• Ekanem Ibokessien

Laughter Resonates at Ritman University Lecture

Call it a festival of laughter and you won’t be wrong, for hilarity pervaded the air at Ritman University, Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State where laughter was presented as medicine and Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio waxed comical after a discourse on the healing effects of laughter stimulated by theatre.

It was humour all the way, as Guest Lecturer, Effiong Johnson, a Professor of Theatre, Communication and Aesthetics, encouraged the audience to “laugh, laugh big and stay healthy”. He was joined by award-winning comic actor, Ime (Bishop) Umoh who introduced a hilarious dimension to a popular expression. Rather than being “proud” of the former Military Administrator, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, the comedian tickled his audience when he turned to Nkanga and declared, “I am arrogant of you”.

Akpabio who was installed on the same day as Ritman University’s first Chancellor had breezed in when the lecture on Theatrical Comic Genre and the Therapeutic: A Discourse was underway, amidst thunderous cheers. During question time, he asked the Professor why babies’ first reaction after birth is to cry rather than laugh since the lecturer had taught that laughter is God-ordained and therapeutic. Answer was that crying was a newborn’s way of expressing surprise at a sudden change of environment – from the cozy dark warmth of its mother’s womb to hands of midwives. The State Chief Judge and a medical doctor added that crying was a way for the baby to exercise itself and make air to enter its lungs. But Akpabio acted unsatisfied and even proposed it as a research topic. “If crying is for the child to exercise itself and bring air into the lungs, won’t it be great for the newborn to come with mouth wide open, laughing its way into the world?” He would go on to dream of a new and developed Nigeria where children would be laughing all their days.

Prof Johnson ensured that his listeners maintained a humorous disposition all through Ritman University’s 3rd Public Lecture. His presentation featured a dramatic interlude, with students from the University of Uyo enacting an adaptation of Zulu Sofola’s The Wizard of Law. One of the rib-cracking scenes of this comedy was of a man who bleated like a goat in court rather than give any intelligible responses to questions because his lawyer had advised him so to do. The idea was to escape a conviction for stealing goats he had been paid a pittance to keep. His lawyer argued that having spent time living with goats, he had become in essence a goat and so had to be freed from the weight of the law.

The Guest Lecturer who was the first Professor produced by University of Calabar’s Theatre Arts department, emphasized the healing effects of laughter on humans. He used farce as a theatrical comic genre to show the therapeutic capacities of laughter. Banking on his belief that the Bible is God’s word and immutably true, Prof Johnson quoted that “A merry heart doeth good like medicine…” from Proverbs 17:22, and also showed how an evil spirit stopped tormenting King Saul whenever David played his harp. Having established that God is all-knowing and his word true, he stressed that the scriptural principle of a merry heart doing good like medicine was apt and that laughter is capable of reviving a person.

Taking a background from dramatic origins of ancient Greece, he recalled that heightened performances at their peaks of excitement during the celebration of Dionysius and Bacchus resulted in possession of humans by spirits. Hence, he argued that art from the outset has been purpose-driven and no art is devoid of essence, hence, the idea of “art for art’s sake” was not tenable. He therefore offered drama as a morale-boosting, morality-building, good and positively engendering phenomenon. He prescribed farce, a super comic drama, as a workable therapy for all because it instigates laughter wherever it goes and engenders healing.

Describing how this happens, the lecturer said laughing eliminates toxins from the body, and like Aubrey Hepburn avers, cures a multitude of ills. He cited authorities who concur on theatre therapies that promote a happy and healthy lifestyle, such as Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) which is “a legitimate psychological arts based remedy for tackling the psychological dimensions of mental illness”. Play therapy, he said, is an active methodology in improving the well-being of children.

Against this background, Prof Johnson recommended laughter for healing because it gives our bodies a chance to exercise the diaphragm, as well as facial, leg, back and abdominal muscles. He cited research evidence proving that laughter makes one live longer, and those who always expect good things to happen (optimists) are less likely to die from all causes than pessimists. He said laughter boosts the immune system by increasing the number of anti-body producing Tcells, and reducing the likelihood of getting coughs and colds in addition to lowering levels of some hormones associated with stress.

The Guest Lecturer also noted stated that laughter relieves pain and reduces depression, and that a study found that laughter therapy reduces depression in elderly patients by inducing a feeling of well-being and improving their social interactions. He said that laughter protects the heart, prevents cancer, improves memory, promotes creativity, helps in weight loss and improves breathing.

Prof Johnson therefore urged the audience to withdraw from all depressing, angry, anxious moods or actions, watch or read hilarious media and form a habit of laughing all the time.

Edidiong Esara 13/04/18

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