Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ousman and Rohey, written by Janet Badjan-Young, is a three-act play which, according to the author, is inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. 

Badjan-Young tells the story of two lovers, Ousman and Rohey, who were born into two privileged backgrounds. However, the fate of their love is tested by a long bitter discord between their two rival families. Ousman and Rohey’s families, the Jarjus and Chams, have their problems. The Jarjus hail from the Jola ethnic group whereas the Chams are of Wolof descent. These two families have been at each other’s throats from time immemorial.

Their dispute is partly influenced by the battle for influence and supremacy but also from the comments of some characters, it could be observed that it is fuelled by tribalism. In answering why the hatred between the two families, Ebou Cham responds: “He hates me because I’m from the Wolof tribe, that’s the only reason I can think of.” Ebou adds that “… Jarju’s dark side reveals intense jealousy and hatred for anyone successful. I started life with nothing, no connections, no rich family and now here I am. People like Jarju, can’t get over this achievement.”

In Act 2, Ebou’s claim of jealousy is echoed in the words of a nephew to Modou Jarju, Ibrahim: “There are some people in this world that don’t deserve to breathe the same air as our tribe.” Ibrahim expresses tribal sentiments when he interacts with people from other ethnic groups. An example is when he meets up Assan  from the Cham household and Patricia a close friend of Rohey from the Creole ethnic group.  Ibrahim shows contempt towards ‘others’ and can be heard boasting that his tribe is God’s own favourite and that is why others are jealous of them.

This resentment is not one-sided. The Chams too have their resentment towards the Jarjus and their close associates. When Ousman and his cousin Ibrahim are suspected at the Chams’ party, Assan has to send them out to avoid any violent clash between the two families: “If you are who I suspect you are, there is going to be bloodshed, a bloodbath!  GET OUT and take that cousin of yours who is worse than a moron out, away from our party.” 

This bad blood between the two families become so intense that Modou Jarju says, “The whole country knows of this hatred between the Chams and the Jarjus. Nothing on earth, nothing on earth and nobody will soften my feelings towards him and his family.”

The city becomes such a battlefield that covert surveillance through spying is used as a means of collecting intelligence from the enemy. In Act 2 after Ousman and Ibrahim gatecrash into the Chams’ family party, the news reaches the Jarju family through a false friend of the Chams, spying for the Jarjus.

Following this incident, the reader discovers that in the community in which the play is set, government functionaries use public office to settle personal vendettas. There are manifestations of arbitrary arrests and detentions and disappearances. Things get so bad that bragging and ‘mere’ threats aren’t enough. Modou Jarju and perhaps Ebou Cham have to scheme to see to the other’s downfall.

Apart from the discord between the Jarjus and the Chams, the play is laced with other subliminal themes plaguing the author’s society.  Such themes include arranged marriages, male dominance and women’s lack of power in decision-making. Rohey’s father makes arrangements to give her hand in marriage to a rich businessman, Sankung Sillah.

This decision is made without Rohey’s consent, or that of her mother. And to make matters worse, Sankung Sillah is almost twice as old as Rohey is. He proves to be crude, uncouth and arrogant; his first interaction with Rohey corroborates this impression of him. Moreover, Ebou, in asserting his position as the man in the house, argues that his daughter will have to do as he pleases.

In the rendezvous scene, Ousman professes his love to Rohey, who shares his feelings of love but expresses her own fears.

Ousman refuses to be bothered by the hatred between their two families but he is optimistic that with love they can conquer hatred: “Let them destroy each other with hate! Let us bring them together with love!”

Another scene in which the obstacle from their families is manifested is where Ousman, Rohey and Patricia pay a visit to Imam Bah who Tijan describes as “…  a true Gambian, to him there are no tribal divisions. We are all Gambians”. 

Perhaps the most interesting twist that the reader will discover  occurs at the end of  this play. An amazing incident occurs which underscores the need for all tribes to live together as one nation.

 Badjan-Young also makes good use of comic relief by injecting a sense of humour mainly through Ibrahim but we also see echoes of this device in a conversation with the Imam.

 Ousman and Rohey is unputdownable, captivating and reader friendly, and the content is what every well-meaning Gambian should read and come to terms with for the creation of citizens and not tribesmen.

I hope that with this enthralling play, you will grab a copy, when it is published and share the findings therein with people in your respective communities. Better still, on Friday 31 August at 8:00pm, you can watch its performance by the Ebunjan Theatre Troupe. 

Written and directed by Janet Badjan-Young

Play reviewed by Prof Pierre Gomez

Dean, School of Arts and Sciences

 University of the Gambia