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Creative Arts Day Speaker

Biyi Bandele

From Bandele's play APHRA BEHN'S OROONOKO:

[an exchange between Oroonoko and his beloved Imoinda]


You feet are set deep
In the sea, home of the Goddess Oya,
Who when she wakes up in time present,
Her eyes heavy with dream, shakes her
Head crowned with a nest of birds
Baited into her trap with promise of fish.
Escaping one by one, the birds carry
Between their beaks greetings, hope, regrets
And dreams from time past to time future.

I am one of those birds, Imoinda.
I have burroewed my past, a 
Bloodstained bundle wrapped in 
Seaweed, into the cleansing salt-water vaults
Of the sea goddess. I wear time present
Like a charm for luck.

And the future that I am soaring
Into is you, Imoinda.
I have come
To your feet, set deep in the sea,
Home of the Goddess Oya
Who alone knows the path
That leads into this world
And the road that guides
Us out of it.

Give me your ear, Imoinda, I 
Have but one thing to say to you,
And it's the most important thing
I've said in my life:
Be with me.

[Enter OROMBO, unnoticed by OROONOKO and PRINCESS IMOINDA. He eavesdrops.]


My Lord, Prince Oroonoko,
I do not know the secret of the sea,
Where it goes or from where it sets
Or if its fish are thoughts made flesh.
But I know this for I've seen it with my eyes:
That from it in the sun rises in the morning
And into it plunges at night.

I do not know the secret of rain,
How it shelters from the sun
Or whether its mistress is the ocean.
But I know this for I've seen it with my eyes:
Rain is the beard of God, rinsed in milk, the 
Flag of being. No barber on earth possesses
The blade to shave it off.

I do not know the secret of the mirror
Whether it sees the world or sees illusions
Or whether it seems a world filled with illusions.
But I know this for I've seen it with my eyes:
From this day till I'm ninety-nine or more,
Or till I die before making ninety-nine, I shall
do up
My hair in the mirror of your eyes.

Be with me, Oroonoko.

[Exit OROMBO with a thoughtful smirk.]


Biyi Bandele was born in 1967 in Nigeria. He was winner of the International Student Playwriting Competition in 1990 and settled in England soon after. Bandele has been described as one of the most prolific young writers today, due to the sheer number of works written since 1994 (eleven). He is equally well known as a screenwriter, novelist, and arts commentator and is regularly featured on BBC Radio.

His adaptation of Lorca's YERMA for the Theatre, Chipping Norton and Fifth Amendment Productions, is currently on tour throughout the UK. Described as "a jazzy portrait for two performers capturing several generations of black experience in modern England" and produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bandele's BRIXTON STORIES has an April run at The Pit in London. Bandele lives in London, and is currently Judith Wilson Fellow in the Faculty of English, Cambridge, and Artist By-Fellow at Churchill College.

His play APHRA BEHN'S OROONOKO was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford in April 1999. The excerpt from this play is included here with the author's permission. Bandele based the play on the Behn's 1688 novella - OROONOKO, OR THE HISTORY OF THE ROYAL SLAVE.