BY TONI KAN
The best journeys lead not just to a destination but to discovery and this is at the heart of the Journey motif or Quest tradition in literary discourse from biblical times as in Abraham and Lot to literary antiquity as in Hercules and Odysseus.
In stories that explicate the Journey motif, the hero usually answers a call to depart from his homestead to a promised locale and the journey is often fraught with danger and incidents that test the mettle of the quester thus proving his heroic credentials.
The Journey motif and Quest tradition is at the very core of Eko: Iwure Olofin, the made for TV epic movie tracing the provenance of the Aworis who are believed to be the real owners/founders of Eko or what we now call Lagos.
The story begins with a charge from Ifa diviner, Adifala who instructs Olofin, (the brave Ile-Ife prince played majestically and with magnificent aplomb by Yemi Blaq) to depart from Ile-Ife with an entourage on a sea voyage with a floating calabash as their ancient GPS. Adifala tells Olofin that he is to settle at the place where the calabash sinks.
The journey leads first to Ijebu where they stop for a spell before the calabash begins to move again. It makes a stop at a spot by Isheri where they build a settlement and call it Awori. The calabash, which can be likened to the star guiding the Three wise men in the Biblical story of Jesus finally sinks at Iddo where they now built their finally settlement and where Olofin and his depleted entourage finally find the fulfilment of Adifala’s prophecy to the effect that they “will be blessed” at Ilu Iddo.
The choice of Yemi Blaq as Olofin Ogunfumire is a casting director’s triumph. He is not just imposing; he is possessed of a regal bearing befitting of a founding father. Handsome and composed, he is a true embodiment of a philosopher king.
Never has a Nigerian actor, since Pete Edochie played Okonkwo in NTA’s Things Fall Apart, embodied a role as much as Yemi Blaq does in Eko: Iwure Olofin.
Other casting triumphs are Aina Agan, the wealthy but badly behaved barren woman whose quest for vengeance brings calamity upon her people. Then there is Ibidun, the Amebo of Iddo whose loose tongue provides the spark to the keg of gunpowder that consumes the love between Olofin and his loving wife Afaye.
Olofin’s story is a catalogue of triumph and victory earned at great personal expense. While pursuing the realization of the diviner’s prophecy, Olofin has to contend with his wife’s barrenness and then his headstrong children finally set him on a collision course with Aina Agan, who is not just wealthy but with direct access to the Oba of Bini.
As with all heroic personages, Olofin does not just depend on the prophecy but goes ahead to ‘assist’ the gods to his eternal chagrin. Charged by Adifala to sacrifice a spotless white ram to the gods in appreciation, Olofin searches for a white ram and when he does not find one, decides to sacrifice a black one. That slight indiscretion becomes the catalyst for near fatal consequences many years later.
As far as Nollywood movies go, especially those constructed on an epic scale, Eko: Iwure Olofin does not break new grounds but it manages to hold its own as a period piece that pays attention to detail.
Period pieces by their very nature are difficult creatures on account of the need for fidelity and authenticity; a quest in which, more often than not, anachronism becomes par for the course.
Eko: Iwure Olofin avoids many of those anachronistic pitfalls and in the process manages to emerge as maybe the first Nigerian movie which, though showing scenes of fully naked women will escape censure because the scenes are handled with taste and elegance and without a modicum of salaciousness or gratuitousness.
One is constrained to ask though what finally became of Olofin’s young wife, Aduke, who appears to have been lost somewhere in the editing suite as the movie was cut to manageable length for the premiere. Her marriage to Olofin was the catalyst for tragedy but we never get to see nor hear from her again as soon as the marriage ceremony ends.
Nollywood directors and producers are often quick to call their movies epics once they are set in antiquity or post-colonial times but a period piece does not an epic make. An epic is so named on account of its scale, the sheer girth of its plotline and circumference of its world view.
Eko: Iwure Olofin is, in that sense, a true epic both in scope and ambition. Running at 13 hours with 400 actors and shot at a purpose built set in Badagry, the movie may well become a master class in large budget productions and tenacity and for this the producers deserve applause.
Fola Onifade of L’amour Productions and Actress Bukky Wright have produced a movie that is worthy of commendation and as it goes on TV and the cinemas the hope is that many more filmmakers will emulate them and begin to tell stories, which through the medium of film, explore and celebrate while critically interrogating the oral traditions that approximate our origins.
Historical scholars will also do well to engage with the text as a means of cross-examining the veracity of the mythological and historical claims that L’amour and their director, Femi Ade Eketunde, have made. One expects that such scholars who are familiar with both Bini and Lagos histories would have their own opinions while the movie is very likely to resuscitate the recent controversy over who has pre-eminence between the Yorubas and Binis.
But no matter what happens, at the end, Eko: Iwure Olofin would have opened up a new vista of discourse while succeeding in drawing attention to Lagos as it celebrates fifty years as Nigeria’s pre-eminent state, the nation’s commercial nerve center and Africa’s most bustling metropolis.
Lagos is a garden of dreams and Olofin Ogunfumire underlines that attribute clearly when he prays that all who come to Eko will prosper just as the “land expands” to accommodate them all.
That is the ultimate triumph of this movie which points us to the provenance of our city as a means of pointing us ahead to the future as benefactors, all, of the blessings of Olofin.