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Listening Closely to ‘HEAR WORD! Naija Woman Talk True’

Ifeoma Fafunwa
Courtesy of Evgenia Eliseeva

Director Ifeoma Fafunwa speaking on a panel at Hibernian Hall.

On Feb. 9, performing arts director Ifeoma Fafunwa brought her evocative and critically acclaimed play, “HEAR WORD! Naija Woman Talk True, to the Loeb Drama Center. The production displayed an array of obstacles that many Nigerian women face regularly, and promoted the necessary steps to hurdling these barriers. Following the performance, Fafunwa sat down with Professor Timothy Patrick McCarthy, the Core Faculty and Director of Culture Change & Social Justice Initiatives at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy for a 30-minute long discussion fueled by his questions, after which Fafunwa gave the audience the chance to ask questions of their own.

Almost as soon as Fafunwa and McCarthy settled in their chairs underneath the soft red glow of the center-stage light, the remainder of the audience from the show gave their undivided attention to the pair sitting on stage while Fafunwa fielded McCarthy’s questions about the production. When queried about what led her to direct such a powerful piece, Fafunwa answered that she obtained her inspiration from Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls”—a film that portrays a series of women experiencing the issues that affect women of color.

Fafunwa’s spin on this idea was a piece that displayed a series of women from her own country, and the social issues that they face in their culture. Fafunwa asserted that her motivation was to make a production that gave agency to the people from her homeland, whom she felt were in great need of a voice. “Let’s empower. Let it all be about the mind-shift of the women. This entire piece is [about] not waiting for men or for institutions—its saying, we’re responsible, here’s what we can do, here’s where we contribute to the problem, and here’s where we can shift our minds and get away from those situations,” she said.

By taking responsibility for their own social wellbeing, Fafunwa encourages young Nigerian women to take control of their own narrative. Though misogyny is a major problem upheld by many males in the Nigerian culture, Fafunwa insists that rather than wait for the wrongdoers to see the errors of their ways and decide to change, it is up to women to take matters into their own hands.

Though the entire essence of Fafunwa’s play is about grievances that women face in Nigeria, “HEAR WORD!” takes a decided stand in refusing to paint these women as helpless victims. “I was particular about flipping the narrative around what you saw of African women on television….I thought [it would be better] if ten women stood on stage looking powerful, and strong, and not covering up the core problems, saying, we bear it all these are issues, and this is how we’re going to solve them,” Fafunwa said.

Fafunwa’s talk following the show was well received by the audience, who all seemed to have only one complaint: They wished for the opportunity to hear her speak for a longer duration of time. “You always want more,” A.R.T. subscriber Joan FitzGerald said. She went on to express her great appreciation for the amount of time for which she was able to listen to Fafunwa speak. “There are lots of issues that are certainly resonant in this country,” FitzGerald said.

Actress Yewande Odetoyinbo of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee agreed. “I agreed with everything [Fafunwa] said, and this piece is so relevant not just for [women in] Nigeria, but for everywhere,” she said.

Fafunwa’s sister-in-law, Hughette Fafunwa, also present in the audience was equally pleased with the work of her family member. “[Fafunwa] did a great job about giving answers that were important, useful, and true,” she said.

Towards the end of her talk, Fafunwa told the audience the meaning of the phrase that begins the title of her production. “‘Hear word’ is Pidgin for ‘listen and obey,’ you know, ‘listen and comply’ and men would say [to women]....[The production] is not just about listening, you have to adjust your behavior … and say that the community should ‘hear word’ because Nigerian women are speaking the truth,” she said. Fafunwa challenged her audience to “hear word,” and judging from the response of the crowd who intently observed the talk, it seems that they are listening.

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