Back in The Day: Past and Present in Soyinka¹s Aké

Phoebe Koch '98, English 27, Postcolonial Studies, 1997

"The smells are gone. In their place, mostly sounds, and even these are frenzied distortions of the spare, intimate voices of humans and objects alike which filled Aké from dawn to dusk, whose muted versions through the night sometimes provided us with puzzles of recognition as we lay on our mats." (149)

This passage begins the tenth chapter in Wole Soyinka's Aké. It is characteristic of the negative light in which Soyinka casts the "new" and modern town of Aké in his adulthood. Throughout his autobiography, whenever Soyinka contrasts the Aké of today with the "old" Aké of his youth, there is a sense of loss; as if all that made the town dear to him, in his childhood and in his memory, has disappeared and been replaced by things new and somehow false.

Soyinka seems to find nothing positive in the new technology that has come to Aké; nor in the sounds that now fill the streets. These sounds which have replaced the old and familiar smells, the "medley of electronic bands and the raucous clang of hand-bells advertising bargain sales of imported wares"(149), somehow seem fake, less human even, than the sounds that Soyinka remembers: "the measured chimes of the tower-clock or the parade of egungun, police band, market cries or bicycle-bell" (149). The new sounds are like the goods for sale; imported from somewhere foreign. They are "The blare of motor-horns (competing) with a high-decibel outpouring of rock and funk and punk and thunk-thunk from lands of instant-culture heroes" (157). They seem to clash with Soyinka's memory of the place, to such an extent that the reader is left with the sense that the past is more real than the present.

In reality, however, there is always distortion in the romantic return to places of one's past. Memory becomes clouded and partial to what was positive, while omitting or recasting that which was negative. In Soyinka's description of the present, he often becomes a grandfather figure, reflecting upon his childhood. He is nostalgic for the "good old days," when life was simple; "when men were men, and the girls knew it... and they loved it!" (Tinga)