Death and the Kings Horseman

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An Anthropological view of Death and the King’s Horseman
Colonialism is the policy by which a nation maintains or extends its control over foreign dependencies. For the Yoruba, the British colonization has systematically dissolved and re-arranged its cultural traditions, beliefs, and structure. An anthropological examination of Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman can reveal colonialisms destructive effect and the tragedy of forced liminality Yoruba people. Colonization has dissected Nigerian culture. Tribal rituals and traditions were altered to fit British ideals. Tribal authorities lost the ability to perform tribal ceremonies. These laws, and the lawmakers, were created by transitional foreigners who refused assimilation. African sergeants, like Amusa, were put into power to monitor their own tribesmen. Amusa’s role as a sergeant separates him from his culture and pits him against the villagers. His threshold persona is seen as lowly. He mirrors the “structural invisibility of novices undergoing life-crisis rituals.” (Turner, 170) Amusa is invisible and unworthy. He isn’t respected by the British command or by the villagers. Pilkings belittles Amusa’s fear of the Yoruba death masks. He expects Amusa to be more sensible concerning “mumbo-jumbo.” (Soyinka, 24) It is obvious that Amusa has confirmed his dedication to the British law, but his defense in relating talking death to death masks with talking against government to uniformed police shows that he is still somehow neither here nor there. To the villagers, his invisibility is met with disdain and insult. The women don’t even recognize him as a man let alone an authority figure. They berate his attempts to control their ceremony with the “laws of stranger.”(Soyinka, 36) The girls taunt him more after his disrespect towards Iyaloja, the matriarch of the village. “He no longer knows his mother, we’ll teach him.”(Soyinka, 37) Amusa is not alone in his liminality. There is another sergeant with him, who also lacks authority over the villagers. These sergeants are not attached to their people and they are also not attached to their rulers. They have “no status, insignia, secular clothing, rank, and kinship position, nothing to demarcate them structurally from their fellows” (Turner, 98). Wole Soyinka urges readers not to consider Death and the King’s Horseman as a “clash of cultures” because it limits their analytical scope. It is not European versus African. But there must be some attention paid to the idea that a liminal stranger can come and recreate a cultures entire lifestyle. Colonialism was a disruption of life. The changes that the Yoruba made were not their own. Soyinka, on his view of a colonial Nigeria, says “Everything was quite normal but there was an issue, which would be sorted out, which just expunged those who didn't belong there in the first place from our nation that was the only way I related to colonialism.”(Aljaree) There is a connection between Soyinka and Olunde. “Soyinka's grandfather introduced him to the pantheon of Yoruba gods and other figures of tribal folklore. His parents, however, were representatives of colonial influence: his mother was a devout Christian convert, and his father was a headmaster at the village school established by the British.”(Enotes) Olunde, like Soyinka, was educated in European and then later returned home to enlighten those with a misunderstanding of the Yoruba culture. There is a void created for the agnatic Yoruba culture when Pilkings aids Olunde in leaving Nigeria. “Being an agnatic and communal-oriented society; family members live side-by-side, or near ancestral homes for the continuity of the extended family. The most senior/oldest male in the entire compound becomes family head (Mọgaji or Olori-Ẹbi), the position goes to another most senior, when the holder dies, or becomes incapacitated.”(Yorupedia) As the eldest son, Olunde was his father’s heir apparent. Joseph, Pilkings servant, stresses...
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