Soyinkas Appetite for Sacrifice by gjjur4356

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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’ [130].
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’ [129]. 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’ [146]. 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! [100]
       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. [115]                         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’ [127]. 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’ [131] 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’ [8], 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...[49]
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’ [10]. 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? [57]
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...’ [18]. 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’ [12], 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!’[22]. 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’ [148]. 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’ [147]. 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’ [148]. The Praise Singer replies              Another day. [150]
                         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’ [152].      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. [153]                    Drained its contents to the final drop. [154]

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. [154]
       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,
       [153]                                                       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’ [160]. 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. [160]
       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’ [162]. 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. [158]                                  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...’ [184]. 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-        [193]. That is exactly her opinion regarding Elesin’s sacrifice.
overs at the feast...’ [179].                                        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!’ [194]. 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             [194]
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.[207]
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’ [197].                                             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’ [203]. 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’ [218].
       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’ [218].
       the stranger’s intervention.[212]                             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’ [214]. 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’ [193]. If life itself is sacred, then          arrive all stained with dung.[219]
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’ [219]. 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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