Post Colonial Religious Melange In Aké

Jeremy Finer '97 (English 27, Spring 1997)

Wole Soyinka's Aké describes the way religion introduced with colonial interests to Nigeria has permeated and enveloped local culture. Soyinka grows up imbued with the tenets of the Christian church, and surrounded by its apparitions - buildings, rituals, and religious figures. The fear of God (as well as fascination with Him), and singular devotion to Christian principle is tempered, though, by the uncontested existence of spiritual phenomena in everyday life from beyond the Christian tradition. It is not clear that such overlap represents the conflict of these two religions, but Aké shows the necessity to interact with the supernatural through action and ritual. This interaction oddly tends to be viewed as belonging to the mundane in life rather than to the holy. Soyinka's and his relatives' religious views derive partly from the Christian notion of what truly is holy, partly from an ingrained, older set of beliefs that have become accepted regardless of religious definition, and partly from a universal nature of religious belief and activity, in which individual actions and beliefs tend to exist within practices broader than the singular prescriptions of an official doctrine.

The existence of relationships with the extra-Christian supernatural can only derive from long-standing and essentially religious tradition. Although a life focused primarily on these traditions in Aké tends to be recognized as pagan, and therefore somehow subversive of colonialism, their acceptance and coexistence with the Christian holy on a less sacred basis is an element in everyday life. (For an example, see Soyinka's treatment on the opening page of the book of the Chief who tends to avoid church-going.) Two factors make this situation possible. First, the blend of colonial influence with local tradition creates the juxtaposition of religions. Second, the existence of Igbagbo, or true faith, the belief absolute conviction makes powerful. This faith is transcendent, beyond the concept of strictly individual religion. It is this faith that allows for the understanding of both the Christian concept of god, and the necessity for ritual alien to the church to ensure the facilitation of life in general.

"The period of faith is gone. There was faith among our early Christians, real faith, not just church-going and hymn-singing. Faith. Igbagbo. And it is out of that faith that real power comes. Uncle stood there like a rock, he held out his bible and ordered "go back! Go back to that forest which is your home. Back I said, in the name of God". Hm. and that was it. The creature simply turned and fled, those sparks falling off faster and faster until there was just a faint glow receding into the woods.' She sighed. 'Of course, after prayers that evening, there was the price to be paid. Six of the best on everyone's back. Sanya got twelve. And we all cut grass every day for the next week'"(7).

Seamlessly interwoven beliefs appear here. Absolute faith allows for both both the acceptance of difficult and potentially dangerous wood spirits and for the exercise of Christian power to repel them, a new, yet effective means of addressing an old nuisance. While "Uncle" considers himself a devout Christian, he still must confront the realities of extra-Christian phenomena. Even the most affected villagers, then, in terms of new religious traditions derived from the British, temper their acquired ways with the understanding of older, local, accepted ways. Religion, then, exemplifies the colonial pattern of mixing the indigenous with the colonial import to create something new and unique.

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