Onwueme, Shakara: Dance Hall Queen

What makes these characters so life-like is that deep down, they are all terrible people.

It is a universal flaw in human nature: no matter how kind or loving or wise a person is, no matter their morals, faith, or hope, every person has faults and vices that make them seriously annoying. Every character in Shakara: Dance Hall Queen demonstrates this principle.

Take Shakara herself, the arrogant, provocative, careless title character. She resents her mother for abiding the law and protecting her dignity. She asserts her “freedom” by playing the toy for club-going men. She idolizes a merciless woman who worships money gained from illegal drugs. Shakara is a major jerk! But what makes her character believable is her rounded character; jerks are people, too. Although her life values and means of income are misplaced, deep down, all she wants is a better future, and is hopeful to the very end. She is stubborn, yes, but still vulnerable, and as much as she spites her poor mother, there are moments when her sassy teenage shell cracks and their daughter-mother love shines through:

“SHAKARA: …(Voice cracking) Oh, Mama! Others have everything. But not me. Not me. Why? Why? Why?

Omesiete: (Cuddling her.) Your time too will come, Baby” (Loc 315 of 1822).

Out of context, this quote appears to be Shakara asking selfish questions as usual. But if a reader has just finished reading the passionate argument between the mothers and daughters that momentarily subdues to this vulnerable moment, it becomes more meaningful. Shakara shows the audience that despite her hateful boasts, she still depends on her mother and longs for her understanding. The tough “dance-hall queen” persona is a flashy act to cover up her true feelings, which she shares here: she is ashamed and sick of her poverty and the unfairness of life. She is a girl with the body and means of a woman, and she still needs her mother’s comfort in between her spats. Shakara hosts many unlikeable qualities, but they boil down to a very relatable character.

The same goes for everyone else in the play. One of the nicer characters, Omesiete, is just as guilty of jerkiness as Shakara. Omesiete rambles, she contradicts herself, she wastes time on venting her temper instead of trying to end the argument, and she hypocritically gives her daughters rules that she herself does not follow, like telling them not to fight, but then throwing things at Shakara. And on the opposite end of the spectrum is Madam Kofo. The lady gets driven around in a fancy car called “the Beast” and kisses bags of coke in front of her daughter, for crying out loud. That’s, like, the definition of evil woman. But even someone as hatable as Madam Kofo has positive qualities, shown especially at the end where her loyalty to her daughter trumps all her other avarice.

Every character in the story has some personality flaw, whether meanness, greed, hypocrisy, arrogance, carelessness, corruption, or spite, but they also portray admirable qualities, like hopefulness, loyalty, care, repentance, and mercy, sometimes even simultaneously with the bad. And so, even though they might seem like a bunch of total jerkwads, no character is completely bad, adding to the believability and lasting impression of the story.

Source: Onwueme, Shakara: Dance Hall Queen

2 thoughts on “Onwueme, Shakara: Dance Hall Queen

  1. I agree with you that Omesiete is one of the nicer characters, actually I feel she is the least evil of them all. Aside from the fact that she is flawed, I think she is very likable because we know of the poverty she lives in, compared to someone like Madam Kofo who has the resources to be improve the lives of the impoverished and chooses not to.

    • Yes. Despite probably being annoying to live with at times, Omesiete seems to be the only one who puts her trust in principles, not objects, people, money, pleasure, or vengeance.

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