Dr. Osonye Tess Onwueme
Playwright   Novelist   Scholar   Cultural Activist   International Speaker   Performer


"Tess is a rare jewel in this country..." - Dr. K. Kendall, Smith College, MA.


Exalted New Post / Fonlon Nichols Prize / My Work Is Larger Than Any Female Ideology 

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Dancing her own dance

US-based Professor 'of Cultural Diversity and accomplished playwright. Tess Onwueme, recently invoked exotic Aguba dance at the funeral of her mother,   As the drums and the gongs reeled out 1he traditional rhythms, Tess Onwueme responded with glee and moving precision. Her soul flew into her chest and arms, which in turn gushed out repeatedly in a flow that evoked the image of a waterfall.

Dancing her own dance...
  The professor of drama at UW-Eau, Claire, has been residing abroad since 1988, but, that calm evening at her country home in sleepy Ogwachi Ukwu, Delta State, she was out to prove that although she has left home physically, home has not left her. Her spiritual bond with her bosom Africa is still intact and fiery.
  The dance in which she was flowing is called Aguba, the regal dance of the Obuluku (Ogwachi): Many people may consider the dance to be exclusively reserved for men? But Onwueme felt that the traditional honor she owed her mother, whose funeral rites she came home to fulfill recently, would not be complete until she had invoked the spirit of the Aguba drums. Ironically, when the drums burst forth with royal wines, Onwueme did the dance so well that the natives just had to fall behind her.
  "The drumbeat rolled right deep into my soul," she says. "As the drums sounded, I heard the rhythm of my, ancestors. Aguba is not a dance you really learn. It is a royal dance. Everyone responds to it differently. You step into it. If I have to dance it again, my stepping may not be the same. And you don't just bring an Aguba for every occasion: The occasion has to be grand."
  The author of several plays, including The Missing Face, Tell it to Women and The Reign of Wazobia, most award-winning, who also experimented with the production of one of her plays not long ago, adds that she introduced the dance at the mother's burial because she had a royal background. '
  "When you invoke that royalty, you have summoned them, and you have to lead, meaning that you are leading the ancestors in dance. You see, I only crossed the Atlantic. A cross over the Atlantic does not change me. I live and breathe my culture. I sip it and devour it anywhere I  find it. It is when I live and breathe Africa that I feel taller than anyone else. I feel like an iroko overshadowing every other tree. The Aguba was a quintessential expression of that."

  As vibrant as African culture still remains in her inner being, there is, however, a stingy irony she is battling with. The irony is so ugly that it is sickening her. She, like many other Africans living outside continent is very passionate about African culture. But, back home, the story is unpleasantly different. People despise what is theirs -the native language, dresses, festivals and other traditional legacies that define them. In the alternative, there is a mad rush for western values. Onwueme sadly reflects:   "It is a very sad development that our culture dying here. It is being trampled upon. The soul of Nigeria is dying. The soul Africa is dying here, but is being re-born abroad. People madly run to become somebody else, to speak somebody else's language and dance somebody else's dance. Why should you relegate yours to their background? Parents no longer speak their language to their children at home. And the English that parents speak is something else. You wonder whether parents too need to be taught English first. After all, no matter how hard you try to appease the owners, you can never do it better than them. It a pity that we do not se the beauty of what we have. When you lose your language, you lose your voice. Parents are to blame, our generation should be indicted. "
  Tess received her Ph.D in Drama from the University of Benin, Nigeria, a well as a Master of Art: degree in Literature from the University of Ife, Nigeria. She was also once a professor of Multicultural Studies at Montclair State University in New Jersey, and a professor of. African Studies at Vassar College.

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