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138 Lagos Review of English Studies sacrifice, like Eman in The Strong Breed, there are many composed of total appetite and self-interest, like Kongi in Kongi’s Harvest. But perhaps most interesting of all are the Soyinka’s Appetite for characters interested in both appetite and sacrifice, like Elesin Oba in Death and the King’s Horseman. Sacrifice The origins of Eman’s sacrifice in The Strong Breed grow out of his social concern to root out evil from the community. As an outsider, he questions the actions of the village in designating a sacrificial carrier of the year’s evils Daniel Gover, who is killed before the New Year begins. By defending the Kean College of New Jersey idiot boy Ifada who has been selected as the scapegoat, Eman exposes the hollowness of the village ritual. In placing their accumulated evils on an unwitting sacrifice, the villagers are Of all the dualities that run through Wole Soyinka’s dramatic avoiding and thus increasing their own evil. Eman asks them, writing and reflect his shifting balance between the creative ‘But why do you pick on a helpless boy. Obviously he is not and destructive sides of life, one of the most instructive sets of willing ... In my home, we believe that a man should be contraries is the alternation of appetite and sacrifice. These willing’ [Collected Plays 1: 128]. Eman has identified the two drives figure prominently in both the comic and tragic necessity for self-sacrifice in any ritual to remove evil from a sides of Soyinka’s vision from his earliest plays through his community but, unfortunately, by doing so he alienates the major tragedy, Death and the King’s Horseman. They reflect village elders who finally select him as an alternative carrier. the sometimes contradictory energies that drive his writing: the The elder Jaguna challenges him by saying, ‘There is only one human needs to enjoy life to its fullest as well as to transcend it other stranger in the village, but I have not heard him offer to a higher stage. Soyinka uses these conflicting drives to himself’ . celebrate and satirise the human appetites for love, power, Eman rises to the occasion not out of an appetite for money and glory by depicting the growth of appetite as either a martyrdom, but because he is strong enough to oppose injustice vice or a virtue. The physical appetites are usually associated and shelter the scapegoat Ifada from the village. In the with egotism, while the spiritual drive is connected to self- symbolic terms of the play, Eman is born of ‘the strong breed’, sacrifice, social commitment and artistic creativity. The like his father who has chosen to carry the evils of the world continuous flux between these two forces of appetite and down to the river where they can be cleansed. He also has sacrifice produces the dramatic tension in Soyinka’s plays. been born for sacrifice, having fled from his own village after Human nature seems to be at war with its own conflicting his wife died giving birth to their son, a sacrifice his father told needs both to fulfil and transcend the individual self, to him was the identifying price of the strong breed. Yet it is in dominate the community and to serve it through sacrifice. his blood to confront evil rather than to avoid it. Earlier in his While there are only a few key characters created of pure self- life, when he was preparing for the ritual sacrifice of Soyinka’s Appetite for Sacrifice 139 140 Lagos Review of English Studies circumcision, Eman caught his tutor trying to blackmail young [Collected Plays, 62] girls into satisfying his sexual desire. Even then, he sensed that genuine sacrifice must be purified of physical appetite. The sacrifice will be made by the forces of rebellion By challenging the villagers to sacrifice their own evil, that oppose Kongi. Though he already has power over the Eman seals his fate. He tells them, ‘A village which cannot traditional king, Oba Danlola, Kongi wants a public produce its own carrier contains no men’ . The ironic demonstration of the transition to his power at the Harvest price for saving the unwilling carrier is to be cast in that role Festival. Since the Oba is reluctant to justify this new corrupt himself. After a chase, he is finally taken and killed. His leader by handing over the New Yam, Kongi tries to sacrifice, like that of Christ to whom he is compared, fills the manipulate him by promising the release of political detainees. people of the village with awe: ‘One and all they looked up at The opposition leaders, Daodu and Segi, represent a political the man and words died in their throats’ . Eman is the version of the strong breed; they are young idealists willing to type of strong man who dedicates himself to defeating evil sacrifice themselves to end Kongi’s evil. even if it requires self-sacrifice. He is certainly the strongest Kongi himself appears as a parody of a political idealist among Soyinka’s early characters. dictator, somewhat like Brecht’s caricature of Hitler in Arturo The title character of Kongi’s Harvest is exactly the Ui. His ego is so monstrously swollen that he has the yearly opposite: a tyrant driven to insane proportions by his appetite. calendar renamed for himself. For a photographer, he poses Soyinka’s portrait of the kind of corrupt maniacal political like Christ in the Last Supper, then sets his Aweri lackeys to leader with whom independent Africa has been cursed inspires work on his next book as soon as they release his last one. his most vicious satire. Kongi is a dictator driven by such an Completely self-centred, Kongi wants the traditional Harvest absolute lust for power that he requires the sacrifice of all the Festival to become a celebration of his absolute power. When moral figures in society. His tyranny devours the strong breed he learns that one of the detainees has escaped, he explodes in of idealists willing to sacrifice themselves in order to end a paroxysm of revenge: political corruption and establish a better social order. From the opening anthem of the play, we are made I want him back, alive if possible. If not, ANY aware that a price must be paid to support the absolutism of a OTHER WAY! But I want him back... And government stuffed on its own appetite. Power must be fed by hear this! The amnesty is OFF! The reprieve is sacrifice: OFF! The others hang tomorrow ... No Amnesty! No Reprieve! Hang every one of The pot that will eat fat them! Hang them!  Its bottom must be scorched The squirrel that will long crack nuts When his ranting ends in an epileptic fit, it seems that his own Its footpad must be sore rage threatens to destroy him before his enemies’ ever will. The sweetest wine has flowed down If Kongi’s Harvest were a more universal satire, the The tapper’s shattered shins. denouement might well produce the dictator’s. But Soyinka Soyinka’s Appetite for Sacrifice 141 142 Lagos Review of English Studies appears to be making a bitter point about the excessive political dancing with a copper salver, like Salome, and presents Kongi appetites that have been engorging themselves on with her father’s head on a platter. A blackout captures contemporary Africa. So Kongi triumphs easily over his Kongi’s mouth frozen open in speechless terror. It is a visual opponents. The Harvest Festival becomes an orgy of Kongism, representation of the tyrannical appetite as a form of featuring pictures of Kongi University, Kongi Dam, Kongi cannibalism. As he devours his enemies, so the dictator will Refineries, Kongi Airport and a chorus from the Carpenters destroy the people. Brigade who sing, Kongi’s Harvest is very different in form and tone from The Strong Breed, yet it does dramatise a similar point through We spread the creed of Kongism satire rather than symbolism. The unchecked growth of social To every son and daughter appetite, whether in traditional village or the new centralised And heads too slow to learn it state, will require the tragic sacrifice of the strong breed of Will feel our mallets’ weight.  martyrs and rebels who rise up against evil. In most of Soyinka’s work, appetite is simply a life Daodu, one of the young leaders of the opposition, force that cannot be repressed, although at times it can be identifies the role of sacrifice in a political context: channelled into higher purposes than the purely egotistical. ‘...we...hereby repudiate all Prophets of Agony, unless it be Physical appetites are the basic drives of life which manage to recognised that pain may be endured only in the pursuit of assert themselves no matter how people seek to control them. ending pain and fighting terror’ . Just as Eman in The In fact, efforts made to sublimate the appetites can provide Strong Breed was willing to sacrifice himself to oppose evil, so good material for satire. In Soyinka’s early comedy, The Lion Daodu and Segi are part of a new political strong breed, rebels and the Jewel, the life force embodied in sexual appetite is who will risk everything to stop the tyranny of dictatorship. celebrated at the expense of intellectual pretension. The young They recognise that sacrifice is needed to halt Kongi’s teacher, Lakunle, a representative of social change, wants to insatiable appetite for power and the social pain it produces. transform his love, Sidi, and his whole village into models of Unfortunately, as political events in Nigeria and other parts of modern Europeanised culture. His antagonist is the chief or Africa reflect, political tyranny continues to feed on the Bale Baroka, the representative of tradition. Lakunle is a half- sacrifice of progressive political forces. The Harvest Festival baked Europhile who has seen the world he wants in the new comes to a climax with a burst of gunfire which kills Segi’s metropolis of Lagos. But he is also an overreaching snob who father while he is trying to assassinate Kongi. The dictator’s looks down on the traditional villagers as ‘your race of triumph means the martyred sacrifice or flight of his enemies. savages’ [Collected Plays 2: 5]. The cultural tradition he hates But Soyinka is far too satirical to allow Kongi’s harvest to be the most is bride-price because, with only his exalted feelings gathered painlessly. His victory speech turns into a parody of a of romantic love and his refusal to work in a farm in order to political bacchanal in which the tyrant ‘exhorts, declaims, earn the money, he can’t afford to marry Sidi. He calls bride reviles, cajoles, damns, curses, vilifies, excommunicates and price ‘A savage custom, barbaric, out-dated,/ Rejected, execrates’  until he foams at the mouth. Then Segi enters denounced, accursed,/ Excommunicated, archaic, degrading,/ Soyinka’s Appetite for Sacrifice 143 144 Lagos Review of English Studies Humiliating, unspeakable, redundant’ , stopping his list only Within a new bottle. The coarseness because he owns the shorter Companion Dictionary instead of Is mellowed down, and the rugged wine the Longer one. It makes one think of Pope’s line, ‘A little Acquires a full and rounded body... learning is a dangerous thing.’ At times one questions why Lakunle wants to marry Sidi at all because her insistence upon When she returns to Lakunle, she was no longer a virgin. the bride price frustrates him to the point of shouting at her: Lakunle thinks that they can finally marry without the bride ‘Bush girl you are, bush girl you’ll always be’ . But, of price. But to his surprise, she throws him over for the older but course, Sidi is beautiful; and though Lakunle sublimates his still potent Bale, saying, sexual drive into his devotion to cultural progress, he cannot completely repress it. I who have felt the strength, Ironically, it is an instrument of modern culture that The perpetual youthful zest causes Sidi’s vanity to overflow. A photographer has Of the panther of the trees? published her photos in a magazine which has brought her to And would I choose a watered-down, the attention of Bale Baroka, the lion of Ilujinle. After feasting A beardless version of unripened man?  his eyes on Sidi, the Bale decides that it is time to feed his appetite, noting that ‘...it is five full months since last I took a Thus Lakunle, the modern man of learning but repressed wife...’ . The play develops into a comic merry-go-round appetite, loses out to the traditional lion of physical desire. As of appetites. Sidi gets the notion that being a famous beauty Soyinka suggests once again through Sidi’s choice, we live in a makes her too good for both Lakunle and the Bale: the former world ruled by appetite rather than sacrifice. she now regards as a ‘mere village school teacher’ , and of In Soyinka’s early plays, the themes of appetite and the Bale she says, ‘I am young and brimming; he is spent / I am sacrifice play off against each other to create shifting balances the twinkle of a jewel/ But he is the hind quarter of a of comedy and tragedy. Kongi’s Harvest is a satirical lion!’. So puffed up with vanity, Sidi is just ripe for tragicomedy based on a parody of political dictatorship in deflating; and the Bale is able to trick her into bed by feigning which the satisfaction of appetite requires the sacrifice of moral the impotence of old age. Along with his senior wife Sadiku, opposition. In a different but related way, The Strong Breed is Sidi celebrates the supposed end of Baroka’s stored sexual a symbolic tragedy in which idealistic opposition to evil is appetite as a victory for womankind. She accepts his invitation shown to lead inevitably to sacrifice. On the other hand, The to visit in order to crow over his impotence, only to be seduced Lion and the Jewel is a satirical comedy of appetite contrasting as he slyly feeds her appetite for self-love. By co-opting some modern and traditional views of love. Because of its comic of the new culture, he intends to put her picture on a local effects, very few in Soyinka’s audience would compare it to his stamp and reproduce as well his power, which takes on the later tragedy, Death and the King’s Horseman. And yet, a colour of his sexual appetites. He tells her, simple parallel connects the two plots: in both, the desire of an older man blocks the relationship of a younger couple. Of ...old wine thrives best course, the two works are so different in method and tone that Soyinka’s Appetite for Sacrifice 145 146 Lagos Review of English Studies this slight coincidence seems hardly significant at first. Yet it in kind: ‘Your name will be like the sweetberry a child places does point to the balance achieved in the later tragedy between under his tongue to sweeten the passage of food. The world appetite and sacrifice. will never spit it out’. For Elesin, fame and honour seem to Not since Eman in The Strong Breed has a Soyinka reinforce his sensual enjoyment of life. character possessed an appetite for sacrifice like that of Elesin Yet even at this moment of climatic fulfilment, a note Oba. And yet, like Bale Baroka and so many of Soyinka’s of danger is sounded. After Elesin remarks that he has characters, Elesin is also dominated by his physical and neglected ‘my women’ of the market, the Praise Singer warns egotistical appetites. He is something of a culminating him of their influence: ‘They love to spoil you but beware. character for Soyinka: a man whose appetites for The hands of women also weaken the unwary’ . Elesin’s transcendence through death and earthly fulfilment are both answer links the two worlds of physical and spiritual desire: strong, though at odds with each other. And it is the collision ‘This night I’ll touch feet with their feet in a dance that is no of these powerful human drives that produces Elesin’s great longer of this earth. But the smell of their flesh, their seat, the tragedy. smell of indigo on their cloth, this is the last air I wish to We are introduced to him at the peak of his life, when breathe as I go to meet my great forbears.’ he is described as ‘a man of enormous vitality, [who] speaks, Elesin Oba is a man who is capable of joining in a dances and sings with that infectious enjoyment of life which lyrical embrace two seeming contradictory appetites for life accompanies all his actions’ [Soyinka: Six Plays, 147]. At the and death. He can do so because he regards death as life’s same time he is on the verge of transcending his life voluntarily ultimate experience rather than its end, a new beginning for through a life-giving self-sacrifice. Following the King’s which one can develop eager anticipation. Elesin revels in the death, he is going to join his master in the ancestral world. His significance of his sacrifice in his proud, even boastful song of final act of ending life seems to stimulate his sensuous the Not-I Bird in which he mocks the universal fear of death enjoyment of its beauty. Elesin’s celebration of life before that intimidates all living creatures except himself. The secret leaving it is expressed in the most lyrical poetry of any of of his lyrical celebration is that he alone is brave enough to Soyinka’s plays. As poetic as his professional Praise Singer, withstand the fear of death and glories in his triumph over it. Elesin glorifies the physical side of life. The opening scene is There is none of the dark fear that surrounds Eman’s sacrifice set in the market at closing where the great variety of life’s in The Strong Breed. Instead, Elesin displays comic scorn for appetites are displayed and fed. His language is filled with all those who profess courage but quail when asked if they hear images of feasting, for his life has indeed been a banquet: ‘That death calling: Esu-harassed day slipped into the stewpot while we feasted. We ate it up with the rest of the meat’ . He is also ‘Not I,’ shouts the fearless hunter, but confident that his death will be a gift to please the appetites of it’s getting dark, and this night lamp the living. He tells the Praise Singer that ‘My fame, my Has leaked out all its oil. I think honour are legacies to the living; stay behind and let the world It’s best to go home and resume my hunt sip its honey from your lips’ . The Praise Singer replies Another day.  Soyinka’s Appetite for Sacrifice 147 148 Lagos Review of English Studies hour brings bats and rodents/ Shall I yield them cause to foul Elesin mockingly compares this universal fear of death to his the rafters?’ Beyond a certain point satiation becomes fouled own confidence and courage: ‘Tell my tapper I have ejected/ by scavengers who will later be associated with those who eat /Fear from my home and farm. Assure him,/ All is well’ . left-overs. One needs to know when to leave life’s banquet, He even mocks the gods who, though immortal, still fear to and for Elesin it seems to be with his final drink of honour that die, comparing them to himself: marks the end of his life. The Praise Singer addresses this point: I am the master of my Fate. When the hour comes I say you are that man who Watch me dance along the narrowing path Chanced upon the calabash of honour Glazed by the soles of my great precursors. You thought it was palm wine and My soul is eager. I shall not turn aside.  Drained its contents to the final drop.  His proud dance will require no lonely sacrifice, for he says Elesin understands that to deny that life has an ending would that ‘I go to keep my friend and master company.’ His be a transgression against respect: language, however, remains fixed in his physical appetite, still infused with abundant images of food and feasting. After all, Life has an end. A life that will outlive as a royal member of the court of Oyo, he has indeed feasted Fame and friendship begs another name. on life. He continues to view the world through his enormous What elder takes his tongue to his plate, appetite at the same time that he denies being imprisoned by it: Licks it clean of every crumb? He will encounter Who says that the mouth does not believe in … Silence when he calls on children to fulfil No, I have chewed all that before? I say I have. The smallest errand! Life is honour. The world is not a constant honey-pot. It ends when honour ends.  Where I found little I made do with little. Where there was plenty I gorged myself. Yet immediately after this summative statement of My master’s hands and mine have always nobility, Elesin’s appetite reasserts itself and threatens his Dipped together and, home or sacred feast, delicate balance between life and death. First, he feigns The bowl was beaten bronze, the meats offence to embarrass the market women for not clothing him in So succulent our teeth accused us of neglect. the royal robes of a great man of honour. Though only joking,  he suggests that honour also feeds his vanity. He wants to be publicly acknowledged as a great man and seen wearing fine Elesin recognises that his time is ending and that he must now clothes. He laughs only when the women robe him richly. wind down his appetite: ‘The world was mine...but the twilight And then, suddenly, his eye is struck by a beautiful young Soyinka’s Appetite for Sacrifice 149 150 Lagos Review of English Studies woman who appears in the passage through which Elesin has come: perhaps a sign of life in the passage to death. Certainly, The hunger of his appetite has never left him. Instead she revives his appetite for sensual beauty and blocks spiritual of hungering for honour in death, Elesin is suddenly driven to thoughts. Just as suddenly his language shifts to the key of a use his social honour and royal standing to feed his physical different physical appetite: appetite. He demands that the Iyaloja, leader of the market women, arrange his marriage to this young woman, despite the Tell me who was that goddess fact that she is betrothed to Iyaloja’s son. By doing so, he through whose lips shows an important confusion about honour. He turns the I saw the ivory pebbles of Oyo’s river-bed. word away from his transcendent sacrifice and back to his ...Not even Ogun with the finest hoe he ever physical wants by telling Iyaloja, ‘Then honour me. I deserve Forged at the anvil could have shaped a bed of honour to lie upon’ . She replies that his honour That rise of buttocks, not though he had now rests upon fulfilling his sacrifice: ‘You are not one who The richest earth between his fingers. eats and leaves nothing on his plate for children.’ His people Her wrapper was no disguise consider him a sacred provider, not a glutton; a giver of life, For thighs whose ripples shamed the river’s because he dares to overcome death, not an eater of left-overs. Coils around the hills of Ilesi. [158 - 9] But since his appetite for verbal wit is equal to his other desires, Elesin can twist Iyaloja’s warning into an assertion that En route to the afterlife, Elesin suddenly envisions a different his final act of fertility will be a blessing to enrich the world’s and more sensuous kind of heaven and an extremely abundance: earthbound, sexual goddess. His keen appetite has led him back from the entrance to the ancestral world to this heaving, Then let me travel light. Let panting earth where he becomes once again a privileged Seed that will not serve the stomach sensualist: On the way remain behind. Let it take root In the earth of my choice, in this earth ...In all my life I leave behind.  As Horseman to the King, the juiciest Fruit on every tree was mine. I saw, In language rich with fertility, Elesin makes it seem as if I touched, I wooed, rarely was the answer No. feeding his appetite will enrich the lives of the living. Iyaloja The honour of my place, the veneration I reminds him in his own imagery not to turn his blessings into a Received in the eye of man or woman curse: ‘The living must eat and drink. When the moment Prospered my suit and comes, don’t turn the food to rodent’s droppings in their Played havoc with my sleeping hours. mouth’ . Excessive appetite can become disgusting and And they tell me my eyes were a hawk turn life’s feast into the excremental leavings of scavengers. In perpetual hunger.  Despite this warning, the scene ends with Elesin’s face aglow Soyinka’s Appetite for Sacrifice 151 152 Lagos Review of English Studies with pleasure as the young woman kneels before him. One Elesin...dies the unknowable death of death...’ . Then indeed wonders whether he is ready to leave a world that Elesin dances into a trance as the lights dim. There is no continues to feed his appetite, allowing him to charge it to the reason to believe that his next encounter will not be with the account of his honour. In his rich and sensuous language, ancestors. The efforts of the British to arrest him failed and Soyinka has established the physical rhythms to which Elesin there seems to be nothing to stop him now. dances along the passage to immortality. The next scene, set at the English Ball to honour their If the first scene is a musical hymn to the appetite, then Prince’s visit, becomes the intellectual heart of the play by the second and third scenes represent a call to duty. They questioning whether Elesin Oba’s self-sacrifice is a worthy one reaffirm another historical reality in Nigeria beside the Yoruba or a destructive feudal anachronism. The debaters are Elesin’s tradition. Soyinka has set the play during the World War II son Olunde, who has returned from his medical training in when Nigeria was an English colony and England was at war. England to bury his father, and Jane Pilkings. Olunde regards Elesin’s ritual which follows the death of his king coincides his father’s death as a self-sacrifice essential to the continuity with a visit to Nigeria by the Prince of Wales. Thus, the of his culture. Having been in England during the war, he has English District Officer, Simon Pilkings, intercedes to have come to respect a similar strain in the English character: the Elesin arrested so that he cannot perform his suicide. Pilkings willingness to sacrifice oneself for the communal good. and his wife, Jane, believe that it is their duty to keep Elesin The case of a captain who blew himself up with his ship from dying. But when Sergeant Amusa, and constables enter when it endangered an entire harbour causes them to disagree. the market, they are blocked by the market women who drive Olunde is inspired by the self-sacrifice whereas Jane adamantly them from the scene, mocking their impotence in the service of maintains that ‘life should never be thrown deliberately away’ the white man. The girls ‘don’t want the eater of white left- . That is exactly her opinion regarding Elesin’s sacrifice. overs at the feast...’ . She regards it as a waste of life in service to the worst aspects Their power over the colonial police is a sign that the of the past: ‘...it is still a barbaric custom. It is even worse – English cannot truly determine the crucial events of Yoruba it’s feudal! The King dies and a chieftain must be buried with culture. Once again, the term ‘eater of left-overs’ is used to him. How feudalistic can you get!’ . Olunde, on the refer to a dishonoured servant in league with the wrong master. other hand, represents the powerful idealism of Eman in The Immediately after their departure, Elesin Oba consummates his Strong Breed. He views his father’s death as a sacred compact marriage and then begins his final departure ritual. Though the based on honour and tells Jane, ‘What can you offer him in market may seem an inappropriate location for his dance of place of peace of mind, in place of the honour and veneration death, we are reminded that his approaching end whetted of his own people? What would you think of your Prince if he Elesin’s appetite for life. So first, he marries and then he refused to accept the risk of losing his life on this voyage?’ begins to die, and his transitional dance commences in a  solemn but not sad mood. The Praise Singer asserts that Of course, their points of view are different. Olunde’s Elesin’s death represents a voluntary and heroic triumph over attitude echoes the words of the Praise Singer in describing death: ‘It takes an Elesin to die the death of death..../ Only Elesin’s sacrifice as a victory over death and denial of fear at Soyinka’s Appetite for Sacrifice 153 154 Lagos Review of English Studies the end of life. As a transition to the world of the ancestors, it emissary in the land of the ancestors, and perhaps is also an affirmation of the Yoruba belief in the afterlife. It is your warmth and youth brought new insights of this no accident that Soyinka makes it clear that the Pilkings are not world to me and turned my feet leaden on this side believing Christians, and their negative views of Yoruba of the abyss. For I confess to you, daughter, my culture are particularly cynical concerning attitudes toward weakness came not merely from the abomination of death and the ancestors. We see them for the first time the white man who came violently into my fading tangoing in the costumes of the egungun and mocking an presence, there was also a weight of longing on my ancestral masquerade in order to entertain the Prince at the earth-held limbs. I could have shaken it off, already Ball. Pilkings repeatedly expresses racist colonial views of my foot had begun to lift but then, the white ghost Africans and his wife seems only to voice a more polite entered and all was defiled. version. When Olunde expresses both pride and sadness in his father’s presumed death, Jane blurts out, ‘You’re just a savage Elesin admits that his appetite for life held him to the earth, yet like all the rest’ . he claims that he would have surmounted this obstacle if the The argument is abruptly halted by the sound of Elesin white man had not intervened. Oba’s voice. Despite earlier expectations, Pilkings has Iyaloja then enters to serve as Elesin’s final teacher, managed to arrest Elesin. The drama is heightened when he returning the focus of his shame back on himself. She reminds enters in handcuffs and immediately begs for his son’s him of the excesses of his appetite: understanding. But Olunde rejects him out of hand, employing the terms earlier used to condemn excessive appetite: ‘I have We fed you sweetmeats such as we hoped no father, eater of left-overs’ . The son walks out, leaving awaited you on the other side. But you said No, his father sobbing on the ground. The proud horseman has I must eat the world’s left-overs... No, you said, fallen in shame before his son. Having failed to control his I am the hunter’s dog and I shall eat the entrails appetite, he has spilled the calabash of honour. But he is still of the game and the faeces of the hunter... You not ready to die. said No, I shall step in the vomit of cats and the He reappears in chains, imprisoned in a place that was droppings of mice. [210 - 211] once used to store slaves. He has become re-enslaved to both the Europeans and his own appetite for physical life. If he She reminds Elesin that his desire was once directed were only imprisoned by the English, he would feel anger but toward the afterlife as much as this earthly one. His failure no shame. But Elesin dishonoured the feast of his life when he thus signifies a betrayal of his people and his culture. In failed to end it and became an eater of left-overs. At first he replying to her warnings, Elesin confuses the role played by the tries to blame others for his downfall, such as Pilkings and his English with his own physical desires: new young wife, to whom he says, What were your warnings beside the moist contact ...You were the final gift of the living to their of living earth between my fingers...the renewal Soyinka’s Appetite for Sacrifice 155 156 Lagos Review of English Studies of famished embers lodged eternally in the heart of strangers’ . man... It is when the alien hand pollutes the source Iyaloja enters for the final time bearing the body of his of will, when a strange force of violence shatters son to Elesin. To rescue his father’s failure, Olunde has the mind’s calm resolution, this is when a man is sacrificed himself. Though it fulfils the burial ritual of the made to commit the awful treachery of relief, King, Olunde’s death completes Elesin’s shame. The son who commit in his thought the unspeakable blasphemy of replaces his father reverses the natural order of time. Iyaloja seeing the hand of the gods in this alien rupture of says, ‘The son has proved the father Elesin, and there is the world... there might be the hand of the gods in nothing left in your mouth to gnash but infant gums’ . the stranger’s intervention. Initially the carrier of Yoruba tradition, Elesin Oba has proven to be an alienated and sensual man. Having failed to sacrifice Elesin feels that the intervention of the English was meant to himself according to tradition, Elesin finally commits suicide be the instrument of the gods acting in accord with his own as a modern man out of a profound sense of loss and shame. appetite. Perhaps the arguments of Jane Pilkings against ritual He suddenly loops his chain around his neck and strangles self-sacrifice were meant to have more of an effect on Elesin himself dramatically. He has lost everything: his honour, his than on his son Olunde. Perhaps his physical appetite eclipsed title and his son. Why not also his life? Tragically, his late his spiritual faith, and he excused himself knowing that he suicide cannot reclaim what has been destroyed. As Iyaloja could blame the English. In doing so, however, Elesin is says, complicit in the colonial subjugation of his people. As Iyaloja says to Pilkings, ‘This is the man whose weakened He is gone at last into the passage but oh, how understanding holds us in bondage to you’ . When a late it all is. His son will feast on the meat man’s faith in his own culture weakens, then he is most open to and throw him the bones. the divergent view of others. Elesin’s own overwhelming The passage is clogged appetite for life coincided with the idea that ‘life should never with droppings from the king’s stallion; he will be thrown deliberately away’ . If life itself is sacred, then arrive all stained with dung. all attempts to end it are either tragic or wrong. But we must remember that Elesin embraced his sacrifice willingly. He Elesin Oba is forever doomed to eat left-overs and be fouled viewed it proudly as a triumph over the fear of death, as the with excrement. As for the English who tried to control basis of his honour and as a way of reuniting with his king. He Yoruba destiny, Iyaloja suggests that their victory might be as bid the world watch him dance by performing in the open empty as Kongi’s Harvest, based as it is on tragic sacrifice and market, and he danced into a trance without interference from shame. She tells Pilkings, ‘The gods demanded only the old the colonial police. As the noble horseman he had the reins of expired plantain but you cut down the sap-laden shoot to feed the world placed in his hand, yet as the Praise Singer says, your pride. There is your board. Feast on it’ . Beware ‘...you watched it plunge over the edge of the bitter appetite, she seems to say, because it can lead to disgusting precipice...[until] ... our world is tumbling in the void of excess. Soyinka’s Appetite for Sacrifice 157 So Elesin dies in tragic disgrace as a man who betrays his family and people because his appetite undermined his noble goals of self-sacrifice. In this, he is like other appetite- crazed leaders of modern Africa such as Kongi. His excessive drives and ego cause the people’s suffering. He is also a modern African like Lakunle who has lost his grip on his own culture and opted for the call of the European West. He leaves life filled with shame and loss rather than noble self-sacrifice. In the end, both his death and his life have been diminished. And yet Elesin is a genuinely tragic character who brings about his own fall and causes the sacrifice of his son. For his part, Olunde reminds us of Eman, Daodu, Segi: his youthful idealism keeps him truer to his culture than his father. For Elesin, the appetites for life and honour lead him to a crossroad he could not get beyond. Nowhere in Soyinka’s dramatic work has the conflict between sacrifice and appetite produced such powerful tragedy. Works Cited Soyinka, Wole. Collected Plays 1. Oxford: OUP, 1989. Soyinka, Wole. Collected Plays 2. Oxford: OUP, 1974. Soyinka, Wole. Six Plays. London: Methuen, 1984.
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