Wole's Christian Egúngún: The Hybridization of Religion in Soyinka's Ake: The Years of Childhood

Barnali Tahbildar '97, English 27 (1997)

In Aké: The Years of Childhood , Wole Soyinka offers his readers an autobiographical perspective of his childhood in colonial Nigerian society. As a child attempting to make sense of the world around him, a world of both "colonized" and "colonizer", Soyinka constructs his reality with the contrasting cultures of the "white" man and the native Nigerian. This hybridization of culture is best exemplified by Soyinka's description of his Christian egungun:

The stained glass windows behind the altar of St. Peter's church displayed the figures of three white men, dressed in robes which were very clearly egúngún robes. Their faces were exposed, which was unlike our own egungun, but I felt that this was something peculiar to the country from which those white people came (32)

What appears to be a little boy's religious confusion is, in fact, the fusion of Christianity and traditional African religion. Although Wole is technically Christian, his life as a child in colonial Nigeria prevents him from ignoring egúngún, the masked ancestral spirit which permeates religious life in African society. Despite ridicule from family and friends, Wole believes that St. Peter is his "special egúngún" and, if spoken to, would be able to come out of the ground like other egúngún spirits. In essence, Wole has created his own religion, his own set of beliefs constructed out of the hybridization of contrasting religious influences. Rather than focusing on the difference between Christian and egungun traditions, Soyinka's childhood "tale" of the Christian egúngún illustrates the way in which "colonized" and "colonizer" cultures often fuse to produce something which is entirely new.