Tourism and Theatre practice are compatible business. They do not only attract and appeal to people but also contribute immensely to the national economy. Although the two industries can exist and function independently, a combination of their functions does appeal more meaningfully to most people.
A well-developed tourism industry can house a theatre to enhance the beauty of tourism. In like manner, theatre productions are the springboards on which effective tourism can strive.
The two industries seem to be facing a common problem especially in Rivers State of Nigeria. First, is their condemnation by some members of the new generation churches who see tourism and other cultural activities including the theatre as devilish. Secondly, tourism is viewed negatively as avenues for the practices of immorality. These attitudes are seriously affecting the development of tourism and the theatre hence, the author advocates for sustenance of the two industries.
Tourism, as a concept of travelling from one destination to another by a person or group of persons for the purpose of leisure, social interaction and trade is not alien to Nigerians especially the Rivers man. According to Karibo Elekima (15):
“Nigerians have been good travellers within and outside their traditional homes, and even outside the country in pursuit of leisure and trade as well as for purposes of cultural obligations and ceremonies. This could be said to have dated back to the early empires of West Africa”.
Derefaka (72) supports the above postulation by tracing the origin of tourism. He quotes Gumel (1988:6) as saying:
“The basic feature of tourism is leisure activity, which includes among other things, merry making, festivals, cultural visitation and exchange, travelling for commerce and health purpose were, until historical (colonial) period almost an exclusive African tradition”.
History recalls that during the period in question, Nigerians especially the Rivers man found time to travel. He visited his distant neighbourhood to participate in events such as festivals; traditional sports such as wrestling; funeral ceremonies, traditional marriages, religious worships and ritual ceremonies, meeting for the preparation of wars, community development and trade. He also extended very warm reception to those who visited him. In narrating the experience of his encounter with a typical black African environment, Pierre (65) adjudged that
“African culture emphasizes hospitality, for example, it is natural for an African to drop everything he is doing to welcome a guest. It will cause them to stay up a good part of the night to dance in celebration of the arrival of an honoured guest”.
This observation by Pierre is a common occurrence in every African local environment including all communities in Rivers State of Nigeria. In the early 18th century, the trade in palm oil, which was controlled by King Jaja of Opobo domestically and internationally, attracted people from different clans and countries to Opobo Town. The Ndokis exchanged their famous Akwete cloth for oil; the Ibibio, the Ogonis and the Andoni developed trade and cultural relationships with Opobo people and of course, this promoted inter-marriages. A king of Igala visited Kalabari Kingdom and the visit resulted to the introduction of a Royal dress “Atigara” worn by the king of Igala to the Amanyanabo of Kalabari who admired it. The dress, which is of Yoruba origin, is now part of the most famous royal regalia for Kalabari Kings (Orubite 26).
Karibo (2) reveals that a particular traditional cloth referred to as Popo Ikpo or Kano cloth were purchased in Kano by the people of Okrika and used for traditional marriage ceremonies “Iyaa/yaa”. This cultural history is in line with Chief Orubite’s postulations that within the same period, that is, by the 18th century, Kano in Northern Nigeria had a very famous textile industry.
Apart from these domestic trade and cultural relationships, which one may rightly refer to as “cultural and economic tourism”, the local trade in palm oil attracted the Portuguese, the French and the British. These foreign merchants visited Nigeria and the coastal areas now designated Rivers State, the Niger Delta for exchange of goods and culture. One significant cultural exchange is the introduction of the famous traditional dresses called etibo and woko, which are the refined versions of Portuguese dresses. Other activities of great cultural and touristic values included, new yam festivals, corn harvest festivals, chieftaincy installation ceremonies, initiation into womanhood, blood oath ceremonies and so on. These ceremonies united the people internally and externally and can comfortably be regarded, as the traditional hospitality of the ancient Nigerian people. Elekima Karibo (15) insists that: “All remind us of the bastion of cultural tourism in Nigeria”.
It is essential at this juncture to observe that the two prominent industries even at the traditional level had commendable structures and prominence before their influence by modern cultures. Let us therefore see how each of them coped with the influence.
Subscribe to access this work and thousands more