June 27, 2017





J.P. Clark is a universally acclaimed poet playwright, whose dream of writings revolves around the culture of his own people. He does not have an aggressive and development-oriented philosophy built into his artistic vision the type that can spit in the face of stinking authorities and capable of moving the people down the path of self-consciousness and self-assertion. J.P. Clark’s preoccupation is, rather, with the cultural significance of his own people as can be seen in such plays like The Masquerade, where the marriage system, superstition, occupation and the geography of his own Ijaw people are emphasized.

Sentiments are usually dictated by political and socio-economic factors and they derive from manipulation of minority interests and groups who are in the face of discrimination and marginalization jostle for attention and relevance within a geopolitical setting in a society. Most often, such political situation which promotes domination by one group and socio-economic subordination of another, usually results in ethnic crisis which arises from, and also leads to serious suspicion, anger, civil unrest, and sometimes war. It is not in doubt, that in times of ethno-political crisis and war, women and children are the main victims as they account for an estimated 80% of refugees and displaced persons worldwide. It is in view of this that this work examine gender inequality as exposed by J.P Clark in his work “The wives revolt” and also to expose marginalization and dehumanization of women.

John pepper Clark was born at Kiagbodo in Ijaw in 1935. He was educated at Government College Ughelli and has an English degree from University College, Ibadan. He was the founding editor of the Horn, a student’s poetry magazine which played a crucial role in the history of literary development in Nigeria. He worked for a while as a newspaper editor, was a parvin fellow at princeton University in the United states and a research fellow at the University of Ibadan. He taught at the University of Lagos where he became professor and head of Department. He retired voluntarily in 1980 and set up the first Repertory theatre in the country, PEC Repertory theatre. He was for ten years editor of black orpheus.

As a poet playwright and essayist, Clark has published an impressive range of books. His play includes;songs of a goat, Masquerade, the Raft, the Wives revolt and a triology called the Bikora plays comprising the Boat, the return home, and full circle, Ozidi a journalistic piece, America their America, a collection of critical studies, the example of Shakespeare and a highly recommended translation of Ozidi saga. His published volume of poetry include a Reed in the Tide, Causalties,A decade of tongues, state of the union, and a sixth book of poems, Mandella and other poems (www.enotes.com).


Erhuwaren men share the money paid to them by the company that drills oil from their community. They share it in three parts  one for the elders, one for the men and the last for the women. The problem is that the ‘elders’ are all men. The women say “no!” To make it fair, they

demand the money be split into two a simple division between the sexes. But the men also say “no!” The women revolt, beginning a cycle of ‘do me, I do you’ ( Chinelo Oputa).

There are only three characters in this drama, making the story easy to follow from the outset. It clearly dramatises the injustice the women suffer at the hands of their men. Unlike in traditional times, when the fairer sex had to swallow whatever males gave them, the wives (and even the mothers of the men) of the Erhuwaren don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They know how to fight for their rights. Okoro represents the deepest kinds of misogyny: when men don’t help their women to do the chores, don’t give their wives enough money for food and yet complain the soup isn’t tasty. Or those who beat up their partners in a drunken state and cap it all by accusing them of crimes they haven’t committed (Chinelo Oputa).

Koko, the wife of Okoro, conveys female dynamism: the living version of the saying, ‘as you make your bed, so you will lie on it’. If you want peace, they’ll give you peace. But if you want trouble, they’ll neither spare you nor themselves. Idama, the friend and peer of Okoro, is the human conscience struggling to create a balance between a man’s longing to satisfy himself and the need to do so without offending anyone.


All through the remarkable literary career of Professor J.P. Clark the First African writer to be appointed professor of English, the centrality of his plays has always been the relevance of the culture of his own people. Clark, the man of memorable electrifying verses, the man who vomits poetry naturally without conscious effort, deserves all the accolades in the world for beaming the beauty of the Ijaw culture to the world. Clark skillfully makes a break from this his universally acknowledged cultural zone when his play The Wives’ Revolt emerged in the literary scene after many years of hibernation in Kiagbodo where his MUSE supposedly dwells.
In The Wives’ Revolt which signals Clark’s first valedictory speech to culture, he awakens and addresses new realities in his environment. Perhaps bothered by the challenges thrown up by his environment he artistically feels a sense of responsibility to come up with his prescriptions and claim the garment of human rights activist in abandonment of the garment of culture activist. In a dance of commitment towards this new task, Clark in his play The Wives’ Revolt draws attention to the crises in Erhuwaren village bred by an oil company.(Clarks Metadialetis 4)
It all started with Okoro, the town crier informing the people of Erhuware that the money given to the village by the oil company operating in its community has been shared into three equal parts among the elders, the men and women and that each group is to get their share according to their age-group, the announcer returns home to be greeted by the vexation of the wife, Koko. Koko, who represents the women, challenges the husband on why the largesse should be share in such formula, knowing too well that the elders are the men. She sees the formula as being unfair and says that it would have been much better if it had been shared just between the male and female folks. Her argument is that by the sharing formula, the menfolk hold the two- thirds of the oil revenue.

Why women agitate for a fair sharing formula, some men reported to the council of elders that the womenfolk have resulted to using witchcraft, turning to goats, to harm them at night. This leads to the council of elders to come up with a law that banishes goats in the village. The new law ignited fire in the heated polity, as the women saw it as anti-women, especially as goat is the one of the domestic animals they are allowed to keep in the village (Clarks Metadialetis 9).
To stop the menfolk from carrying out the oppressive law, the women plan to stage a protest with the central authority. At a said date they left the village marching through Otughieven, Eijophe, Igherekan, Imode to Eyara, leaving their children and husbands to fate. They made their husbands do the domestic chores such as babysitting, cooking, sweeping, taking the children to school and other tasks considered the prerogative of the women by themselves. Not batting an eyelid at their wives’ absence, the men frolicked with the free women in the village with the swollen purse. And since their husbands are not coming for them, the women pressed on to Eyara, where they were accommodated and cared for by Ighodayen, a notorious prostitute.

Hearing that their wives have got to Eyara and in the hands of Ighodayen, the men plead for their return. By the time the women are back to Erhuwaren through the repentant pleas of the men leading to the sharing of the oil money into two equal parts along with other compensations as demanded by the women as grounds for resolution of the matter, but unfortunately the women, all, have contacted venereal disease and to cure this affliction, a doctor and team of nurses are brought from Warri to administer treatment on the women. And it became a case of had we known. Here the male and female folks saw their shortcomings and blame themselves for it. While the male blamed themselves for pushing their women to the extreme with their laws, the women call for caution, realising that they, the women, ought not to have gone to the extent of allowing their anger to take the better part of their emotion. The play evenly apportions blames to both gender, highlighting the complementary roles each play to the other (Clarks Metadialetis 13).

The resolution of the matter in favour of women signals Clark’s espousal of equality of women with men, a feminist touch that marks a new thematic direction in the writings of Clark. Beyond the feminism the man espouses and celebrates anchored by the three characters; Okoro, Koko and Idama, Clark also in the play awakens other serious issues such as ; the issues of underdevelopment of host communities by oil companies, self-inflicted underdevelopment in host communities, the primacy of women liberation, greed and arrogance of men, marital faithfulness of women, insensitivity of oil companies to development matters, host communities knowledge of the manipulative dance of oil companies in their areas of operation, danger of female prostitution, men’s disrespect and distrust of women and men’s vindictiveness. Though Clark explores all these issues with only three characters, artistically he makes the reader feel and hear the echoes of other characters relevant to the development of the plot.

The message of J P Clark in The Wives’ Revolt is clear, timely and relevant viewed against the backdrop of the challenges of the time. Clark’s message outweighs the language of the play in importance because the language is a departure from Clark’s characteristic hypnotising poetry – a reality that has severally provoked critical questions as to whether Clark and his poetic muse have clashed, or could it be another Clark’s artistic choice employed to reinforce the thematic orbit along which the play journeys.

The play projects that violence in any form does not benefit anybody, but in most times creates more problems in the polity, as it could be seen in the women bring home infections that may end up taking the lives of some of the men. Though wordy, Wives’ Revolt goes beyond the spectacle to a very rich content that calls on opinion moulders and custodians of the African culture to revisit some of our value system and come up with standards that gives the male and female folks their real place.

Though, nature appears to assign women with the role of home-keeping and other not too tasking duties, the society, rural or urban will get no better if the women are not well cared for. Also, it is a call for the womenfolk to cooperate with their husbands, seeing them as not just their head, but as partners they need to work together for the progress of the family and advancement of the society.

Taking another holistic view of the play, the playwright tries to position a situation, where the oil companies, representing the imperialist milks the people and throws peanuts at them to fight over while it capitalises on the fracas created to explore the people the more. It calls on the people to be cautious of the largesse they get from the oil companies, as in most cases, they are meant to stir feud rather than better the lot of the people.

Culturally, the image of womanhood is represented by particularly as a symbol of erotic desire positioned by race, class and gender as a subservient group of people lower and inferior to  the male folks. Again, under part lineage which mark most African society, the image of the women was portrayed as those who are culturally inferior, whose identity is to be found in the desire to please and serve men and seek definition by being secondary to men. Having found themselves in pitiable condition, it calls for radical and correct representation of the image of the womanhood and to reveal the reason why people must see women as agents in the society whose feelings should be respected.

Prof. J.P Clark used his play, “The wives revolt” to portray how the female folks are being marginalised in the society not merely based on the fact that they are incapacitated but on the fact that they are women, therefore they are weaker sex. Marginalisation of women did not started today and it needs more formal way to approach it so to achieve a better result to actualise the dream. The play depicts themes such as inequality, highhandedness, oppressive social structure imposed by laws and nature, poor crisis management and inequitable distribution of resources.
J.P. Clark’s metadialetis in the “Wives’ Revolt” by Ekanpou Enewaridideke

Contemporary Dramatists, 6th ed, St. James Press, 1999

Contemporary poets 7th ed, St. James press 2001

Review of “the wives revolt” by Chinelo Oputa 

www.enotes.com/jp clark-org

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