A film adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s time- honoured classic Ake: The years of childhood in which he covers his own childhood years at the prime of Nigeria’s colonial period 1934-1945. It is set squarely within the world war II years.
Soyinka combines a beautiful child-view narrative technique with direct echoes from the war as heard and imagined down in Ake-Abeokuta.
Apart from its significant peek into his first eleven years, the political import and rumbles of the war that Soyinka covers through the eyes of a child endows it with its greatest significance as both an historical and a literary text.
Ake is filmed in various locations in Abeokuta, Ibadan and Lagos on and off through some fifteen months.
A further nine months were spent in post- production, and is now set for a world-wide release in 2017. The film had festival exposure in Cannes, France early in 2016. Months before, it was previewed by the cast, crew and friends of the production at the Muson Centre in Lagos. Alliance Francaise in Nigeria also supported the film with the closed captions in French.
This compendium Ake, Great Moments of a Grand Production is a pictorial and textual narrative provided by the film’s director and executive producer, Dapo Adeniyi. Images featured are mostly cine grabs, with scant actual still photographs by photographers George Osodi and Akintunde Akinleye who happened on the production while rolling.
Wole Soyinka, Africa’s foremost writer and dramatist is also the first black winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.
Aké began filming officially on 13th July 2013. The thinking was to set out on Soyinka’s 79th birthday. We had all kinds of outsize ideas as well. Someone commented that Aké saw the largest buildup of hardware in Nigeria’s production history. Red scarlet cam, HMIs, cranes, tracks and dollies, etc.
by Dapo Adeniyi
(From an early journal written for the UK poetry hub, CAP – Centre for African Poetry) It can’t be too difficult to imagine that the locations of the stories told in Ake: The years of childhood are completely transformed today, or that this would be a challenge for anyone seeking to make a feature film based on that childhood memoir of Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Prize winning author. After all, the events of his book occurred between 65 and 75 years ago. Change has left its mark on the landscape. So many things, like many of the people in Soyinka‟s narrative, have either moved on or are long gone.
My journey with the production of Ake began 25 years ago. I was 24 years old, restless, eager and in possession of what you could call “the pen of a ready writer”. it was the NTA (The Nigerian Television Authority) that had the original idea to film one of Wole Soyinka’s works in order to honour him for winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. How the choice of book to be used changed from Season of Anomy, one of the writer’s novels to Ake: The years of childhood is a narrative for another day. But the real surprise was the author‟ selection of a very young, next-to-unknown writer – me – to turn his literary material into a television series. Kalu Okpi of the NTA, now deceased, could hardly believe his eyes when he encountered the young man who assured him that he was the bearer of the name he had come to seek, down in Ile –Ife.
We spent several days roaming the terrain of Ake, and Abeokuta as a whole, led by no other than the author himself.
In our company was the author’s youngest sister, Mrs. Folabo Ajayi, who alsofilled us with insights about the various locations as we happened upon them.
Many of the events in Soyinka’s Ake occured in a location recorded in the book as the Parsonage Compound. Professor Soyinka, aided by Mrs Ajayi, his sister, pointed out the compound’s outer recesses to kalu Okpi and I, the now fallen perimeter fences, e.t.c The triangle shaped visage was and is still bordered at one edge by the Ake cenotaph and St. Peter‟s Church, both of which feature in the narrative.
The other edge of that geography was and is still demarcated by the Ake palace and the road running in front of it, a prominent road even in the 1930s and 1940s when Soyinka was a child.
It was on this road the women of Egba marched during their famous demonstration against colonial rule, led by Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome kuti (mother of the famous musician Fela Kuti, and an aunt to the author). Among the leaders of the Egba women‟s movement was Eniola Soyinka (the author‟s mother, also known in the story as “Wild Christian”).
The movement would inadvertently develop into a coordinated agitation for women’s rights that included the abolition of the poll tax on women and the institution of the universal adult suffrage, laws still in force as a result throughout Nigeria even today.
On that same road, a prominent chief of the Egbas, the Balogun, spoke dismissively of the rioting women, despising the lot as creatures who urinate from the rear. Seeking to demonstrate his utter disrespect for the women and their actions, he kicked out with his right limb, lost his balance and fell, unable to rise to his feet anymore. This was the road, to continue with Soyinka’s Ake narrative, that an aged Ologboni (member of the influential Ogboni cult), unaware there was trouble at the palace, swaggered along, attired in his priestly robes until he was rescued by the young Wole and his mother, who brought him into the shop run by the Wild Christian, also rapidly stripping him of his telling regalia.
In the book, on this same road, there was the scene in which Pa Adatan took on the white soldiers whom he mistook for Hitler’s army. On that road, opposite the Ake palace, we found the Wild Christian’s shop, but the building housing the shop is marked, soon to be bulldozed by the government of Ogun state. Adjacent to the Wild Christian’s shop is the Centenary Hall. Though still standing, it is now desolate, largely overgrown with weeds and very dusty within.
Inside the Parsonage Compound, there was once the St. Peter’s School where Soyinka’s father was the Headmaster.
Within that space also the HM’s family was quartered.
There were other families there including those of the local bookshop manager, the local pharmacist (Osibo and Buko respectively), neighbours to the HM’s household. These men formed the HM’s group of friends who engaged each other in intellectual banters, from the humorous to the downright scandalous, under the peering and inquisitive eyes of the young Wole.
Today, the Parsonage retains only a shadow of its bygone self, overgrown with weeds, the homesteads long abandoned, a hearth to geckos and domestic goats, the walls of the houses long paled and flaked.
One of the fascinating discoveries during our location reconnaissance was the obsession of the period with a peculiar tint of the colour yellow, just a shade away from the colour orange. It is evidenced from the applications on the walls of most houses belonging to that era.
Most of the houses of that period still standing bask in that quaint daub of paint. Our production designers have caught the fascination of that era and are determined to restore structures implicated in the film to that pristine expression of beauty.
Fortunately, the rocks overviewing the desolate buildings are ageless and not so easily troubled by the machinations of time. Scenes where Wole went into isolation, wandering off by himself and being sought by his friend Osiki, the famed lover of the pounded yam (Oko oniyan), can be played successfully here in the film.
What about Uncle Sanya in the Wild Christian’s moonlight tale, where as a child, she went with other children and penetrated the fearsome rocks under the leadership of Uncle Sanya, in search of snails!
The Alake’s palace itself is a very key location in the whole saga. The interior spaces, the open courtyard. The storey building and its veranda are still conspicuous in Ake, and the upper deck where the Alake had his famous exchange with the enraged women of Egbaland.
But we could tell right away that the film Ake would not be shot there, unless we could pull down half the line-up of buildings! The oju ere, house of sculpture, which still greets your eyes as you burst into the front section of the palace (now being remodeled into a bigger modern structure) has fortunately defied the mutilations imposed by time.
But this would not do either because it was already a significant structural presence in Soyinka’s earlier movie Kongi’s Harvest, which was shot in the mid-1960s. Soyinka played the lead role of Kongi in that film and has been known by that name since by close friends.
In finding the freedom to make our choice of locations, there was much assistance from Professor Soyinka, who had said in an earlier conversation concerning the making of Ake: Do not insist on precision in terms of the actual locations, instead use auxiliaries where you have to. When he saw the images of structures we would put up as a result of the location surveys earlier conducted, he expressed satisfaction at the effort we made to ensure that the period environment for his Ake narrative was being realised. “This is gratifying, he said.
The film location for the Ake palace is now situated elsewhere, not far from the actual palace. The Sacred Heart Hospital retains its quaint architectural dignity but has recently been washed in extravagant colours of green and light gray. This would be a matter for the production designers to sort out. Maybe we can kill those loud colours by shooting the scene where the exterior of the building is still established in duotone.
At AGS (Abeokuta Grammar School), the buildings are in place. They are mildly defaced here and there by satellite TV dishes, wires and electric poles. That will be sorted out too, whether actual physical terms or by digital manipulation, in order to put the desired period look back in place.The main school hall where we will shoot the exterior scenes is also intact. But we will now use the Centenary Hall rather than the interior of the school hall to film the school assembly in which Ah-kenzy is caned publicly for impregnating a fellow student. The residence of the Kutis (Fela’s family home), also within AGS, is still well maintained.
At the GCI (Government College, Ibadan), another important site of Soyinka’s narrative, the required structures are dillapidated but still there, so there will be extensive restoration work. Happily the GCI bell house is largely in place. Adopted locations especially for the District Officer‟s residence and the Parsonage Compound are situated in Ibadan. They mostly require restoration.
The scenes taking place in Lagos are at the seaport and one or two Brazilian styled streets, to show when Mrs. Kuti arrives from England, driven in her period car. The film is employing late 1930’s models of 3 cars, 1 military truck and 1 bolekaja mammy wagon transport truck, whose origins are in the colonial era.
“Matron of the Theatre”
Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, OON, is one of the leading lights of the contemporary English language theatre in Nigeria. Her starring role in the British Television series Crown Court broadcast in the 1970s remains fresh on the minds of many.
She brings her dynamic diction and acting ability to bear on her Ake role, “Madam Amelia” where she gives the resounding speech at the Alake’s palace during the Egba Women’s riot.
The delight of having Mrs. Ajai-Lycett in the production goes far beyond the gravitas she brings in front of the camera. Her personal warmth showered a lot
of inspiration on the cast and crew. Her patience and positive disposition even at times when things threatened to go out of control on the set caused
everyone to look on her as “mother in the house”. She was cheerleader per excellence.
Her costumes were fine by her. She entered into the set with obvious extensive prior preparation, unmatched by even the most conscientious of the cast.
She demonstrates that greatness expresses itself in humility, in kindness, in hardwork. The children on the Ake set are her natural grandchildren, most of
whom she knows and remembers by name.
“I was very concerned for the part given to me because, to play the part of the mother of our Nigerian legend, is a big kettle of fish for someone like me.
Each time I try to prepare for it my mind races because of her very strong yet extremely calm and volatile personality, I’m so grateful I got thought of for the role of Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti.”