramatist as an artiste who presents to us in a dialogue or dramatic form his own precise political or moral latitude (2000:29). A dramatist in the general imagination is the dramatic writers who make statements that are very succinct, or implicit, about their desire to reach towards a metaphor of desirable wholeness through drama.

HISTORY: According to Hornby is all the events that happened in the past (567).

        While social history according to Leavies is “concerned with the daily life of the inhabitants of a land in past ages, which includes the human, economic relation of classes to one another the attitude of man to nature and culture in its changing form” (1945:9).


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