Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame tells the story of man’s struggle against fate. It pits freewill against fate to demonstrate how the gods use man’s weaknesses as triggers for the manipulation of his destiny.
The play is a brilliant adaptation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, given a Yoruba setting and internalized into its cosmos. The play, also replete with proverbs, is a rich demonstration of the undiluted culture and beliefs of the Yoruba people before the advent of Europeans and Arabians.
The Gods are not to Blame shows how the wheels of fate and the weaknesses of a man conspire against him and set him on a cyclic path of bad fate. Whichever way he is taken or runs, he gets closer and closer to fulfilling his ill-fated destiny of killing his father to marry his mother. His restlessness and hot temper, apparently his flaws, bring him closer to the fulfillment of his destiny even when he thinks he has escaped his ill fate.
The play covertly extols the virtues of patience, good leadership, and communal responsibility while denouncing the evils of anger and distrust.
The setting of the play is Kutuje Land during the pre-colonial period. Most of the actions in the play take place within the precinct of Kutuje Palace.
Snatches of conversation and the use of flashback technique also intimate the readers of prominent Yoruba towns like Oyo, Ife, Ilorin, Ede, Ibadan, Oshogbo and Iwo.
The people of Kutuje are predominantly farmers and hunters. They are also warriors when situation demands. They hold dear their beliefs in Yoruba deities and act in accordance with these beliefs. Their currency of transaction is the cowry which evidently prove the events in the play take place in an era marked by the zero presence of Europeans and their submerging civilisation in the hinterland of Yoruba lands.
King Adetusa and his wife, Ojuola, of Kutuje Land are in joyous mood on the account of their newly born baby boy, their first son. On the ninth day of the child’s birth, the new parents take the child to the shrine of Ogun, the god of iron, for blessings in the presence of the Ogun priest. In line with the Yoruba customs and traditions, they consult the service of Baba Fakunle, a gifted but blind Ifa priest, to divine the boy’s future.
Divination reveals that the boy is cursed by the gods. He will kill his father and marry his mother.
To prevent this from happening, Gbonka, the king’s special messenger, under the directives of the Ogun priest, takes the boy to the evil bush to die. His feet tied with a string of cowries, the boy is meant to be a sacrifice to the gods who thumb him with his ill fate.
Two years later, King Adetusa and Ojuola beget another son, a consolation from Obatala, the god of creation. They would soon forget all about the ill-fated child left to die in the evil grove.
Thirty two years after the birth of the child that would kill his father and marry his mother, King Adetusa meets a rough death. His kingdom plunges into chaos and crisis. The people of Ikolu frequently ransack Kutuje land, doing all sorts of iniquitous things to its people. However, a stranger of Ijekun-Yemoja tribe comes to the rescue of Kutuje Land.
He leads an all-out attack on Ikolu Land, conquers its people, and seize their lands for Kutuje. This man, Odewale, the son of Ogundele and Mobike, delivers Kutuje people from the captivity of the marauders of Ikolu. In recognition of his valiant efforts, the people of Kutuje defy the long-standing tradition and install Odewale as their king. By default, Odewale inherits Ojuola, the wife of the former king, and marries another woman, Abero, as second wife. Together, Odewale and Ojuola have four children — two boys and two girls.
For eleven years, Odewale rules Kutuje Land in peace and prosperity. Then, everything goes south. Disease and deaths ravage the land. The people bring their complaints, pain, and grief to their king, making it seem as if he is not doing anything at all.
Odewale exhibits good leadership traits here. He listens to their complaints and makes them understand he is not unaffected by the plague ravaging the land. His children too are weighed down by the sickness. While he motivates them to action, he intimates them of what he too is doing to better their lot. He has sent Aderopo, his wife’s son, to Ife to seek for the root causes of the sickness that pervades the land and the solution to it.
Aderopo returns from Ife with even more riddles. The reason for the plague is a man who killed former King Adetusa. The presence of the murderer in Kutuje is what has brought calamities on Kutuje Land.
At first, Aderopo is reluctant to relay this message in public. He wants to tell King Odewale in private but Odewale’s bid to impress upon his followers that he is not inactive and has nothing to hide hinders Aderopo from keeping the message a private issue. Aderopo, upon Odewale’s insistence, relays everything to the public. Aderopo offers to go and bring Baba Fakunle, the blind old Ifa priest, from Oyo to solve the riddle. He is obliged his request.
By the end of Act One, Odewale is left with a riddle, solving the mystery of King Adetusa’s death and unveiling the murderer who has brought much troubles on the Kutuje people.
In his investigation, he hears a lot of speculations about Adetusa’s death. Adetusa was killed on the road to Oshogbo, on his mother’s land near Ẹdẹ. He was in the company of five bodyguards when he was killed. Only one of them returned to tell the people of the king’s murder. The others ran away in fear of being killed by Kutuje people.
Odewale becomes more suspicious of the people he surrounds himself with. He opines that if the people could conspire to kill one of their own, they would not spare him who is a stranger in their land. He directly accuses them of being complicit in Adetusa’s murder. Swearing by Ogun, he vows to expose the murderer to the public. He then promises to put the culprit in everlasting blindness and expel him from Kutuje, the place of his birth to roam in darkness in the land of nowhere.
In Act Two, Aderopo ushers in Baba Fakunle to the Kutuje palace to solve the mystery. Baba Fakunle is disgusted by the presence of King Odewale. The soothsayer is reluctant to say what he, in his blindness, is privy to. But when Odewale, in hot temper, accuses him of being complicit in King Adetusa’s murder, Baba Fakunle calls him the murderer of the former king. At the height of the confrontation between these two, Baba Fakunle also calls him a bedsharer. He claims Odewale’s hot temper is his undoing:
Your hot temper, like a disease from birth, is the curse that has brought you trouble.Baba Fakunle, in The Gods are not to Blame
After Baba Fakunle’s exit, Odewale accuses Aderopo of being the sole reason Baba Fakunle insulted him. He charges Aderopo of hiring Baba Fakunle to call him the murderer of King Adetusa (Aderopo’s father) and a bedsharer with Ojuola (Aderopo’s mother). Aderopo denies these charges, saying he hasn’t done anything of such.
We learn from their hot exchanges that King Adetusa, according to the divination of Baba Fakunle, was actually killed by a man, not a group of robbers as reported by the bodyguard that came back. Ojuola and the Ogun Priest try to intervene but before they could do any further, Odewale banishes Aderopo from his presence. He swears that may his eyes never see Aderopo again till he dies. Here, Odewale technically banishes Aderopo from the palace in full resentment.
Queen Ojuola’s attempt to wring out the cause of the fracas from Odewale proves abortive. Odewale however reassures her he would tell her later.
In Act Three, Alaka, Odewale’s childhood friend and master, visits him. Like Odewale, he is an Ijekun man. His visit is meant to ease the tension in the air. But it only heightens it.
Alaka intimates Odewale of how he has searched far and wide for him. He tells Odewale he went to Ẹdẹ where the latter had told him he would find him but couldn’t find him. Alaka at some point questions Odewale’s trust in him.
Odewale on his part says he had been in Ẹdẹ and in fact had a big farm where he planted yam tubers. He explains the circumstances surrounding his sudden departure from Ẹdẹ. He had killed an old man who encroached his farmland and claimed it as his mother’s land for insulting his tribe; for calling him a bush man of Ijekun. Odewale fled from the scene of his crime and guilt and came to Kutuje.
Alaka is in fact the first person Odewale tells this incidence to. Odewale continues his search for King Adetusa’s murderer.
Along the line, Queen Ojuola again attempts to wring out of Odewale the reason for his altercation with Aderopo. This time, Odewale obliges her. He tells her of how Aderopo, in other to put him out of place, employs the services of Baba Fakunle to call him names — a murderer and bedsharer.
Ojuola tells him not to take the Ifa priest seriously. Prodded by Odewale, she narrates how the old man made her kill her first son because he claimed he had a bad luck. When her former husband died, the same priest claimed he was killed by his own blood.
Upon hearing this, Odewale summons the chiefs in. It seems he is close to uncovering the crime of the century. Each chief tells a slightly different variant of how, when and where King Adetusa was killed.
King Odewale instructs three of his bodyguards, Agidi, Labata and Akilapa, to bring Gbonka, the only of King Adetusa’s five companions who returned to break the news of the king’s demise. He is the missing piece of the puzzle. The guards set out to Ipetu where Gbonka resides.
In the following scene, Alaka informs Odewale of the death of Ogundele, his father and the ageing of his mother. Odewale is happy to hear this. In joy, he summons everyone into the palace again and tells Alaka to break the news to them.
Upon reception of the news of the death of their king’s father, the chiefs commiserate with him but Odewale cuts them short of their commiserations.
Using his life as an example, he tries to explain to them that “soothsayers, oracles, gods are not to be trusted”; that they are liars. He takes them, through the use of flashback technique, down the line to an incidence that happened while he was still with his father, Ogundele. He was working with Alaka on his father’s farm when his father’s brother walked up to them. Odewale greeted the old man but the man retorted: ‘the butterfly thinks himself a bird”. This statement spurred Odewale to question his identity. He went to an Ifa priest and asked him: ‘Am I not who I am?’
The priest told him he was cursed. He was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. The priest also warned him not to try and fight against fate. He should stay where he was. Odewale could however not stomach the thought of killing his father and marrying his mother. So, he ran.
Back to the present, Alaka is surprised Odewale ran away from home because of this. He casually tells him Ogundele and Mobike are not his biological father and mother; that they are only his adopted parents. The full import of the sentence by his supposed father’s brother dawns on him. He is a butterfly, calling himself a bird afterall.
Alaka begs to be excused but Odewale would not have any of this. Consumed by fury and anger, he insists that Alaka tell him about his real parents. Under much coercion, Alaka tells Odewale of how he was picked in the bush in Ipetu Village. Both Ojuola and the Ogun Priest exchange knowing looks. The Ogun Priest tries to stop Alaka from going any further with his revelation. But Odewale would have none of it.
Alaka reveals further that Odewale’s feet and arms were tied with strings of cowries when he was picked up. He has barely finished with this detail when Ojuola screams aloud and collapses. Apparently, she now knows Odewale is her ill-fated child left in the bush to die forty-three years back. The Ogun Priest wants to take her out but Odewale, who is still in the dark, insists they stay.
Odewale prods Alaka on the identity of the man who left him in the bush. While Alaka is at it, the Ogun Priest, who now knows the truth, tries to frustrate the man’s narration in order to discredit his entire account.
At last, Alaka identifies the man who brought Odewale into the bush by the name, “Gbonka”. All this while, the trio of Akilapa, Agidi and Labata have returned with Gbonka.
So, Odewale probes Gbonka on who killed King Adetusa. In contrast to what he told the chiefs twelve years before about a band of robbers, he swears to Odewale that Adetusa was actually killed by a man, not robbers, just one man.
Odewale then asks Gbonka if he knows Alaka. After a little difficulty and memory juggling, Gbonka identifies Alaka as the one whose master he gave a baby boy at Ipetu market. Alaka identifies Odewale as the child Gbonka gave his master, Ogundele.
Odewale soon realises much to his displeasure that he is the son of Ojuola whom he’s been married to all this while; with whom he has four children. He’s been married to his own mother and King Adetusa, his father, is the very man he killed at the spot where three paths meet.
Ojuola, who could not bear this heavy burden of abomination, kills herself with a knife. Odewale uses the same knife to gouge out his eyes. He apologizes to Aderopo, who has been sent for, for his grave suspicions against him.
Aderopo claims that’s the way the gods wanted things to be. But Odewale defends the gods. He identifies himself as the architect of his own destiny. He says the gods only capitalized on his weakness, “the weakness of a man easily moved to the defence of his tribe against others”, to have him kill his own father. According to Odewale, if he had been more reasonable, the gods would not have been successful in making him kill his father.
Odewale, now blind, asks the chiefs to give his mother cum wife a burial of honour. Then together with his four children gotten through incest, he embarks on a self exile. In his last directive as a king, he instructs the chiefs not to stop nor follow him lest he curses them. He claim this burden is his to carry.
Flashback is a prominent dramatic technique used in the text. It is particularly significant in that it serves a viable linker in the course of unveiling the plot of tbe play. The playwright uses flashback to dig into the murder of King Adetusa, the circumstances surrounding Odewale’s birth and why Odewale fled from his supposed place of birth.
Flashback is also used effectively to unveil information to both the characters and the audience at appropriate stages.
Foreshadowing is another prominent dramatic technique used in The Gods are not to Blame. It sets the stage for what to expect in the play. It shows us what to expect in the future. When Odewale is identified as the first son of Ojuola and Adetusa cursed to kill his father and marry his mother, there is not much surprise on the side of the audience because this eventuality has already been foreshadowed.
Mime and monologue are also used in the early stages of the play. While the narrator and later Odewale narrate, corresponding actions are mimed by other characters. The solo talk of the narrator and later Odewale exemplify monologue.
There is also dramatic irony in the play. A good example of this is when Odewale is in quest to unravel his identity, at some point, the Ogun Priest tries to stop him because he knows who Odewale is, going by the details. Baba Fakunle, Queen Ojuola, Gbonka, and the audience can tell who Odewale really is, going by the prophecy earlier in the play. But Odewale, till he gets to the dead end of his identity quest, does not know who he is.