Soyinka's Aké: Childhood as Ephemeral

Barnali Tahbildar '97, English 27 (1997)

By virtue of writing his autobiography from a child's perspective, Soyinka attempts to recapture that which has been lost to him -- the years of his childhood. Implicit in Soyinka's autobiographical text is the perception of childhood as a fixed moment in time, measurable in years and separate from the years of one's adult life.

A primarily anecdotal narrative, Aké introduces the reader to a young Wole with prototypical child-like characteristics. The scene in which Wole mischievously steals handfuls of Lactogen from the kitchen pantry serves as an example:

That same night, when the whole house was asleep and Wild Christian was shaking the roof with her snores, I tip-toed into the pantry, filled my mouth with powdered milk. In another second I was back on the mat. In the dark, I let the powder melt, dissolve slowly and slide down the back of my throat in small doses. In the morning I felt no pain whatsoever from the pounding of the previous evening...(92)

In his autobiography, Soyinka presents his reader with other such tales of mischievousness and curiosity. He is a child who asks too many questions and has a vivid imagination. More importantly, Wole is a privileged child - the child of a well-respected and socially esteemed headmaster whose childhood is "special" enough to be marked by symbolic rites of passage. At the end of Chapter IX, for example, Wole undergoes an initiation ceremony in which he must cut his ankles in the same manner as his father and the other men of his tribe:

The little boy swabbed the ankle with a wad soaked in something, the next moment the elderly man had seized the most scalpel-like of the metal objects, dipped it in the clay dish and a sharp pain began at my ankle and shot up my body to the brain. I yelped! The left hand kept my foot firmly fixed to the ground. As I cried out I would have twisted my body, only there were now two strong hands, Father's, keeping my shoulders pressed against the backrest of the chair. (146)

Symbolically preparing Wole to be a "true Akin", the ankle-cutting ceremony functions as Wole's rite of passage into manhood. As presented in Soyinka's Aké, childhood is a distinct stage of life which eventually must come to an end.

Main Overview Nigeria Wole

Soyinka Ake

Last Modified: 20 March, 2002