John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo’s first drama, Song of a Goat, is a one-act play with four scenes. The play contains a ritual sacrifice of a goat at its climax, which echoes the early Old Testament as well as classical Greek dramas in that it shares with them a blood ritualism. The play is akin to a classical tragedy; its language is often in parable and riddle form and its characters, although common people, are depicted with dignity.
The setting is Delta Province, Nigeria, in a small village where the hero, Zifa, a man of property, is cursed by impotence, a familiar African dramatic theme. The first “movement” introduces the masseur, who is questioning Zifa’s wife, Ebiere, about her barren state. The masseur asks if Zifa has a mistress. When Ebiere says he does not, the masseur realizes Zifa’s sexual deficiency and suggests that Ebiere have a child by Zifa’s younger brother, Tonyá, an act that traditionally has been acceptable to Nigerian people. Ebiere cannot accept this advice, however, and Zifa is even more strongly opposed. He intends to wait and see if his condition will improve. Zifa’s aunt, Orukorere, prophesies tragic consequences were the masseur’s advice to be followed.
Eventually Tonyá does seduce the frustrated Ebiere; Orukorere’s warning goes as unheeded as did the classical Cassandra’s. Zifa discovers the infidelity and, in a rage, ritually slaughters a goat, forcing Tonyá to put the goat’s head into a pot that is too small for it—symbolizing his illicit act with Ebiere. The furious Zifa thinks of killing Tonyá, but Tonyá, in shame, hangs himself. Soon after, a neighbor (messenger) tells of Zifa’s sleeplike walk to the sea to drown himself in atonement for his own shame. It is also said that Ebiere miscarried. In an alternative closing of the play, the masseur returns to act as the choral leader (as would happen in classical tragedy); his final words provide an epitaph on the disaster.