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Sierawood: Bai Bureh Goes to War- a Legend Comes to Life

Concord Times (Freetown)
March 18, 2004
Posted to the web March 18, 2004

By Arika Awuta-Coker

The spontaneous, rapturous applause from viewers of the movie version of Abu Noah's 'Bai Bureh Goes To War,' as the closing credits reeled off the screen, heralded a new chapter in Sierra Leone's socio-economic patterning - the movie industry. A quick but careful sampling of viewer reactions by this writer, confirmed that this was a success story, something you could take home with broad grins.

Afterall, those at the Lagoonda Complex on that auspicious night of Friday, 27th February were not the easily impressionable. They came from varied sectors of Sierra Leonean and, yes, international society.

With Vice-President Solomon E. Berewa himself launching the movie (as President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was out of the country) together with attendant cabinet ministers, diplomats, bankers, top civil servants, educationists, business executives, NGO officials representatives of the celebrated London based Ovation Magazine and a take-five of the creamy rest, you get the picture. As chairperson Mrs. Shirley Gbujama, Minister of Social Welfare and Gender Affairs told me: "My dear, this is a wonderful film!" (Period!) Lead actor Olu Jacobs, Zack Orji and the director, Fred Amata who flew in from Nigeria especially for that Premiere launching of the film all believe 'Bai Bureh Goes To War' will definitely go places. 'It is one of the best films I've been involved in,' says Olu Jacobs, who has 36 years of film acting experience from Hollywood to London, Israel, and a host of other countries including his native Nigeria. The mass circulation Sunday Punch Newspaper of Nigeria in an earlier preview had declared 'Bai Bureh Goes To War as an "epic".

Certainly this is no run of the mill home video movie.

It is the culmination of ten years of work and toil by Rtd. Major Abu Noah to get the persona of Bai Bureh on to the homes of his compatriots and further afield. In my forthcoming book titled 'A blend of Psyche And Culture', I refer to my conversations with Abu Noah in which he intimates the extent of his research on Bai Bureh, the legendary chief (or king) of Kasseh in the Port Loko district who cut a fine niche of international fame through his war against the British colonial government in 1898. Historical pieces, essays, songs, panegyrics and what-have-you have been written, sung and made of this man whose reputation is intrinsically fused with warrior-dom.

Abu Noah felt that could not be all and so in over two years of investigation that took him to Kasseh chiefdom and the wider Port Loko district, he met with descendants of Bai Bureh and some of the great grand offspring's of Bai Bureh's subjects. By 1994 Abu Noah had his scoop: Bai Bureh was undoubtedly the warrior king that the legend makes him out as. But, he wasn't a dictator, neither did he fight or slay merely for the lust of the manhunt.

Abu Noah's histo-cultural drama depicts Bai Bureh as the supreme ruler of Kasseh, but one who never would take a decision on matters of state without initially consulting his head chief (Kel Khora) and other chiefs in council. The influential positions of women during Bai Bureh's time are also vivid and Ya bon wara, Bai Bureh's head wife is openly solicited by Kel Khora and other chiefs for her ear to the king. Ya Digba the Sowee, as head of the Bondo secret society is ubiquitous. She can sit in all meetings and loftily holds her own with the men at all times.

Indeed 'Bai Bureh Goes To War' gives a unique insight into the working of the Bondo secret society-this society that is so particular to Sierra Leone and this sub-region. It is necessary to note that after veteran politician Dr. John Karefa-Smart watched the first stage production of the play, he told Abu Noah that this was an authentic portrayal of ancient Loko-Themne culture. This was also confirmed by other eminents from the area including veteran Lawyer-politician Eddie Turay. Former British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Mr. Peter Penfold (who too was at the Premiere Launching of the movie) had also commented that he hadn't realized that democracy existed in Africa before the Europeans arrived.

Finally, when Nigerian's top-notch award-winning director, Fred Amata first went to Kasseh chiefdom last December, in company with Major Abu Noah and Olu Jacobs, he watched as Abu Noah explained to the reigning chief. His request for parts of the film to be shot in the chiefdom. The sagely chief nodded his head. "It is a good idea," he said, Major Noah and his Nigerian guests smiled. Then the chief raised a cautious hand. He squinted at the sun that was trying to seer through to the porch. "You must, however, wait until I consult my elders. I alone cannot take the decision." Suddenly, Fred Amata was gripping Abu Noah's hands enthusiastically. "Major" he cried out "now I believe everything I've read in your book. This chief has just done exactly as you wrote in your drama." Amata said he could now direct the film with the certainty that this was an authentic story.

I must make it clear here that the film is not about Bai Bureh's war with the British. It is a depictation of the life and times of this powerful Paramount Chief and portrays in dramatic form how he and his people lived in peace time and how they conducted war against their enemies.

Veteran Nigerian superstar, Olu Jacobs, is a towering figure in his captivating portrayal of Bai Bureh and he brings this legendary Sierra Leonean hero to the screen in a forceful triumph of masterly acting.

The film brings together four Nigerians from that country's booming film industry viz Olu Jacobs, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade and Zack Orji, blending them with scores of Sierra Leonean actors culminating, under the dexterous hand of Fred Amata, in an artistic blaze of cultural opulence, traditional enchantment, heroism, self sacrifice, ardor, passion, battle scenes and the seductive pulsations of traditional Sierra Leonean dancing.

Bai Bureh Goes To War is the biggest and boldest project undertaken in recent years by Major Abu Noah who is also founder and Managing Director of Mount Everest Publishing House (MEPH). The movie is produced under the 'Mount Everest Movies' logo a sister company of the Publishing House, and brings Nigerian and Sierra Leonean actors together in a joint production that promises a lot for the future of the budding Sierra Leonean film industry.

With Genevieve Nnaji as Yainkain, the bondo society girl who is sacrificed to save Bai Bureh's people, Omotola Jalade as the 'Ya Digba' or 'Sowee' and Zack Orji as 'Pa Kel Khora', Bai Bureh's Head Chief (or Prime Minister), Esther Johnson as Ya Bonwara, Bai Bureh's wife, Jerry A. Fofanah as the Unknown Warrior, Boye A. Smart as Pa. Kongabana and Mr. George A.

Bowling as Pa. Bentura, Alusine Alu-Conteh as Pa.

Alimamy, Akim Hartley as the fiancé of Yainkain with dozens of other Sierra Leoneans acting as chiefs, bondo girls, warriors or ordinary villagers, the scenes come alive with pulsating sounds of traditional music and songs, choreographed dance steps and a rich display of nineteenth century costumes bedecked with charms, amulets, necklaces and head gears.

Breath-taking scenes of the Unknown Warrior, Jerry A. Fofanah (a Sierra Leonean martial artist trained in China) in deadly struggle with Bai Bureh (Olu Jacobs), also of Genevieve in a dramatic escape scheme against her kidnappers, and of Genevieve (Yainkain) and her fiancé (Akim) pitting their wits, skill and courage against Yainkain's kidnappers; also the fierce battle scenes involving Bai Bureh and his warriors against the ruthless Unknown Warrior (Jerry A. Fofanah) and his war mongering followers, promise to always keep viewers glued to their seats.

As Executive Producer and financier of the project, Abu Noah explains that he brought the Nigerians in because of their vast experience in the film business.

In sixteen days of acting and techniques sharing with the scores of Sierra Leoneans in the cast, a good deal of transfer of know-how and of technology has been effected. Many of the Sierra Leoneans attest to the new sense of professionalism that they have acquired through working with and learning from the Nigerian experts.

Most of the Sierra Leoneans in the movie attest to the top professionalism of the director, Fred Amata and the Nigerian film stars. Amata himself has directed practically every top Nigerian actor in some film or the other over the past eleven years. Olu Jacobs is impressed with the talent in Sierra Leone and believes that if the film industry here is seriously pursued it could be a big player, rivalling even Nigeria in a few years, not necessarily in the quantity but in the quality of movies produced in this country.

Sierra Leonean actor - Alusine Alu-Conteh with 18 years of stage experience including 5 years of directing says: "We've learnt a lot of new things from working with the Nigerians. They are really professional. Before, I thought I was a 'pro'. Now I have entered a new world of real professionalism." Jerry A. Fofanah as the unknown warrior is a dynamic new find to the world of motion pictures. One viewer describes him as 'pure electricity and explosive.' Jerry tells me: "I felt like I was right there in the time of Bai Bureh more than a hundred years ago.

Everything was so real. I pray that the film becomes a big success." Boye A. Smart as Chief Kongabana is also deeply captivating. Starring opposite superstar Zack Orji, Smart's raw energy comes across, gripping the viewer.

He says: 'this is a major development for Sierra Leone and I am proud of the contribution that God has enabled me to make towards the movie industry.

Esther Johnson with several years of stage experience and who acts as Bai Bureh's wife, Ya Bon Wara, says, "I feel myself being transformed in my acting career and the experience I have gained, working with the Nigerians, is a real turning point for me." Isaac Akim Hartley who acts as the fiancé of Yainkain (Genevieve) has five years of stage experience. He says he has developed so much through working with real pros that he cannot see himself ever again acting at the same level that he did before now. Akim, I believe has the potential to become a movie heartthrob.

Anthony Sesay took his role of Priest so seriously that he consulted a couple of real life soothsayers to see how things were done.

George A. Bowling (Chief Bentura) concludes that he believes a lot of Sierra Leoneans will wish to enter the film industry with the expected success of Bai Bureh Goes To War: Josephine Musa, Christiana Browne, Soriba Yillah and Dwarty B. F. Koroma are all also likely to become household names when the film is shown to the general public for the first time at the National Stadium on Sunday 28th March 2004 at 8 p.m.

The film will later also be premiered in Nigeria, South Africa, Britain, the U.S.A and Brazil.


Naija Movie Critic
Oh...Oh..I wish ..I wish...I wish they would have enough money to REALLy promote the life out of this movie, even within Africa here. The superstar quality of the Nigerians combined with what from all indications is superior quality production and top-notch storytelling, would be a bestseller anyday.
How I wish...


Well-Known Member
Originally posted by Videoscope
Oh...Oh..I wish ..I wish...I wish they would have enough money to REALLy promote the life out of this movie, even within Africa here. The superstar quality of the Nigerians combined with what from all indications is superior quality production and top-notch storytelling, would be a bestseller anyday.
How I wish...
Your wish might just come true:)
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