Soyinka's Kongi Harvest (1970)
Soyinka was born in 1934; he is a Nigerian writer who completes his study in Ibadan University. Soyinka has played an active role in Nigeria's political history and reflects the reality of his nation after independence. Soyinka deals with fictional African place called Isma where power moved from the old tradition order of the Oba to the modern order of Kongi.
Kongi is already a ruler who feels that he has to legitimate his power and to be benevolent in the eyes of his people. In the "harvest festival", Kongi wants Oba to show publicly that he is the ruler by presenting the new yams to him.
There are a group of younger people against Kongi's rule led by Daodu, son of Sarumi, and Segi who was once the mistress of Kongi. Kongi arrested Segi's father and other people who opposed his power and put them in the jail. Kongi now wants to make a deal with this group that if they allowed the festival to happen calmly then he will release all these prisoners including Segi's father. Here, Kongi is a hypocritical because he intends to kill them after getting the agreement for his leadership from Oba.
On the day of festival, Oba offered the 1st crop of the year to Kongi but instead of yam there is a cut head of Segi's father. Accordingly, there was complete chaos and Oba was killed during this chaos. So, all the perfect planning of Kongi about this festival is totally destroyed and the festival turns to violence instead of benevolence. Thus, the harvest of Kongi was the hatred of people and violence because violence brings violence. This play can be interpreted as a play of post-independence and what happened in more African countries not only in Nigeria. It can be the harvest of colonization or the universal desire to get power. Kongi's rule established by force and fear, so he seeds violence and harvests the hatred of people. Soyinka's aim is to confirm the idea of democracy and not the using of power in the rule.
There is a conflict in the play between traditionalism and modernism. Oba represents the traditions while Kongi represents the modernism and absolutism. Kongi is a modernized leader but he includes traditions in his rule because no country without traditions therefore he asked the traditional leader, Oba, to give him yam in a traditional day. Thus, Kongi's dictatorship is a political strategy to remain in power at the expense of the people's freedom so like nowadays leaders.
As a dictator, Kongi grabs the rule from the rightful ruler of Isma who is Oba and uses every mean possible, not all of them honest, to attain his goal. He tries to keep his country's cultural roots intact by forcing his officials to wear traditional African clothing. He uses force without any kind of toleration and wherever is taken by force it will finally turn to destruction so as Kongi's policy of Isma.
The people of Isma do not enjoy the day of festival because they lose their power and identity by the oppressed acts of Kongi. Kongi follows only one system which is absolutism i.e. not permit to anyone to show an opinion and he is always shouting and showing his politics proudly, this is why he is dealt as a dictator. The opening scene of the play is with prologue called "Hemlock". The singers of Hemlock do not sing in praise of Kongi as it should but to criticize him as a dictator over his people. In this song Sarumi, a junior Oba, expresses his loyalty to Oba while Oba in the jail according to the attendance of his spirit. The Hemlock includes three points: -
1- Oba and Daodu are convicted by force.
2- Kongi's umbrella does not make any shade i.e. Kongi does not protect his people, but only concerns to his power. 3- Oba and Daodu do not agree or support that Kongi becomes the new ruler.
BACKGROUND OF THE STORY
As Moore (1978) emphasized, the play was directed by the dramatist himself in 1965 at the Federal Palace Hotel at Lagos, it is a scathing frontal attack on power...
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