Oba Koso is one of Duro Ladipo’s most important plays, also the best-known work in the repertory of Yoruba operatic tradition. It was with this play that Ladipo marked the first anniversary of the Oshogbo Mbari Mbayo Club. The play, published in Three plays by Duro Ladipo in 1964, was translated by Ulli Beier.
Oba Koso, meaning “the king did not hang” is an eight-scene dramatization of the death of the Oyo king deified as the Yoruba god of thunder. In the play, Sango’s ultimate inability to control his two belligerent generals, Timi and Gbonka was brought to the fore. Employing divide-and-rule tactics, he had set the two against one another in the hope that they will be so weakened by war that neither of them will be able to pose a threat to his power. In the ensuing battle, Gbonka, one of the warriors, defeats Timi repeatedly, to Sango’s disappointment. Thereafter, Gbonka recognizes Sango’s duplicity and invades Oyo. Deserted by his supporters, Sango suffers defeat, withdraws from the capital, and hangs himself in humiliation. His followers band together and deify him: the king did not hang (oba koso), they claim, he simply metamorphosed into a god.
The play, Oba koso was hugely popular with audiences both in Nigeria and abroad in the 1960s and 1970s. It was performed with great success in German at the Berlin Festival of 1964. A television version of the play was produced successfully by CBS in the United States.