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AMERICA MY FOOT!

Posted by By AKEEB ALARAPE, Ibadan on 2008/05/27 | Views: 1216 |

AMERICA MY FOOT!


Like a colossus, she bestrode the theatre world in the 60s and 70s. From Nigeria to Ghana, America to London, she made impact, winning laurels with her stage talent, songs and plays. She acted Sidi when Wole Soyinkaís popular play, The Lion and the Jewel was first staged in Lagos.

ēThis woman has lived in the US for 27 years, and she says it is by no means Godís own country

Like a colossus, she bestrode the theatre world in the 60s and 70s. From Nigeria to Ghana, America to London, she made impact, winning laurels with her stage talent, songs and plays. She acted Sidi when Wole Soyinkaís popular play, The Lion and the Jewel was first staged in Lagos.

But like every woman, marriage robbed Mrs. Udensi Hunwick of her stage prowess. Not only that, she was also robbed of her identity and natural environment Ė Nigeria, when her British husband relocated to America after an eventful stay at the University of Ibadan.

But recently, Mrs. Hunwick, who will be 70 come December, had a rare opportunity to visit her motherland again and savour the environment she so much loved. Her husband, a former staff of the University of Ibadan, and in fact, the pioneer Head of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies of the institution, who was responsible for the establishment of the Centre for Arabic Documentation in the Institute of African Studies, had been invited to deliver the 14th University of Ibadan Exchange Lecture Series.

Daily Sun had the special privilege of meeting with Mrs. Hunwick, and in this interview she did not hide the fact that her home-coming, 27 years after leaving the shores of Nigeria, was the best thing that happened to her in recent time, just as she dismissed America being ĎGodís own countryí. No place like home, she maintains

Excerpts:
My name is Udensi Uwah Hunwick. I was born in Amaekpu-Ohafia in Abia State on the 29 December 1938. So, I will be 70 years in December. I schooled there and I ended up at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria on scholarship to study Fine Art.
Because all my life I was very artistic, I saw sign that I was gifted in all the arts. Name it, I can do it. So, my teachers were watchful of what I was doing and they recommended me for scholarship, which was the first ever scholarship for a woman to study Fine Art from the Presbyterian Church. So, I went to Ahmadu Bello University in 1961 and graduated there after four years.
During those years, I participated in all the theatre productions in the university at the English Language Department. They cast me major roles in all the productions.

After graduating, I got a job at University of Ghana, Legon, where I stayed from 1970 to 1977. I lectured there with my husband. He was in the History Department and I was in the Theatre Department of the Institute of African Studies. So, I was there teaching Theatre for seven years.
After that, we had to leave Ghana because the economy was terrible at that time and my husband went to another university in Cairo, Egypt, but I went to the University of Lagos. There again, I was in the Centre for Cultural Studies which is now the Department of Performing Art.

Meeting Prof. Wole Soyinka
But let me come back a bit. When I graduated from Ahmadu Bello University or before I did, we came to Ibadan her with a play for a competition as well. The universities were competing with one another, I donít know if they do that anymore. Then, it was very vibrant.
Professor Wole Soyinka was here. I think he was instrumental in making that happen. We, from Zaria came with one of his (Soyinka) plays, The Lion and the Jewel. That was when I played the Sidi part and we won. We won the prize. I think Wole Soyinka was so impressed with my performance that he asked me to be the Sidi in his own production. From then on and I became part of his Orisun Repertoire. So, I was there and I was playing Sidi throughout the long vacation. And that was where I met my husband, John Hunwick.

We got married here in Ibadan and had our reception at the Trenchard Hall of the University of Ibadan in 1966. So, that is more or less it.

Reluctance to go to U.S.
After my marriage, I just didnít want to go to U.S. I was not enchanted by all that. Even, when I got married in 1966, and I was going for my education in Bristol, I got to the airport in Heathrow and I saw the grandeur. I told my husband, who is a Briton, that what is all these about, I am not impressed. This is your people who have exploited my people to build your country and it looks so beautiful. I am not impressed!

So, the same thing when he decided to go to America, which I was opposed to, he suggested it many times, I said Ďnoí, that is not a good place to go and bring up children to start with. I didnít want to go to America. It took him years to convince me to come. He applied for my visa and everything, I wouldnít go for interview. A lot of people were running and going away. I say if everybody went away, who is going to work for my country? If all the talents leave this place, what is going to happen to this place? So, I refused. For 10 years, I didnít go and it caused a lot of tension between him and me.

Me, marry a white man so that I can go to America and stay there? No way! In 1966, I was married to Hunwick in expression of my own patriotic feeling about my country. I worked there and I said I am not impressed. I told him that his country has exploited my people and they live big and beautiful and we are suffering, I am not impressed. So, I refused to go to America for 10 years! My children were with my husband. My contribution belongs to my country. So, I stayed here and it strained our relationship to the point that he divorced me briefly because I refused to come. So, eventually in 1987, he asked me back. So, I went back to look after my children, most especially my kids and I stayed since then.

Coming back to Nigeria
Nigeria, oh wonderful! It is amazing; I couldnít believe it. On the plane, I was saying to myself, is it really true? That I am going home? To my country, after all these years. I was so over-joyous. Like yesterday evening when it was raining, you know what I did; I stood out in the rain, to absorb the rain on my body, which I have missed for so long. All these matter.

It rains differently as far as I am concerned. It is a different rain. It is not the one that makes you something else. From the leaves that exude the special kind of oxygen into the atmosphere; the radiation in the country where you were born is different from the radiation everywhere else. You see, I have missed that and I am sure my health has been affected because of that. I stood out in the rain, to absorb it all and breathed in the air.

America my foot
Who says that America is Godís own country? If America was to be Godís own country, there would be no discrimination. Firstly, you cannot call yourself Godís country and discriminate against anybody. God does not discriminate.
That is why Barrack Obama, for me, stands for unity, a change of heart. That is what I recognize in the influx of a lot of white supporters to Obamaís campaign. Because, to me, it is evident that there has been this refreshing change of attitude and heart towards the other persons who doesnít look like you. For me, I believe that we are one, and by the way that is why I married John Hunwick to prove that we are one. He is white, I am black, and God made us the same people. He is not better than me, I am not better than himself. Okay, this is why I wanted to prove that we can do it. Obama represents that for me, unity. In humanity, if we donít recognize the other person, we are not doing Godís will, no matter what you say about yourself. America is not Godís own country from that point of view and for many other points of views.

I prefer to die in Nigeria
This is my home. This is where I belong. I will prefer to die here than to die in America. There is so much that is spiritually connected to where you were born. You lose your life expectancy when you live all your life abroad. You reduce it. That is one vital issue.
The other thing being the fact that I was born here to contribute to this place and if I donít do it, I am failing one of the reasons that I came here for. And life is not just all materiality; it is not just to acquire all the wealth in the world and lose your soul, so to say.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.