The Kwagh-hir Festival From Benue State


Kwagh-hir theatre is one of such rich cultural displays in Benue State that celebrate the inherent creativity of the people and has immense economic benefits.



However, let me quickly point out herethat, I do not have the authority to profess about Kwagh-hir theatre, particularly to the inventors and custodians of the creative art.

It will be saying one is more proficient in use of English than the owners of the English language. I say this because the first professor of Theatre Arts from the whole of Northern Nigeria, Professor Shamsudeen O. O. Amali, is from Benue State. Secondly, the first person to carry out very extensive research work to draw attention to Kwagh-hir theatre, Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, is another proud son of Benue State.

His seminal work, The Kwaghhir Theatre: A Metaphor of Resistance has been a ready source book for critical studies on Kwagh-hir. Thirdly, we have very distinguished theatre professors like Charity Angya, James Alachi, Saint Gbilekaa, Idris Amali, Tor Iorapuu, Ameh Dennis Akoh, Ama Gowon Doki, Kwaghkondo Agber, and many others, from Benue State, who have contributed immensely to studies on Kwagh-hir theatre.

But come to think of it; if you ask me, I will say they have no option, because, if you do not tell your stories, nobody can tell them very well for you.

A personal interaction with some young ones revealed that they have no idea of Kwaghhir. If they have knowledge of the dynamics of Kwagh-hir, they can definitely not be apostles of the festival celebrating it. I became aware of Kwagh-hir around 1981, when Frank Speed (our lecturer in Film Production at the University of Calabar then), did a documentary on it with Peggy Harper.

The brief background of Kwagh-hir theatre here is informed by the realisation that, the younger generation is adequately informed about this veritable “weapon of social action,” as Don Rupin puts it.

According to Iyorwuese Hagher, Kwagh-hir dates back to the early 20th century in the lives of the Tiv people. Rupin points out that, the stories of the performances are as simple and straightforward as possible: farmers farming, family’s passing on traditions, men and women working, but “coded with particular Tiv inflections speaking to those who understood the deeper notions of cultural independence.”

As a point of fact, Iyorwuese Hagher avers that, the Kwagh-hir theatre can be located in the history and traditions of the Tiv people, adding that it origin can be said to be in three phases, the foremost it being rooted in the storytelling tradition of the people. The storyteller used symbols, costumes and props in
enacting his stories, just as he acts out, mimes and dances to give life to his acts (Hagher 51; see also Akinsipe ).

Edith Enem points out that, Kwagh-hir performances usually take place in the night, serving as entertainment for the people; and that they draw large audiences. The various instruments used during the performances also showcase historical events and the rich culture of the Tiv people. She adds that, Kwagh-hir has survived to the present day despite attempts by opposing factions to use it to aggravate social disharmony. To Enem, this existence is attributable to its elastic nature and the people’s passion for dance and drama.

The Kwagh-hir theatre continues to display those situations, attitudes and social behaviours,which are  found both in Tiv land and universal human conditions (Enem 249-251). Put succinctly, Kwagh-hir provides memorable entertainment in its dramatisation of Tiv folklore and social commentary.

Discussing the sculptural elements in Kwagh-hir, Elizabeth Nyager observes that it is a dynamic theatre, a puppet theatre featuring both giant puppets (ubermeronmettes) and smaller ones, which are manipulated on mobile platforms, adding that, Kwagh-hir features masquerade displays
of both animal and human representations.

The mask is therefore an important feature of Kwagh-hir theatre and sculpturing an equally dynamic super-activity/element in Kwaghhir theatre.

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