The Jero Plays by Wole Soyinka consist of two short plays re-released as a collection in 1973. The Trials of Brother Jero first came out in 1964, while Jero’s Metamorphosis was published two years later in 1966. Both plays satirize Christianity and religious hypocrisy, particularly, the unquestioning devotion that many converts display towards their spiritual leaders, often exposing themselves to manipulation in the process.
As the title suggests, The Trials of Brother Jero is about a charlatan preacher, Brother Jero. Brother Jero is a cunning beach diviner who woos customers (penitents) to his church by using Christian superstition for his own salvation. For him, the church is a business. He says:
‘I am glad I got here before any customers-I mean worshipers.. l always get a feeling every morning that am a shopkeeper waiting for customers.’
Brother Jero is suave while his followers are gullible. He lures people to his church by promising them material gains and promotions through prayer. Chume his assistant often seeks for permission to beat his arrogant wife Amope but Brother Jero disagrees:
‘ I keep my followers dissatisfied because if they are satisfied, they won’t come again..’
When Brother Jero discovers that Amope is Chume’s wife, he grants him permission to beat her for she is his stubborn creditor who has been harassing Jero over a velvet cape she had sold him at one pound, eight shillings and nine pence.
Three months down the road, Jero has still not paid her. He blames her for selling him a cape (which he would not have needed if it were not for his church business). In a bid to collect her debt, the woman camps at Jero’s house daily.
Brother Jero’s greatest weakness is women. His lust for them at one point earns him a beating from an angry woman (daughters of eve, he calls them).
Chume is disappointed when he finds out that Brother Jero wants him to beat Amope for his own convenience. To him the two are having a sexual affair behind his back. He says in Pidgin English:
‘The prophet na in over. As soon as dark, she go in meet in man….adulterer, woman thief. Today I go finish you.’
Brother Jero, who has been in the middle of praying for a member of parliament, flees for his life on seeing Chume with a cutlass. The gullible member thinks that he has ascended to heaven.
The second play, Jero’s Metamorphosis, is also set in Nigeria. Here, Brother Jero is cast as one of the many beach prophets operating in the region. The play opens with Brother Jero instructing Rebecca his secretary to write invitation letters to other prophets. He has managed to access a confidential file that reveals plans to transform the beach, now used as a place for worship, into a public prosecution ground.
With the meeting, the cunning Jero plans on using the file and its contents to unite all the prophets so they form one church with him as the leader. On the day of the meeting, Jero delays making an appearance. Meanwhile, he opportunistically instructs Rebecca to give the prophets a lot of alcohol.
When Jero eventually arrives, the preachers are asked to choose who will be the head of the church. Influenced by the alchohol they’ve been having, they cast their votes in favor of Brother Jero over his rival Shadrack. The latter had been seen as the probable head. Unlike his colleagues, many of whom are ex-convicts, Shadrack is a real preacher.
Justifying the title metamorphosis, all the people in Jero’s church are given titles like Sergeant and General yet most of them had been ex convicts instead of having titles suitable for the church such as pastors, bishops. Their titles are from the police department.
The Jero Plays (Modern Plays) is available at Amazon.com.