Wole Soyinka: Yoruba Plays for All Tribes

By Weales, Gerald | Hollins Critic, December 1974 | Go to article overview

Wole Soyinka: Yoruba Plays for All Tribes


Weales, Gerald, Hollins Critic


In 1963, Wole Soyinka prepared the script and performed the narration for a television documentary, Culture in Transition, designed to introduce American audiences to Nigerian art and literature. It included a reading from Amos Tutuola's The Palm-Wine Drinkard, the first African novel to become well known in the United States; the work of several young poets, including Christopher Okigbo and John Pepper Clark; a scene from one of Duro Ladipo's Yoruba folk operas; and an extensive excerpt from Soyinka's then most recent play, The Strong Breed. The documentary quickly disappeared from the television screen, found its way onto sixteen-millimeter film and began a half-life in college and high school auditoriums. By the time I caught up with it a decade later, Soyinka had ceased to be the interesting Nigerian writer and editor, director and performer, the logical choice as narrator for such a film, and had become a poet and playwright with a well-deserved international reputation. Yet, Nigerian still. The audience with which I saw Culture in Transition was mostly Nigerian and as I moved up the aisle after the film, I spoke to the man beside me, a graduate student in economics, about the play's being more complicated than the performance made it seem. "Oh, yes," he said. "It would be much better in Yoruba."

"But he wrote it in English."

"I know, but it is a Yoruba play. You can't really do that in English." Sometimes, reading, say, one of Ulli Beier's English adaptations of an Obotunde Ijimere play, I suspect the incipient economist of having stumbled onto a general truth about translation; yet I cling to the suspicion that his casual remark also contains, somewhat obliquely, an ironic truth about Soyinka. Soyinka grew up in a Nigeria in which secondary and university education was modeled on the English system, taught in English, and, properly primed, he went off to the University of Leeds where he earned a B.A. (Honors English). He went on to become a lecturer in English literature at various of the Nigerian universities and his contribution to The Morality of Art, a Festschrift for his teacher G. Wilson Knight, indicates that he can hold his own with the most eminent of the English critics; in fact his command of the jargon of myth-and-ritual aesthetics is so impressive that, knowing his skill at parody, I half hoped he was having them on even while he was giving serious attention to the myths that figure in so much of his own work. He began his career in the theater in the late 1950s as a play reader for the Royal Court Theatre in London, and his most recent play is an adaptation, The Bacchae of Euripides, which was written on commission for the National Theatre of Great Britain. His easy familiarity with Western culture is apparent, implicitly or explicitly, in everything he writes, but it is perhaps nowhere more effective than in the "Four archetypes" section of A Shuttle in the Crypt, in which one Biblical, three literary heroes become metaphorical points of reference for the political and psychological preoccupation of the poet in prison. At last report, he was a fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge.

Still, the embryonic economist is right. Soyinka, who is one of the most sophisticated writers of English in the world today, is a Yoruba author. I do not mean anything so narrowly biographical as the fact of his birth, the child of Yoruba-speaking parents in Abeokuta, or so bibliographical as his having translated D. O. Fagunwa's Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale as The Forest of a Thousand Daemons. Nor is it simply that Yoruba begins to invade his English plays with the Yoruba songs he writes for The Road and Kongi's Harvest and a Yoruba exchange such as that between Particulars Joe and Say Tokyo Kid in The Road, which, if it took place in the streets of Philadelphia, would be called playing the dozens. It is more important that so many figures from the Yoruba cosmology have roles in A Dance of the Forests, that the Ogun mask figures prominently in The Road, that the festival of the new yam is at the heart of Kongi's Harvest.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Wole Soyinka: Yoruba Plays for All Tribes
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.