THE TRIALS OF BROTHER JEROBy Wole Soyinka
The Trials of Brother Jero is a play by Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka. It was first produced in the dining hall at Mellan by Hall, University College, Ibadan, Nigeria, in April 1960. The play was first published in Nigeria in 1963 and by Oxford University Press in 1964.
The Trials of Brother Jero is a light satiric comedy that takes aim at religious hypocrisy in the form of a charlatan, or fraud, named Brother Jero, who preaches to his followers on Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria. Jero is a master of manipulation and keeps his followers in a subservient position because he understands what they long for money, social status, and power—and convinces them that they will soon be able to fulfill these materialistic desires. For their part, they are gullible enough to believe him.
THE TRIALS OF BROTHER JERO
By Wole Soyinka
The play is divided into five scenes that communicate the playwright’s message.
The play is divided into five scenes that communicate the playwright’s message.
The scene breaks with a monologue from Brother Jero in which he introduces himself as a prophet by birth and by inclination. He also tells the audience that there are many prophets of his kind in the streets, many with their own churches other inland and others on the coast. There are prophets who are leading processions while others are looking for processions to lead, many curing the deaf, many raising the dead.
He says that he was born a prophet and he had grown to love the trade. He says that many prophets now are competing for plots of land at the beach where to erect their churches. This has turned the profession into a thing of ridicule. He also says that some prophets gained their present beaches by getting women penitents to shake their bosoms in spiritual ecstasy. As a result it reached a point where the Town Council had to intervene and divide the land among the prophets and settled the Prophets’ territorial warfare.
He tells how he betrayed his old master by pretending to help him to get a plot of land but he ended up possessing the land himself. He blames the television for keeping the wealthier patrons at home since they stay at home and watch the tv instead of going for worship. He had to struggle for a plot of land against other church groups such as The Brotherhood of Jehu, Cherubims and seraphims, the Sisters of Judgement day, the heavenly cowboys and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The old prophet appears and curses Brother Jero for driving him off hid plot of land and says “Ingrate! Monster! I curse you with the curse of the Daughters of Discord. May they be your downfall! May the Daughters of Eve bring ruin down on your head!”
Brother Jero ignores the curse and calls it a cheap curse. He admits that he has one weakness and that is, women. However, he says that women love him because he is good looking.
Early in the morning In Front of Brother Jero’s house.
The scene breaks with Amope and Chume on a bicycle and they brake at Brother Jero’s house. The sudden braking causes a minor injury on Amope’s ankle and she complains a lot for that. Chume unties the bundle he had tied on his bicycle and places them down. Amope has taken all the kitchen utensils required to prepare the meal plus a mat and goes to camp in front of brother Jero’s house.
After unloading everything Chume wants to leave saying that he is late for work. Amope wonders the Chume is just a Chief Messenger in the Local Government office and he calls it a job while his old school friends are now ministers riding in long cars. Chume decides to leave. She wishes he would find another thing so that she may not go to her grave as a wife of a Chief messenger.
Brother Jero is about to get out but he notices the presence of Amope. He wants to escape through the window but she sees him and asks “Where do you think you are going?” He comes back to the house. Amope says that it has been three months and Jero has not paid her money the sum of One pound, eight shillings, and nine pence and she wonders that he calls himself a man of God. She insists that he won’t go anywhere until he has paid the debt. Brother Jero cheats her that the money is not in the house he has to get it from the Post Office and pay her.
A fish trader comes and Amope asks her to put down her trade so that she may buy. She says that the fish smells a bit and the trader tells her that it is her who has not bathed for a week. They exchange insults and the trader carries his load and walks away. She turns and finds Brother Jero escaping through the window. She shouts at him calling him a thief. She assures him that he will find it easier to get out of his house than to get in or else her name is not Amope. A boy coming towards her beating the drum and Amope chases him away calling him a dirty beggar.
At the Beach
Brother Jero is standing near his church wondering how Amope managed to find his house. He says that he bought the Velvet not because it is a luxury thing but because it would help to distinguish himself from others and finally they will start calling him the Velvet-hearted Jeroboam, Immaculate Jero, Articulate hero of Christ’s Crusade. This is his ambition. He says that he does so because one must have a name that appeals to the imagination of the spirit and much catch the imagination of the crowd. He says that one must move with modern times because lack of colour gets one nowhere even in the Prophet’s business.
He curses Amope for making him uncomfortable and says the price is too high for that cape. He is glad to get there before his worshippers whom he calls customers. He admits that he keeps them dissatisfied so that they may keep going to him. That is the reason he does not allow Chume to beat his wife so that he may not be contented and go forever.
A young girl who has been swimming passes with clean, wet, and shiny face and hair. Brother Jero follows her with his eyes then tells himself “Pray Brother Jeroboam Pray! Pray for strength against temptation.”(p,11). Chume enters and he asks him to pray with and for him against that weakness. They start praying together.
Chume seems to have something bothering him because he has come earlier than usual. As he starts meditating Brother Jero says that his worshippers believe that he has no house and he sleeps at the beach. When Chume finishes his meditation he suddenly asks for permission to beat his wife just one sound beating. Brother Jero says it is against the will of God. He tells Chume how he prophesied for him different positions and they came true and now he has prophesied that he will be a Chief Clerk. Chume continues to insist about the beating Jero commands him to kneel down for a prayer. Jero tells Chume that this woman is his cross and he has to bear it and pray for strength.
Other worshippers have arrived and Brother Jero leaves them chanting. He talks about a man that he has prophesied that he will be made a chief in his home town. For another he prophesied that he will be the first Prime Minister of the new Mid-North-East State when it is created. He says that it is a risky prophesy but he made it because he badly needed worshippers around that time.
Finally he manages to convince Chume not to beat his wife and he agrees. He sends Chume to bring water then a boy enters beating the drum and a woman chasing her. Her wrapper pulled so high up that half the length of her thigh is exposed. Jeroboam follows the woman’s exposed limbs with quite distressed concentration. Brother Jero leaves the duty to Chume and follows them
Meanwhile a woman detaches from the crowd shouting Echa, echa, echa, echa,… etc. Chume calls Brother Jero to come back but he is nowhere to be seen. He starts to minister the penitent. He prays for forgiveness while the congregation responds Amen! Then Chume prays for good life and promotions. He says for instance those who are clerk today should be made Chief clerks, Messengers into Senior Service, Petty traders into big contractors, those with bicycles to ride cars …
Prophet Jero appears a much altered man with his clothes torn and his face bleeding, asking his Assistant, Brother Chume, to dismiss the congregation. In their discussions, it was revealed, to the reader or audience, that it was Brother Chume’s wife that Prophet Jero had an unpleasant encounter with that morning. Brother Chume reported the way he escorted his wife to Ajete settlement to the poor man’s house, oblivious Jero was actual the man the wife had forced him to carry her to his place to collect the money she was owed. After hearing that Brother Jero discovered that the woman is Chume’s wife. It was also revealed that, initially, the prophet was not aware that, that woman was Brother Chume’s wife.
Paradoxically, the prophet’s advice changed from prayer and forgiveness to punishment and the use of whip as soon as Jero realised whose Chume’s wife was. He allowed him to go and take his wife home and beat her secretly. Before he leaves, Jero tells him that the son of God appeared to him and gave him a new title Immaculate Jero, Articulate Hero of Christ’s Crusade.
Later the same day In Front of Brother Jero’s house.
Chume goes to his wife and is given the food. He orders his wife to pack up her things ready to leave for home. Amope thinks the man is drunk because he came earlier than usual. Chume insists on going home but Amope refuses that she won’t leave until she gets her money. Jero enters and hides to observe them. Amope says the amount her debtor owes her is much more than his messengers pay. She tells him that he had better become a sanitary inspector than a messenger. She advices him to take a job that has high pay or at least chances for bribes. She mocks him that he does not drink, or smoke or take bribes but he is still poor.
Chume threatens to beat her saying his period of abstinence and trial is over. He commands her to get on the bike she refuses and runs to beat the boor asking to be let in. as she cries for help she says that the husband must kill her first before he ties her onto the bicycle. She asks Brother Jero to curse her husband and she will forgive him his debt. Chume overhears it and asks her to keep quite so that she may explain to him well whether it is Brother Jero who owes her the money. She continues to shout the words “Kill me”. He turns to a nearest neighbour who confirms that, that was Brother Jero’s house.
Chume discovers the hypocrisy of Brother Jero and knows that it is for that reason he allowed him to beat his wife for his own convenience. Chume leaves her alone and takes his bike ordering her to wait till he returns. Amope is surprised whether her husband is mad.
Nightfall at the Beach.
The scene talks about a Member of the federal House who has come to rehearse his speech practices. He is a back bencher but with one eye on a ministerial post. He remembers Chume and says that might have lost him because by giving him permission to beat his wife he is now fulfilled and would not come back to him. However he sees it as a good price he paid to get rid of Amope.
He then goes to the Member of the house and tries to prophesy for him. At first the minister seems to be aware of this gullibility but later when he is told that he would be appointed as The Minister for War he softens his heart. Brother Jero seizes that opportunity and tells him that he sees Satan in the MP’s eyes. The member grows fearful and raises his arms in half-supplication.
Chume comes agitated talking to himself wondering that for two years Brother Jero had prohibited him to beat his wife claiming it was against the will of God but today he granted the permission. He laments also after discovering that Jero has a house and he cheats his followers that he sleeps at the beach. Chume suspects that may be Amope and Brother Jero have a private relationship. She pretends to camp at his door demanding the money but when the night falls she gets in and they make love. He blames God that what has he done for God to spoil his life that much.
Chume leaves while the Prophet prays for the MP. Chume comes back abusing Brother Jero calling him adulterer! Woman thief! and threatens to finish him. Brother Jero flees leaving the MP alone. When the MP discovers that the Prophet has disappeared he thinks that he has been transported or transmuted and he says to himself “I knew I stood in the presence of God…” (p.32). Jero is happy because he has managed to full him. He hopes that he will go and tell it to others. The Member thinks that he is on the holy ground and takes his off his shoes.
Brother Jero watches as he is about to sleep so that he may re-appear and make the member believe that he fell from heaven. When the member sees him he falls flat on his face and calls him “Master!”
The word ‘trials’ in this play is used to mean “temptations”. In other words it is talking about the temptations of different dimensions that Brother Jero faces in his ministry as a prophet. The title of the play is relevant to its content as the playwright has discussed several trials befalling our main character (the protagonist) Brother Jeroboam. The temptations he gets are from women and from his ministry. Brother Jero is very fond of women and this has become his greatest weakness as he admits in scene one. “He knew very well that I had one weakness –women.”(p.3)
§ The first temptation is from a girl who passes every morning on her way to take a swim. A girl passes sleepily in front of him clothed only in a wrapper going to take a swim. When she comes back she is clean, wet, with shiny face and hair. Brother Jero follows her with his eyes all the way. Then he tells himself. “Pray Brother Jeroboam, pray! Pray for strength against temptations”. (p.11)
§ The second trial is from the woman chasing the drummer boy. Her wrapper was pulled so high that half the length of her thigh is exposed. Brother Jero again followed the woman’s exposed limbs with quite distressed concentration and he comes suddenly to himself and kneels sharply. (p. 17)
§ Another trial comes from his assistant Chume who asks for permission to beat his wife. Brother Jero finds it difficult to allow Chume to beat his wife and tells him it is against the will of God. He encourages Chume to bear it as a cross telling him that she was his trial sent from heaven. “She is your heaven-sent trial – lay not your hand on her” (p.15)
§ He also faces trials from the prophesies he gives to people. He is careful to tell only those prophesies that have a probability of coming true so that they may continue believing in him. For example he says he prophesied that one man will be made a chief in his home town. He says “that is a very safe prophesy. As safe as out most popular prophesy, that a man will live to be eighty. If it doesn’t come true.” (p.15) When he is in need of customers he tells even impossible prophesies. He for instance tells one man that he will be the first Prime minister of the new Mid-North-East State – when it is created. Then he admits that “that was a risky prophesy of mine, but I badly needed more worshippers around that time.” (p.16)
The play is set back in the 1960’s but it is very relevant to the contemporary socio-political and religious situation in Nigeria and other African countries in general. There are also sub-settings, setting the actions in the scenes of the play.
§ Beach. The beach is used as a place where most prophets have erected their churches and struggle for customers. But also it is the same place that puts the Protagonist into temptations since women who go there for swimming with swimming attires have been a temptation to the prophet hence “the trials of Brother Jero”
§ In front of the Brother Jero’s house. Other events are taking place in front of Brother Jero’s house such as Amope’s conflict with the fish trader, Amope’s conflict with her husband, and Amope’s conflict with Brother Jero. It is this same setting that gives awareness to Chume who was once ignorant and blind follower and Assistant of Brother Jero. He comes to discover that the man he has trusted ever is a liar and a hypocrite because he has a house but claims to sleep at the beach. Also he discovers that the permission he got to punish (beat) his wife was a careful plan to make Brother Jero get rid of his Creditor who is actually his own wife.
Ø Dialogue: the play is written in a dialogue style as expected of any play. What is important here is that, in a play, characters use language pragmatically as in real life unlike in other genres like prose or narrative poetry where the persona is the narrator talking about himself and/or others.
Ø Monologue/soliloquy. The play begins with a monologue in which Brother Jero addresses the audience directly introducing himself as a prophet from birth.
Ø Aside: In most cases Brother Jero uses aside in which cases he addresses the audience directly and goes back to play his part. For example when he sees a Member of the Federal House he says “Now he…he is already a member of my flock. He does not know it of course, but he is a follower. All I need to do is claim him. Call him and say to him, My dear member of the House, your place awaits you…or do you doubt it? Watch me go to work on him” (p.29). This was a direct address to the audience.
Ø Point of view. The dominant point of view through which the story is told is First person Point of view. The story unfolds almost entirely through the eyes and words of the main character Brother Jero who every now and then takes himself aside and tells the audience what they should expect to see in the subsequent scenes. He starts by introducing himself “I am a prophet. A prophet by birth and by inclination” (p.1)
Ø It has been argued by some critics that perhaps the “Trials of Brother Jero” is the only popular comedy by Wole Soyinka that has used a simple language of the masses (Osoba, 2014). He has also made use of idiosyncratic variation perhaps to stress a point of ignorance and awareness within one person. Chume speaks Standard English when he converses with his wife but when he talks to Brother Jero he speaks Pidgin English.
Ø This might have been done deliberately to show that the linguistic variation within the same person signifies his state of awareness when he is at home and ignorance when he is at the church. That is perhaps why when he finally discovers the truth about his Prophet he says “For two years ‘e no let me beat that woman. Why? No because God no like ‘am. That one no fool me any more. ‘E no be man of God” (p.31)
Ø Several figures of speech have also been employed not only to colour the work but also to help Soyinka communicate his message across.
Ø The playwright has used his characters symbolically to represent the many types of people we have in our contemporary societies.
§ Brother Jero; (the protagonist) represents all the false and corrupt prophets emerging in African continent with the aim of exploiting the ignorant masses.
§ Chume; (the antagonist) represents those faithful and ignorant masses that are exploited by the prophets just as customers. They make the prophets richer and richer but they remain poorer and poorer.
§ Amope; represents those few who are aware of the fact that these prophets are phoney prophets thus untrustworthy. Thus she represents the exploited individuals in the society who are enlightened have come to realise the real men behind the mask and cannot be easily deceived.
§ Daughters of discord/Daughters of Eve; are used to represent all dishonest and unfaithful women who ruin men’s lives and bring their downfall.
§ The Velvet Cape; has been used not only as a symbol of wealth exploited from the masses by the prophets but also as a mask behind which the prophet has camouflaged himself to hide his real identity.
§ Brother Jero’s house; is a symbol of the wealth robbed from the ignorant worshippers and stored secretly. The Prophet presents himself as a poor and humble man of God who has nowhere to sleep except the beach while in fact he as e very nice house at Ajete Settlement.
§ Chume’s bicycle. This is used as a symbol of poverty in the play. Those rich guys drive cars but the poor like Chume can only afford the bicycle.
§ The television. In this play the television is used as a symbol of spiritual hypocrisy. The rich people whom Jero refers to as “our wealthier patrons” are symbolised by the television which, the worshippers, being worldly, stay at home and watch instead of attending the church services. These are Nicodemus Christians because they go for consultations at a time that they wouldn’t be recognised which shows that they know it is wrong to visit such places. This is hypocrisy.
§ There is a Dramatic irony.
Brother Jero is portrayed ironically. The playwright has used a dramatic irony in which case the audience and some characters like Amope are aware of the real Brother Jero but others in the play have no idea of his real identity. This is done purposely to create suspense and make the readers long to see what Chume will do after discovering the real man behind the mask.
§ Verbal irony.
The words Heavenly cowboys are also used ironically because a cowboy is someone who does their jobs badly or one who is dishonest in business. Taking into consideration the heavenly atmosphere we don’t expect the word heavenly cowboy to be used to refer to heavenly beings.
§ The playwright mocks the Christian religion. Whole play is a satire to the Christian church and shows that from the past (symbolised by old prophet) to present (symbolised by Jero) and even the future (symbolised by Chume) the false prophets who practice Christian charlatanism have not changed. We can say that there is lack of seriousness in Jero’s church, its leader and its worshippers.
§ Soyinka mocks the names of the churches. The names are not only funny but they portray their hypocritical outlook as well. For instance, if we consider the name like “Heavenly cowboys” for the church, we see the satire involved in a much more vivid sense. By laying the words “Heavenly” and “cowboys” side by side, he is not only creating an oxymoron with the meaning “heavenly dishonest and irresponsible people” but he is also making a description of the rogue church and the corruption that goes on in it.
§ Also the names of other churches such as “The brotherhood of Jehu, the Cherubims and seraphims, do not reflect the expected godliness. Prophet Jehu in the biblical rendition, wiped away evil from Israel, Cherubims and seruphims refer to angels, who are sweet and innocent doing only the will of God, but the activities of these churches, spread evils among Gods people showing their ugliness, ungodliness, and lack of genuineness.
§ The name “The Sisters of Judgement Day” does not reflect heavenly-minded people meditating on the Great Judgment Day as it is thought to be. It is rather described as “shakers of bosom” in the church considering that the word ‘sisters” refers to females. Thus they are causing immorality in the church of God and Soyinka warns them about the terrible fate that awaits them on the Judgment Day.
§ And I grew to love the trade. (prophetic ministry is compared to a trade) (p.1)
§ I am glad I got here before my customers – I mean worshippers – well customers if you like. (p.11) (worshippers are compared to customers)
§ Tear this love for the Daughters of Eve. (p.12) (He calls women the daughters of Eve)
§ My life is hell. (p.14) (He compares his life with hell)
§ This woman whom you so desire to beat is your cross –bear it well. (p.15) (He compares his wife with a cross)
§ She is your heaven-sent trial (p.15) (he refers to Amope as a trial)
§ Women are a plague brother. (p.20) (women are compared to a plague)
§ Poor fish (he refers to the member of the Federal House as a poor fish) (p.29)
§ Help him Lord help him Lord. (p.12)
§ David David, Samuel, Samuel. (p.12)
§ Help him. Help him. Help ‘am God. Help ‘am God. (p.12)
§ Job Job, Elijah Elijah. (p.12)
§ Abraka, Abraka, Abraka(p.12)
§ Abraka Abraka Hebra Hebra Hebra Hebra Hebra Hebra Hebra Hebra (p.12)
§ All she gave me was abuse, abuse, abuse …(p.15)
§ In fact there are eggs and there are eggs. (p.1)
§ No scandal has ever touched my name. (p.3)
§ I have not breathed it to a single soul (p.10) (soul here stands for a person)
§ …no scandal has ever touched my name. (p.3) (name here refers to Jero’s reputation)
There are biblical allusions that are used in the play to place the play in its real context.
§ The brotherhood of Jehu, the Cherubims and seraphims, the Sisters of Judgement day, the heavenly cowboys…(p.2)
§ This woman whom you so desire to beat is your cross –bear it well. (p.15)
§ This is holy ground (takes off his shoes and sits) (p.32)
§ Forgive this sinner, father, Forgive him by day, Forgive him by night, Forgive him in the morning, Forgive him at noon… (p.15)
§ I think I see Satan in your eyes. I see him entrenched in your eyes. (p.30)
Ø He is the protagonist. He is the main character portrayed as charlatan who attempts to achieve his ambition as an important and distinctive prophet by appearing immaculate in a velvet cape, which he had not yet paid for, and articulate in prophecy. His ultimate ambition is to be called the Velvet-hearted Jeroboam, Immaculate Jero, and Articulate Hero of Christ’s Crusade.
Ø He is a fake (phoney) prophet. Brother Jeroboam (Jero) is a self-professed man of God who preaches water but drinks wine. He is a fake prophet but he has managed to convince a group of people that he is God’s prophet with divine powers to help them fulfil their dreams.
Ø He is corrupt. As a religious leader Brother Jero turns out to be what we don’t expect of a man of God. He runs after women, he buys the velvet cape from Amope on credit but refuses to pay her. This is moral corruption for a man of God.
Ø He is a liar. He lies even to his own assistant that he has no house and he sleeps at the beach but in reality he has a house somewhere in Ajete settlement area. Chume says in page 31. ‘E no be man of God. ‘E say `in sleep for beach whether `e rain or cold but that one too na big lie. This man get house and `e sleep there every night”
Ø He is a hypocrite prophet. Brother Jero has been preventing Chume from beating his wife claiming that it’s not the will of God, however the day he discovered that Amope (whom he owed the money) is Chume’s wife he granted the permission. This is highest level of hypocrisy.
Ø He is an exploiter. Brother Jero exploits his subjects through offerings they pay. For him this is a complete trade and he calls his worshipers “his customers”
Ø He is a womanizer. (Skirt-chaser) Brother Jero admits that his weakness is women. Chume calls him “Adulterer! Women thief”
Ø Amope’s husband. He is the husband of Amope and usually quarrels with her.
Ø Brother Jero’s assistant. He helps Brother Jero to administer in his church.
Ø He is a chief messenger. He is employed as a chief messenger. Her wife is not contented with her husband’s job because it doesn’t give him enough to support the family.
Ø He is a blind follower of brother Jero. Chume is among the devoted followers of Brother Jero who are exploited unawares. He thinks that Jero is a genuine man of God until he discovers the real man behind the mask. Jero uses his ignorance to tell him that The Son of God appeared to him and gave him a new title Immaculate Jero, Articulate Hero of Christ Crusade and Chume believes.
Ø He leads a poor life. Chume is very poor something that causes him troubles with his wife who claims that he has better become a Sanitary Inspector for he can at least take bribes and buy a motorcycle than the bicycle he has. Also she regrets by saying “Am I to go to my grave as a wife of a chief massager?”
Ø He is a traditionalist who believes in Women beating. Chume believes that women beating can be a solution to silence his wife Amope and stop her from abusing him.
Ø She is a wife of Chume. She usually quarrels with her husband.
Ø She is a petty trader. She earns her living by engaging in petty trade selling things including the velvet cape she sold to Brother Jero for one pound eight shillings and he has not paid her.
Ø She is a very hardworking woman. She is a hard working woman and manages to prepare the food for her husband. She says “You can’t say I don’t try. Hounded out of house by debtors, I still manage to make you a meal”. (P. 23)
Ø She is brave and courageous. She is very courageous and has a firm stand. For example she goes to camp at the house of Brother Jero until she is paid her money. Moreover when Chume forces her to get onto the bicycle so that they may leave she refuses and says “I won’t get on that thing unless you kill me first” (p. 26)
Ø She is abusive. She uses abusive language when talking to people like the fish seller, her husband and her debtor Brother Jero. For example she abuses the trader “Do you see what you have done, you spindle-leg toad?” then she turns to the boy drumming “take yourself off, you dirty beggar. Do you think my money is for the likes of you? ” (p. 9)
Ø She likes complaining. She complains too much almost in every situation and against everybody she encounters. She complains against her husband, against the fish seller, against the drum boy and against brother Jero. E.g. “I don’t know what the world is coming to. A chief of a Prophet, a swindler of a fish-seller and now that thing with lice on his head comes begging for money. He and the prophet ought to get together with the fish-seller their mother” (p. 9)
Member of Parliament.
Ø He is an M.P. He is a senior member of the Federal house.
Ø He is a power monger. We are told that he is a member of the federal house- a backbencher but with one eye on a ministerial post.
Ø He is poor in speech making. He goes to Brother Jero every day to be taught the tricks in speech making but he never makes the speeches. He is too scared.
Ø He is ignorant. He is one of those Brother Jero cheats with false prophesies that their dreams would be fulfilled. Brother Jero prophesies that he would be appointed as a Minister for War. And he believes him.
THEMES IN THE PLAY
Soyinka has discussed different controversies that arise as a result of the kind of religion introduced in Africa which brought both hopes and disappointments. Those who were thought to be the men of God and gospel light bearers have turned out to be the very wolves in a sheep’s clothing. Brother Jero is the main source of conflicts in the play.
Most of the conflicts addressed in the play are personal conflicts involving the following individuals;
a. Conflict between Brother Jero and Old prophet.
This conflict occurs as result of a quarrel over a piece of land at the beach where Brother Jero erects his church. He decides to chase away the old Prophet despite the fact that he is the one who trained Brother Jero as a prophet.
b. Conflict between Brother Jero and Amope.
This conflict occurs because of the money Brother Jero owes Amope. She has sold him a Velvet cape for one pound and eight shillings but Brother Jero has been avoiding paying her claiming that his money is in the bank. This causes a serious conflict between the two.
c. Conflict between Amope and the trader.
This occurs when Amope comments that her fish smells a bit. She gets angry and says that maybe it is Amope who hasn’t bathed for a week. The two exchange hot potatoes and the fish trader decides to leave avoiding the unnecessary quarrel.
d. Conflict between Chume and Amope
This conflict arises as a result of two major factors. One is from their personality traits. Amope is so hot-tempered that she evokes a quarrel over just a minor issue while Chume on his side seems to be so church-centred ignoring to provide for his own family. Secondly the poor state at home stirs the conflict to the point where Amope regrets to have married a mere messenger and wishes he had been at least a sanitary inspector for it is a better job than a messenger. This causes a serious conflict in which case Chume seeks for permission from the Prophet to beat her but the permission is not granted.
e. Conflict among the prophets.
The prophets are quarrelling over a piece of land where to establish their churches. The conflict involves “The brotherhood of Jehu, the Cherubims and seraphims, the Sisters of Judgement day, the heavenly cowboys” and The Jehovah’s Witnesses. The conflict is so intense to the point that the town council had to intervene and divide the land peacefully among the prophets.
Betrayal has been portrayed in different scenarios.
§ Brother Jero betrays the Old Prophet by chasing him away while in fact he is the one who trained him to become a prophet. Brother Jero drives him away after a clash over the land at the beach where he later establishes his church.
§ Brother Jero has betrayed his Christian faith and his followers by acting contrary to what is expected of a prophet of God. He uses his position to exploit the ignorant mass and he calls them his customers. Furthermore, he does things that are morally contrary to the Christian faith in the name of religion like being lustful for women.
§ Brother Jero betrays his closest assistant Chume. First he does not tell him the truth about his really life. He has a house at Ajete Settlement area and he keeps it a secret claiming that he sleeps at the beach. Secondly, he allows Chume to go and beat his wife after realising that she is the one he owes the money saying it is the will of God while he does so for his own interest.
§ Brother Jero has betrayed Amope. He bought a Velvet Cape from her promising to pay for it but it has been three months and the debt is not paid. Moreover he keeps on avoiding her something that shows that he is not willing to pay for the Velvet cape.
§ The worshippers in this play are portrayed as ignorant as they trust Brother Jero as a man of God not realising the real man who has camouflaged himself behind the mask of Christianity. He uses that opportunity to exploit them since they are not aware that he is just a womaniser, a liar, and an exploiter. He says for example “I know they are dissatisfied because I keep them dissatisfied. Once they are full, they won’t come again”. (p.11)
§ Chume represents those ignorant and blind followers of Brother Jero who don’t know the true nature of their so-called-prophet. He serves Brother Jero faithfully and with reverence and ends up becoming poorer and poorer as he has dedicated much of his time to church service leaving his family starving. He asks Brother Jero to pray for him so that he may become rich one day.
§ The M.P is also ignorant as he is cheated by Brother Jero that he had a prophecy for him which showed that he would be appointed the minister for war. As it was his petty dream to become a minister he grows optimistic and asks Brother Jero to pray for him.
§ Finally, ignorance is portrayed through the quarrels between Amope and her husband and Amope against the fish trader. In both cases the quarrels are stirred by minor things that are not strong enough to cause conflict for sensible and responsible people.
§ Brother Jero is portrayed as a chief exploiter in this play both as a priest and as an individual. In one case, he exploits the petty trader Amope by buying a Velvet Cape from her promising to pay her but it has been three months and no payment is done. This is exploitation of the small scale businesswoman.
§ In another case, he uses his followers’ ignorance of his true nature to exploit them morally and materially. He fools them that he has no house to live in so that people give him money in terms of offerings to God. This makes him refer to them as customers and he takes his ministry as a trade. He says “I am glad I got here before my customers – I mean worshippers – well, customers if you like. I always get that feeling every morning that I am a shop-keeper waiting for customers” (p.11)
HYPOCRISY AND CHARLATANISM.
§ Brother Jero is a real wolf in a sheep’s clothing. He has camouflaged himself behind the mask of Christianity to the point that his followers cannot distinguish between the real Jeroboam and the Prophet Jero. He lies to his followers that he has no house and they believe him. He also tells them that he is a real prophet of God while in fact he is a self-professed prophet, a liar and a womaniser.
§ He deceives Amope that he has the money in the bank while in reality he was looking for the way to escape.
§ He denies Chume the permission to beat his wife claiming that it’s against the will of God but when he discovers that Amope whom he owes the money is Chume’s wife he grants the permission claiming it is the will of God.
§ Brother Jero lies to Chume that the Son of God appeared to him and gave him a new name title; Immaculate Jero, articulate Jero of Christ Crusade which is not true. He also cheats the M.P. that he had prophesy for him being appointed as the minister of War so that he can convince him to become his follower while it is not true.
MISUSE OF RELIGION/THE RISE OF PHONEY PROPHETS
§ Brother Jero misuses the Christian religion and uses his position and the trust he has from the worshipers to exploit his followers and capitalises on their efforts. The ignorant followers like Chume are so devoted to Church services so much that they even forget to take care of their families.
§ Also Brother Jero is a hypocrite as a religious leader because he cheats people that he has no house thus he sleeps at the beach in order to win their sympathy and hide his identity. This is not what we expect of a religious leader.
§ In a way Soyinka was portraying the big picture available in most African countries nowadays. Phoney prophets are scattered everywhere and many more are born every day, most of whom are trained in Nigeria –the playwright’s country. So he speaks from experience. They name their churches after sweet names that do not reflect their behaviours.
§ Nevertheless, the names used in this play are used satirically to criticise the prophets and worshippers misconducts. “The brotherhood of Jehu, the Cherubims and seraphims, the Sisters of Judgement day, the heavenly cowboys”. This is the reason 1why Brother Jero wishes to have a new title that sounds good in the ears of his followers and can attract more worshippers “Immaculate Jero, Articulate hero of Christ Crusade.”
§ Amope is oppressed by Brother Jero who takes her Velvet Cape and refuses to clear the debt. He causes troubles to the woman to the point that she decides to camp at his door.
§ Amope is also oppressed by her husband who threatens to beat her. Chume seeks the permission from the hypocritical prophet to beat his wife and the permission is granted because Brother Jero wants to revenge against Amope through Chume. Chume forces Amope to go home so that he may quench his thirst by beating her.
Soyinka finalises his comedy by showing that Chume became aware of the real man behind the mask. He shows awareness in the following scenarios.
§ He discovers that Brother Jero is a liar because he claims that he sleeps at the beach while he has a big house. He says “That one no fool me any more. ’E no be man of God. ‘E say in sleep for beach whether ‘e rain or cold but that one too na big lie. That man get house and ‘e sleep there every night” (p.31)
§ He discovers that Brother Jero allowed him to beat his wife for Brother Jero’s convenience claiming that it is the will of God.
§ Amope is aware that Brother Jero is a phoney prophet. Her encounter with Brother Jero has revealed to her that he lacks the qualities of a Man of God because he is a dishonest man.
THE POSITION AND ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE SOCIETY
Women occupy various positions and roles in this society. Soyinka has viewed them both positively and negatively;
§ Women are portrayed as hard workers and bread earners. Amope is a hardworking petty trader who works hard to put food on the table both for her and her husband. The fish trader is another case in point. She moves around selling fish so as to earn a living.
§ Women are portrayed as more conscious than men. Amope represents women who are aware of what is going on in the society while her husband is blindly following Brother Jero and believing him as a man of God. She discovers the hypocrisy of brother Jero before her husband does.
§ Women are portrayed as a strong and courageous people. Amope represents strong and courageous women in the society. Being a woman is not a criterion for her to be looked down upon by men. She struggles bravely against any man who crosses with her and defends her position. She for instance decides to camp at Brother Jero’s house until he pays her money.
§ Women are portrayed as wicked people. Furthermore in the play women are viewed from another vantage point as people who are leading men to commit sin. The mentioning of women like Eve, Delilah and Jezebel from the bible who all led their men to commit sin serves this purpose.
§ Women are portrayed as tools for sexual pleasure. Brother Jero uses women as tools to satisfy his sexual desires however he complains that women are the source of sexual immorality in the society.
THE MESSAGE OF THE PLAY.
§ We should be careful with phoney/false prophets. They are scattered everywhere and their interest in not spreading the word of God but enriching themselves through the worshippers offerings.
§ We should not be hypocrites as it leads to dishonest practices. Brother Jero is a hypocrite so he does many dishonest practices in the society.
§ Wife beating is not a best solution to solve a family conflict. It is better for the concerned parties to sit down, sort out issues and arrive at a common consensus that benefits both sides.
§ Ignorance is a motivating factor for exploitation. People should be aware of what is going on in the society to avoid being exploited blindly.
§ Betrayal is not good in our society. It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.
Wole Soyinka has successfully addressed the problem that is in most African countries now especially in his own home country-Nigeria. Though it was published in the early 1960’s, it is very relevant to the contemporary socio-political and religious situation in Nigeria and Africa in general. The choice of the two characters was determined by their roles as protagonist (Jero as a charlatan) and antagonist (Chume as a victim).
§ There are many churches, ministries, and faith groups emerging everywhere in Africa by people who self-prophesy to be Prophets of God. They refer to themselves as Prophets or apostles given the holy mission by Christ while in reality they want to capitalise on the efforts of the ignorant worshippers.
§ The Conflict among these prophets over land and followers is the order of the day. They preach against each other’s weakness instead of against the devil.
§ There are many Politicians who go to prophets for prayers for promotion. In this play the M.P. does not go to church to genuinely worship God but he does so because he has a dream of being appointed a minister, and he wants to achieve his dream through miraculous prayers.