This is Our Chance By MATHEW OKEYIM

In Columnists, Opinion

by crossriverwatch admin

Mathew Okeyim
Mathew Okeyim

The title of this article will quickly remind my readers of Cross River born legendary writer and physician, late Dr. James Ene Henshaw who, though was a practicing physician, was driven into writing by his desire for literary works that reflects the experiences of African audiences and, in particular for young people to be used in schools and colleges.

Not many today remember his numerous literally works, talk less of the fact that he was a Cross Riverian.

Henshaw’s fortuitous entry into the literary world earned plaudits beyond his expectations. Surprisingly, his seminal debut play, This is Our Chance, was written for the convocation of the Association of Students of African Descent in Dublin in 1948.

“At that time,” his son told Sun newspaper recently from his base in London, “there were hardly any African-themed plays available for use in educational institutions in West Africa. When This Is Our Chance was published in 1956, it was the first internationally published African play in the English language preceding Wole Soyinka’s The Swamp Dwellers in 1958.”

The impact of the slim drama is such that decades after many people had read it, they can still recall vividly its main characters like Bambulu (the class teacher), Chief Damba and the bashful Princess Kudaro. The bombastic eloquence of Bambulu, the imperial sagacity of Chief Damba and the angelic mettle of Kudaro all combine to make the book a memorable piece of literature.

It is still easy to hear Bambulu, the big-talking, love-struck school teacher, telling Princess Kudaro, Damba’s daughter, of his so-called medical invention: “This is the child of my brain the product of my endeavor, and the materialization of my incentive genius. It is an anti-snake bite vaccine. Western Science has not succeeded producing anything so potent. But I, Bambulu …. Have without laboratories, without any help, produced this medicine from the herbs of his Village… I am a scientist, I am catalyst. You may one day find this anti-snake bite very useful. It is a remedy not only for snake bites and various stings, but also for various canine and reptilian contingences”.

I read this novel when I was in College many years ago. What is in this novel came into my head this afternoon while I was making a retrospective flash back of what is going on in our society.

What is in this novel? A novel dealing with characters of our modern societies that are familiar to our audience. A novel informing us on how to use the best of our abilities in life for the interest of society.

Dr. Henshaw brings to our knowledge an element of modernism for developing communities faced with the problem of choice when it comes to decision making. The book reminds me this afternoon of tribal and cultural integration of society’s diverse ethnic groupings.

Who is Bambulu in this novel? He is the principal character in this play that is entitled to resolve the conflict between Koloro and Udura. Bambulu is the quintessential cultural hybrid, who has imbibed ideas from western culture and African civilization. His ebullient and sagacious nature becomes evident in the play. He invented an anti-snake vaccine which he used to solve an incurable problem.

However, every society now has a Bambulu? A Bambulu that should be ready to produce another anti-snake bite that will get society out of its problems!

The collective pronoun used by Dr. Henshaw ‘our’ means this is the time for us to associate ourselves with the problems of our people. Bambulu informed us that our tradition still has a way of solving problems. This piece is an invocation of a better society for the interest of all of us.

This is our chance to move on as a people. This is our chance to be honest with the principles of human dignity. This is our chance should be re-introduced into our secondary schools. It will help those who would be leaders tomorrow to know how to manage decisions and implement policies especially at critical times.

This is our chance for everyone to get involved in the system. This is our chance for all of us to re-write our history. This is our chance to know that nothing lasts forever in this world. The time we all have to stand by the truth and nothing but the truth.

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