July 13, 2018


Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka, popularly called Wole Soyinka was, and still is, a hard nut to crack in many literary circles even till today. Back in secondary school, Nigeria, I did of course discard reading his ‘serious’ works because of the thickness in language or dialogues. I never completely understood that I wasn’t fully prepared at the time to embrace the truth Soyinka would reveal in his works.
It is this truth that has led the Iroko to shelter the famished wanderers of knowledge. On April the 16th, 1998, on a special session with the University of California at Berkeley, prof. Wole noted that throughout his life as a writer he has allowed himself to be arrested by experiences or phenomena.

Wole Soyinka during his early years.
Wole Soyinka during his early years.

Avid readers of Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in literature, can indeed attest to this fact through the varied ways Soyinka has titled his works. I’d give a few examples here:
1) When he wrote “The Dance of the Forest ,” prof. Wole Soyinka noted that, in the wake of Nigeria’s break from British rule (1960), he could not just jubilate the country’s celebration from colonial yolks.
2) He wrote “Kongi’s Harvest,” after his return to Nigeria in 1960. The book was set to address the staged coup of 1965.

Wole Soyinka receiving the Nobel prize for literature.
Wole Soyinka receiving the Nobel prize for literature.

3) “The Man Died,” were Soyinka’s prison notes or memoirs. It was written to address the consequences of a failed State even during the periods leading to 1959. The title came from a telegram sent to him in prison from home!
4) “The Lion and the Jewel,” tells the story of the value of Nigerian traditions versus the European tradition.

One of the many Wole Soyinka's quote.
One of the many Wole Soyinka’s quote.

5) “King Baabu,” was inspired by General Sani Abacha’s political climate.
6) “Death in the Dawn,” is a poem ‘inspired by Soyinka’s experience of seeing a man killed in a motor accident while travelling early in the morning.’

I can go on and on to describe most of his works, but how can anyone summarise this man, a genus, who has written 30 plays, 2 novels and more than 7 collections of poetry?
Nonetheless, it wasn’t for a lack of description when the Nobel committee for literature in 1986 wrote of him:
 “Wole Soyinka, who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence.” 

To read more of Wole Soyinka’s works, click here.

But how does the ordinary man or woman understand prof. Wole Soyinka?

Wole Soyinka: A cultural contemplative
Wole Soyinka: A cultural contemplative

Okay, let me attempt to use one of his poems, “ Abiku ,” to respond to this. Soyinka’s poem “Abiku” (yoruba – spirit children) is a sharp contrast to Clark‘s poem in which the ‘abiku’ is being coaxed to stay. In Soyinka’s, we have the ‘abiku’ impudently and mischievously boasting of his power to overcome all attempts to hold him.
Normally, one would expect to pity mothers who have ‘abiku,’ but here Soyinka calls us to admire the elusiveness of the ‘abiku.’ But when the ‘ordinary’ person reads “Abiku,” for instance, he/she will see the painful journey of understanding this elusiveness. This, will be just before the poet is seen compressing much meaning into few words.

Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka

So the difficulty here is embedded in the mind of the reader, who tries to work out logically the meaning of every group of words. The more the reader tries to allow his/her reason to act first, the more confused he/she will be. Therefore, it is the imagination that must go first if the reader is to achieve the deep, emotional meaning of the poem rapidly. This is the case because the juxtaposition of significant words, creates the feelings at once in the imagination, if the imagination is not hindered by reason (cf. Donatus I. Nwoga, “West African Verse,” UK: Longman Group Limited, 1967).

The Nobel panel also considered him because of his beautiful words and strong stories based on his apprehension against justice in society. Even he (Soyinka) concretised this opinion at the Institute of International Studies, California, when he said that, ‘power is domination, control, and therefore a very selective form of truth, which is a lie.’ One could now see how this has reflected in his activism.
At the end of this unclear horizon and maze we call life, where there are rare Irokos in our journey, one must increasingly keep in mind that in between darkness and light, positive and negative, and everything dualistic, THE TRUTH IS OUR CONSCIENCE LIVED in the service of humanity, and in the fragments of our muse shared with others!

Wole Soyinka is not just an activist but a
Wole Soyinka is not just an activist but a “glutton of tranquility.”

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