Guests and Change in Aké

Elora Raymond '99 Brown University 1997

In the Soyinka's book Aké, young Wole struggles with the conflict between Nigerian and Western culture. Soyinka introduces his autobiography with a tale of where god chooses to visit in the town of Aké. A social hierarchy is established, and strife between Christian and Yoruba beliefs. The idea of boundaries and of guests is established. Soyinka writes, "The Canon's square , white building was a bulwark against the menace and the siege of the wood spirits. Its rear wall demarcated their territory, stopped them from taking liberties with the world of humans. Canon's home is shown as a bulwark, or a fortress of Christianity, and the delineator of a boundary between Christianity and Yoruba beliefs. It is also the place which is most fit to receive God as a guest. God is referred to a guest, a concept which reverberates throughout the novel. He writes "[God] reserved his most formal, exotic presence for the evening service which, in his honour, was always held in English" (p. 1). the Christian god is part of a tradition of Western privilege; of speaking English, and being educated. The opening pages show a strict demarcation between Christianity and Yoruba. However, the child Wole combines seemingly conflicting religious beliefs freely in his mind. At one point he argues to a friend that Saint John is a Yoruban ancestral spirit. Perhaps it is his childish naiveté that does not see the two customs and sets of beliefs in opposition with each other, but combines them in his mind without conflict.

In the opening passages, God is referred to as a guest. Later in the book, guests are linked to the idea of change. Soyinka writes, "Some were total strangers; they came within HM's orbit once and disappeared for ever. Yet they took away with them a part of those motions of reliance, accustomed gestures, codes and confidences which secured us within the walls of HM's home... There was a new language to be learnt, a new physical relationship in things and people" (p. 95). This sentence reveals Wole's growing ambivalence about the relationships of Nigerian and Western cultures; of Aké and its "guest" Further on in his life, Wole's feelings of conflict become more clear. Chapter 10 is devoted to a polemic against the changes that international capitalism have wrought on his beloved town, addressing as well as traditional customs of that allowed the town drive out a pregnant homeless woman who lived in a mango tree "nearly opposite the church" (p. 149). In this chapter, Wole describes the song he sings for protection as he is walking an alley at night. The song is both the song of magician Anthony Peter Zachary White, and wizard, described as "a near duplicate of Paa Adatan. Wole says "[P]laying the role of both The Magician , self-declared both 'magician' and 'wizard' was therefore, a baffling contradiction but, the songs were all the more potent for that" (p. 152).

Wole is experiencing on a personal level the conflict between English and Nigerian values, which become even more clear during the womens' strike. The privileges that Wole receives through adopting Western traditions; Christianity, the English-language, Western education; are received from the same entity that oppresses himself and his country people. In his younger years, Wole combined both traditions unproblematically. In his older years he sees the conflict between Yoruba culture and Western colonialism; however, using both, he finds strength.

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