By: Jacqueline McKay
Wole Soyinka (July 13, 1934 – )
Born in Nigeria, West Africa, Wole Soyinka is a literary force. Dr. Soyinka is the first African author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. His accomplishments are many and his reputation as a great thinker is undisputed. He has taught at Cornell, Oxford, Yale, Harvard and Emory Universities, to name a few.
My first introduction to the works of Soyinka was in Death and the King’s Horseman. This tragic play is based on a historical event and deals with traditional customs, duty, and the complex nature of outside interference. The king’s horseman’s role is to commit suicide when the king passes in order to accompany the king’s spirit to the next world.
This duty is understood and embraced by all except for a British district officer who has much disdain for local culture. He puts a halt to the completion of the funerary rites when the horseman takes time out of the procession to enjoy one night of pleasure with a local girl before his death. The actions of the horseman and the Colonial officer sends a ripple effect of anger, shame, chaos and leaves us to ponder the importance of duty and responsibility, and of respect towards other’s traditions.
Check out Death and the King’s Horseman, then check out these quotes by Wole Soyinka: