Themes in Akinwumi Isola’s Efunsetan Aniwura

One of the themes in Efunsetan Aniwura, Iyalode Ibadan (1970) by Akinwumi Isola is the theme of abuse of power.

Efunsetan Aniwura
Efunsetan Aniwura

A historical play like Efunsetan Aniwura, Iyalode Ibadan (1970) must definitely have some themes it focuses on. Some of the themes in Akinwumi Isola’s play include cruelty, abuse of power, slavery, love, and communal justice. I am going to discuss these themes briefly in this essay.

Theme of Cruelty

Akinwumi Isola portrays the theme of wickedness in the play through the behaviour of Efunsetan Aniwura who is the eponymous character in the play. Efunsetan herself knows she is cruel. And up till the end of the play, she does not for once regret the atrocities she perpetrates. She believes that since she bought her slaves with her own money, she can do to them as she pleases; she can pass any judgement she deems fit on them.

At the beginning of this play, characters like Ayorinde and Adetutu point out how Efunsetan killed thirteen female slaves and twenty-eight male slaves two years before the commencement of the story. Similarly, Efunsetan employs the service of a beheader to behead Adetutu, one of her female slaves who became pregnant.


Her cruelty makes Itawuyi and Awero conspire to hypnotise her to eat poisoned food. When this did not work, and Efunsetan killed the two, the entire town stands against Efunsetan. It ransacks her house.

Theme of Abuse of Power

One of the themes in Efunsetan Aniwura, Iyalode Ibadan (1970) by Akinwumi Isola is the theme of abuse of power. The playwright depicts how the protagonist of the play abuses the power and influence she has.

Efunsetan Aniwura is a very powerful and influential woman. She is a famous wealthy woman who has a lot of slaves. To cap it all, she occupies the position of the Iyalode of Ibadan. But Efunsetan allows the power she wields to control her, especially in how she kills her slaves like animals, and how she treats them badly because she has control over them. In fact, if she has same power over other Ibadan people, it is not certain that she will not punish them like she does to her slaves.

Front cover of Efunsetan Aniwura, Iyalode Ibadan
Front cover of Efunsetan Aniwura, Iyalode Ibadan

Theme of Slavery

Slavery is one of the dominant themes in Efunsetan Aniwura. The playwright portrays Efunsetan as a slave trader who buys a lot of slaves with her money. It is these slaves that constitute her labour workforce. They run menial errands for her. They fetch water at the stream. They do all sort of work she assigns them.

She does all sort of things to them. She promulgates one draconian law after the other to make their existence difficult. She also attaches severe punishments as attendant consequences of breaking these laws. In Akinwumi Isola’s book, we see the kind of challenges Efunsetan’s slaves face.

A lot of these slaves were not born slaves. Some came from respectable families in their respective towns, but became slaves as a result of the internecine wars that ravaged the Yorubaland of that period. Let’s take Awero and Itawuyi for examples. In Scene 1, Page 2, Awero intimates us of how she came from an important family in her town. Her father was the head of her town while her mother was equally an important person in the community. In Scene 1, Page 61, Itawuyi also talks about how he was the son of a priest who had a lot of powerful charms before his demise.

In other words, this play by Akinwumi Isola clearly portrays the ongoing slave trade in Yorubaland during the lifetime of Efunsetan Aniwura.

Theme of Love

The theme of love manifests in the drama text through the romantic relationship between Itawuyi and Adetutu. When elders say, “love defies laws,” it is certain that they have the love between Itawuyi and Adetutu in mind. The two lovebirds refuse to heed to Iyalode’s warning that there shouldn’t be any relationship between her male and female slaves that could lead to any of her female slaves getting pregnant. She had told them that the punishment for flouting this rule is death but this does not deter the both lovers.

When Adetutu eventually becomes pregnant, and Efunsetan wants to kill her, Itawuyi runs to Akinkunle, Efunsetan’s younger brother, and connives with him to take responsibility for the pregnancy with the intent that Iyalode will not kill Adetutu when she learns that it is her sibling who is responsible for the pregnancy. But all Itawuyi’s efforts proved abortive.

In a similar way, Adetutu helps keep Itawuyi alive the same way he is trying to keep her alive. Up till the time she is beheaded, she does not tell anyone that Itawuyi is responsible for her pregnancy.

Itawuyi sacrifices himself in the end, in order to take his fair share of revenge on Efunsetan for the cruel death she handed Adetutu.

Back cover of Efunsetan Aniwura, Iyalode Ibadan
Back cover of Efunsetan Aniwura, Iyalode Ibadan

Theme of Communal Justice

At the end of this play, we see how the entire town collectively pronounces and enforces its judgment on Efunsetan for her cruelty. Both the commoners and chiefs march to Efunsetan’s house. They ransack her house, free her slaves, and give her a dose of her medicine by taking her as a slave or captive with them. In other words, it is the entire community that punishes Efunsetan for her cruelty and abuse of power.

Further Reading:

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