Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Two Chains, One Choice: Soyinka and the Quest for Freedom from the Twin Plagues of Political and Religious Maladies in Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Two Chains, One Choice: Soyinka and the Quest for Freedom from the Twin Plagues of Political and Religious Maladies in Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known

Article excerpt

Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known, Wole Soyinka's fifth book of poetry, henceforth abbreviated to Samarkand, engages the twin devils of political tyranny and religious extremism. Whereas the former is a familiar demon with which the author has ever fought since his commencement of the art of creative writing, the latter is relatively new. Religious fanaticism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States of America (USA) by Al-Qaeda has become a monumental global challenge that wreaks havoc on nations of the world and wastes human lives and property with utmost reckless abandon. To protest against theocratic misrule or be skeptical at all of politico-religious ideologies is adjudged a terrible heresy that deserves punishment by death at holy hands of God's self-appointed hatchet men and women. Denial of fundamental human right to life and to free expression of opinion by both political despots and religious fanatics rankles the poet and has him howl from the first poem in the collection to the last.

It is pertinent to state that most of the poems in the collection were written in exile while Soyinka lived a precarious life under the death sentence passed on him in absentia by General Sani Abacha the late Nigerian military dictator. Soyinka was ceaselessly pursued by Abacha's hired assassins who almost succeeded in bringing him down and pouring acid on his body in a hotel where he lodged in the USA but for the vigilance of a security guard who checkmated the hoodlums. That he survived the ordeal and outlived Abacha to tell the story was a matter of good fortune. The tone of the poet is acerbic and threnodic and his mood is grave, because the circumstances and events that gave birth to the poems were extremely painful and traumatic and their atmosphere reeked too much of death.

Divided into five sections, namely, Outsiders, Of Exits, Fugitive Phases, The Sign of the Zealot, and Elegies, Samarkand is a supreme exemplification of creative melding of the local and the global and abolition of dubious divisions, be they ethnic, ideological, political, or religious. As Soyinka argues in "Climates of Art" (1988: 247-61), the conditions under which artists live and work in the contemporary world are more or less the same as controllers of economic, political, and religious levers of every society unite against any form of art that opposes their system and insists on freedom of creative expressions.

It is undeniable that, with the rise of Political Islam and emergence of terrorist groups in several countries, the whole world is currently asphyxiated under a cloud of fear and violence, what with incessant bombings, kidnappings, and decapitations. Kurtz's unforgettable cry "The Horror! The Horror!" (Conrad 1973: 100), an echo of Gaia's psychic scream that expresses extreme suffering as human civilization accelerates the planet Earth towards an irredeemable ecological catastrophe, only partially depicts the contemporary world experience of politicalcum-religious extremism and recalls Soyinka's conclusion that what is being witnessed is "the very collapse of humanity" (1988: 17).

"Ah, Demosthenes!" the first poem in Samarkand is a trenchant declaration of the poet's unambiguous position on the power issue. He will use all resources at his disposal and endure all hardships to crush all impediments created by power perverters and dismantle their towers of lies, in order to set the world free from their death clutch. It is a bold reiteration of all he has fought and stood for as a writer who is conscious of his moral and social obligations. Ramming pebbles into his mouth, placing nettles on his tongue, dropping some ratsbane on it, and thrusting all fingers down his throat are expressive of his desire to contend with tyrants and resist oppressors and also of his keen awareness that the path of revolutionary struggle for which he opts is perilous and might lead to loss of his own life. There is an element of sacrifice in revolutionary action that makes its hero appear as an Ogun or Christ figure, and its absence would render a revolution mere propagation of opportunism and self-promotion at the expense of the collective good. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.