“August Meeting” Is A History Lesson Everyone Needs To Learn.
Growing up in an Igbo home, one of the things we looked forward to was village meetings, which parents had to attend at least once a month. It afforded us relaxing Sundays free of our bickering parents. With time, we noticed that the women’s wing of the meeting was a lot more serious than the menfolk — they had uniforms which were diligently followed, fines for latecomers and absentees, and most important to us, post-meeting debates that usually kept my mother busy on the phone. But all these monthly meetings could not compare to the August meeting which held once a year. It was a time when select members of the branches abroad travelled home to make decisions with the women in the village on issues concerning the growth of the women’s community.
It was, therefore, with glee and excitement that I opted to see the August Meeting play at the 2018 Lagos Theatre Festival. The play — written by Paul Ugbede, produced by Chioma Onyenwe and directed by Kenneth Uphopho — throws more light on the women collective who dared to redefine their future in the aftermath of the 1929 Aba Women’s Riots. In the play, the women of Oloko have gathered to build on the success of the riots. Their leader, Nwanyeruwa, who had been imprisoned, is back and so they have decided to wage a battle, this time not against the white man who they have already defeated, but against their husbands and the laws that keep them under lock and key, treating them like second-class citizens. It takes a widespread rumour to get one woman to speak the truth about her marriage and, eventually, the other women too end up sharing their respective truths.
The production boasts of some of the more popular names in the Nigerian entertainment industry. There’s Gloria Anozie-Young of Glamour Girls fame who plays Nwanyeruwa and Ego Ogbaro from the Lagbaja fame who plays Nwakaego. Ijeoma Aniebo and Inna Erezia, who are no strangers to theatre and have appeared in some of the biggest productions in Nigeria play the roles of Nwugo and Ikonnia respectively. However, the star of this show is easily Africa Magic’s ‘Jemeji’, Odera Orji who plays the role of Mgbeke. Odera delivers an amazing performance from start to finish, one that leaves you waiting for her to speak at every point. Each woman makes the show what it is, deploying a passion to their monologues that give the audience goosebumps at some points and leaves them hanging at the edges of their seats at others.
With August Meeting, you’re taken on a brief history lesson: feminism in Nigeria is not entirely a new construct, and it is deeply rooted in the history of these powerful women and what they went through in their lives. There are stories of female genital mutilation carried out to reduce what is seen as excessive sexual desire because a woman should not have sexual urges for fear of being seen as a harlot. There are also stories of being owned as properties and not owning anything after the demise of a partner, a practice that is predominant in South Eastern Nigeria. There are also stories of being regarded as half women as a result of having only female children because, suddenly, the girl child is half a human being.
August Meeting manages to excellently share the truths and the silent cries of these women, while telling a great story, one that should be told to everyone, men and women alike. It portrays strength in unity and the need for equality.