Kate Cook '98, English 27 (1997)

Wole Soyinka's Aké: The Years of Childhood, explores the complicated and difficult nature of change. Revealing his story through the introspection of himself as a child, Soyinka illustrates the continually fluctuating social and political landscape in colonial Nigeria before and during World War II. Simultaneously, Soyinka integrates a so called private narrative regarding the frightening aspects of growing up and realization of the self. In the following passage, Soyinka illuminates the difficulties involved in navigating relationships and understanding the context of his life, as points of reference continually change, including his own position and direction.

Change was impossible to predict. A tempo, a mood would have settled over the house, over guests, relations, casual visitors, poor relations, "cousins", strays--all recognized within a tangible pattern of feeling--and then it would happen! A small event or, more frequently, nothing happened at all, nothing that I could notice much less grasp and--suddenly it all changed! The familiar faces looked and acted differently. Features appeared where they had not been, vanished where before they had become inseparable from our existence. Every human being with whom we came in contact, Tinu and I, would CHANGE! Even Tinu changed, and I began to wonder if I also changed, without knowing it, the same as everybody else.

"If I begin to change, you will tell me won't you?"

She said, "What are you talking about?"

"Haven't you noticed? Joseph, Lawanle, Nubi, everybody is changing. Papa and Mama have changed. Even Mr. Adelu has changed."

Tenderly, Soyinka intimates his experience of psychological and historical disorientation. To some extent, the romanticized ideas of lost youth parallel with notions of the lost Yoruban culture as a result of English colonization. Memory becomes selective and nostalgic, since what was can never be again, and as a result, the uncharted terrain of the future often commands fear. Opposed to sentiments of Negritude, a celebration or mythification of the African past, Soyinka regards it as an ideology that further establishes African countries as essentially Other. At the same time, however, throughout Aké the author's struggle for an understanding of the past and the future and the painful yet inevitable nature of change--internally and externally, psychologically and historically--reveals the intense predicament ensnaring the Postcolonial state.