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Recognizing Nigeria’s Earliest Movie Stars – Dawiya, King of the Sura and Yilkuba, the Witch Doctor

Recognizing Nigeria's Earliest Movie Stars - Dawiya, King of the Sura and Yilkuba, the Witch Doctor

“Palaver” was one of the first films shot in Nigeria in the first quarter of the 20th century when the country was a colony of the British Empire. It was the first feature film that gave speaking roles to the natives and in fact they got good reviews for their natural acting skills. And they were the first Nigerian movie stars who should be recognized as we celebrate the Nigeria Centenary of 1914-2014: Dawiya, King of the Sura and Yilkuba, the Witch Doctor.
They may no longer be here with us since they have passed on decades ago, but “Palaver” is their legacy and an important part in the heritage of the history of Nigeria.

The living survivors and successors of their lineage should be proud of them.

They and Orlando Martins (1899–1985) who acted in “Sanders of the River” the 1935 British film directed by Hungarian-British director, Zoltán Korda, should not be forgotten.
As we sing in our national anthem:
The labour of our heroes past 
Shall never be in vain.
To remember these first stars of Nigerian cinema, we are bringing “Palaver” to the big screen after 88 years, with a public screening on the Lagos Island before the end of the year. So that we can see these stars as they were seen at the cinemas in 1926, and captivated their audiences in the British Empire: the two principle supporting actors, the tribal King, Dawiya, and the witchdoctor, Yilkuba, whose contributions were lauded in reviews as “the most amazing performances in the film” (Bioscope 1926).
The film was directed by Geoffrey Barkas (born Geoffrey de Gruchy Barkas, 27 August 1896 – 3 September 1979), an English film maker active between the world wars.
Filmed amongst the Sura and Angas people of the Bauchi Plateau in Northern Nigeria, where the rivalry between a British District Officer and a tin miner leads to war. The film introduces the main protagonists. Yilkuba, the witch doctor of the Sura tribe, warns his king, Dawiya, to ‘beware of war’, while Mark Fernandez, a tin miner, receives a letter warning him that he will be replaced if his work does not improve. Meanwhile, the car belonging to nursing sister Jean Stuart breaks down and she spends the night in the hut of Captain Peter Allison, the District Officer. The next morning Fernandez visits Allison and finds Jean there in her pyjamas. Fernandez is next seen bribing Dawiya with alcohol(‘medicine’) in order to get more men working in his mine, and then appears drunk at ‘the social event of the year’ at Vedni. Here he attempts unsuccessfully to dance with Jean and ‘cut out’ Allison. Allison, in his role as District Officer, subsequently ‘holds court’ and hears complaints against Dawiya. He visits Dawiya and discovers him drunk on ‘unlawful liquor’. Allison suspects Fernandez, and on visiting him discovers the same type of liquor in his house. A drunk Fernandez visits his tin mine and strikes one of his workers. He then pays ‘the penalty of excess’ and collapses. During his illness, he is nursed by Jean, who pleads with him to take control of his life. Meanwhile, Allison receives a letter revealing that Fernandez was deported in 1920, but has since changed his name. Jean asks Allison to help Fernandez, but Allison – aware of Fernandez’s past – refuses. The two men fight and Fernandez with his hopes and plans shattered, ‘plays his last card’. He convinces Dawiya that Allison is planning to arrest him. The misled Dawiya prepares for war – ‘with strong liquor’ – and Allison almost single-handedly holds off the attacking ‘pagans’. After much fighting, Allison is wounded but victorious. Dawiya goes to Fernandez’s house, kills him, and is then caught by Allison. The film ends with Allison sitting with Jean and asking her to marry him. They embrace in the final shot.
The entire 126-minute silent film is available to be viewed online at UK-based Colonial Film:
~ By Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima, Founder/President of Zenith International Film Festival (ZIFF), Publisher/Editor Nigerians Report Online

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