In between the exuberant dancing, lively singing and infectious African beat, the ten Nigerian actresses in “Hear Word: Naija Woman Talk True,” wearing the colorful clothing of their country, tell stories of harassment, child molestation, rape, and other forms of degradation of women that persist in custom and in practice.
One sings a tuneful Yoruba chant, with the English subtitles behind her: “Listen and understand: It is deplorable for us to mistreat women.”
Many of the stories the women tell, which are “adaptation of monologues made available by the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy,” are horrendous. One woman recounts how her husband gave her for the night to an important guest “as a sign of hospitality.” The old man had wanted their daughter. A child bride’s entire family shuns her after she gives birth to a stillborn baby, which destroys her insides. A husband gives her wife the silent treatment; although she’s not sure why, she is sure she deserves it. Some of these monologues are in conversation with the percussionists, which somehow makes them more haunting.
But Naija, which is a nickname for Nigeria, also means “free” or escape,” and about halfway through the stories in “Hear Word” turn to women resisting. A family is shocked when a wife grabs her husband’s private parts to stop him from beating her, which they see as his right. Next time, she replies, she’ll cut it off. They tell her they’ll talk to him. A no-good husband dies, and his family tries to take away the home and business of the widow, who had been the breadwinner. She enlists other women whose businesses and together with “union boys” they “tied them like goat” and she called the police to report them as thieves.
The triumphant stories are not just about getting the better on bad men. They are also about rethinking old attitudes. In one of several humorous monologues, a church-going woman talks about how, on her wedding night, she was alarmed at how pleasurable it was to be with her husband, and took battle against the Devil. “My patient husband was transfixed. He said ‘Darling, that was not the Devil. That was your first orgasm.’ …After that time, I was ready. I am a fast learner. …I’m a church-going, Bible-carrying, tongue-speaking sister. My vagina sings and I sing along. Praise the Lord, somebody.”
Ifeoma Fafunwa, co-writer and director of “Hear Word,” has created a remarkable show – one that tells us some horrible truths, and yet makes us want to sing along.”
Under the Radar Festival
Directed by Ifeoma Fafunwa
Costume Designer: Ituen Basi
Lighting Designer: Aja M. Jackson
Projection Designer: Johnathan Carr
Tour Representation: ArKtype / Thomas O. Kriegsmann
Cast: Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Joke Silva, Elvina Ibru, Omonor, Ufuoma McDermott, Zara Udofia-Ejoh, Rita Edward, Debbie Ohiri, Odenike and Oluchi Odii)
Percussionists: meka Anokwuru and Blessing Idireri.’
Running time: 90 minutes
Hear Word is on stage at the Public Theater through January 7