Nigerian playwright and novelist Wole Soyinka is one of the most accomplished writers of the 20th century. Soyinka received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986 for his works, many of which draw inspiration from Yoruban folklore. Contemporary Nigerian culture and politics also feature prominently in Soyinka’s plays. Soyinka was even imprisoned for his political activism during Nigeria’s Civil War. His influence remains profound far outside Nigeria.
By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Wole Soyinka.
THE LION AND THE JEWEL
One of Soyinka’s most beloved plays, The Lion and the Jewel is a satire examining the conflict between the archaic and the modern in Nigeria. Lakunle the schoolteacher exemplifies the modern and contrasts with Baroka the chieftain. Both men are fighting for the love of Sidi. Past and future collide throughout the play. One example of this occurs in the first act, when the village women perform a traditional Dance of the Lost Traveler to represent an unnamed photographer who comes to the village.
DEATH AND THE KING’S HORSEMAN
The titular horseman, Elesin Oba, served the Yoruba King. As the King is dead, Elesin’s duty obliges him to take his own life. Elesin tries to convince the King’s Praise Singer that he is ready to take his own life by telling him an allegorical story of the Not-I Bird. However, Elesin’s suicide attempt is interrupted by the Englishman Simon Pilkings. Elesin’s foreign-educated son Olunde kills himself to redeem his father. This sacrifice is too much for Elesin to bear, and while in jail he strangles himself with his own chains. Despite the obvious colonial influence in the play’s action, Soyinka wrote that the play is not about colonialism, but about conflict within the Yoruban people.
MADMEN AND SPECIALISTS
Madmen and Specialists’ protagonist is Dr. Bero, a veteran who is holding his cannibalistic father, The Old Man, captive. Bero tries to force his father into divulging the secrets of a religious order he belongs to known as The Cult of As. Madmen and Specialists is often interpreted as a critique of the violent abuses of power Soyinka witnessed during the Nigerian Civil War.
THE STRONG BREED
The Strong Breed takes place in a Nigerian village during the festival of egungun, when the collective evils of the community are transferred to a single village scapegoat. Eman, the protagonist of the play, volunteers to serve as scapegoat in place of another man. The play ends in tragedy with Eman’s death. (Egungun masks also play a role in Death and the King’s Horseman.)
One of Soyinka’s two novels, The Interpreters follows five friends who return to Nigeria after education abroad. The five friends: Egbo, Bandele, Sagoe, Sekoni, and Kola, engage in a long conversation about topics related to Nigeria’s recent independence.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Listen to this interview of Soyinka to find out more about his experiences during the Nigerian Civil War.
Check out this article to find out more about the Yoruban religion behind the traditional theatre that informed Soyinka’s work.
Although Soyinka is most well-known as a playwright he has also produced novels, critical essays, and poetry!
To learn more about the history of African theatre, and Soyinka’s role in it, check out this video:
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