Confronting America's Inanimate Presence: Aké: the Years of Childhood

Margaret Hander'00 English 27, 1997

For Wole Soyinka, the American presence has evicted the wonders of his childhood. Descriptions of the Aké markets of today and of yore illustrate this. "The smells are gone," he begins. After an idyllic description of the sensual charms of the old Aké market he adds, "The smells have been overcome," and not only are they gone, but their replacement is ugly,

Their conqueror, sound is not even the measured chimes of the tower-clock or the parade of egungun, police band, market cries or bicycle bell but a medley of electronic bands and the raucous clang of hand-bells advertising bargain sales of imported wares. The dusty road which once grandly intervened between our backyard wall and the church wall is now shrunken; a half, pressed against St Peter's parsonage wall is shared among a variety of stores peddling the products of a global ware industry—fly-blown shawls, combs, mirrors, flaring radio antennae, chrome or foam-rubber motor car decorations . . . photographs with a backing of white voluptuous bodies . . . Raquel Welch, Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors, Jane Russell, Greta Garbo (149-150).

A space that the residents of Aké once defined completely now greets Wole with foreign cacophony. Wole Soyinka exposes his hot anger at the neo-imperialistic forces which usher in the chaos of capitalist culture. The Aké market place emphasizes all its distasteful aspects.

The people of Aké no longer make a public space such as the market place uniquely their own, he feels. Worse yet, if they should claim such a space as theirs, it would mean that exposure to the spew of America's consumer culture has clouded their self-conceptions and made them into mindless conformists. He describes today's customers as such creatures:

Eyes glazed, jaws in constant automated motion, the new habituees mouth the confusion of lyrics belted out from every store, their arms flapping up and down like wounded bush-fowl. Singly, or in groups of identical twins, quads- or quintuplets they wander into the stereo stores, caress the latest record sleeves and sigh (157).

And these creatures congregate to fuel at American feed-stations.

They . . . Pause at McDonald's bury corpses of sausage rolls in their mouths and drown the mash in Coca Cola. . . the children of the new professionals—doctors, lawyers, engineers, bureaucrats and clerics—pass behind the parsonage along Dayisi's Walk clutching the latest cassettes from 'the abroad; and congregate at Kentucky fried chicken to compare notes . . . It's time to joint the others at the Colonel's for a share of the finger-lickin' goodness (157-8).

As at Darlington Hall, America corrodes all that it touches. The soulless, mindless pleasures of the sons and daughters of the new elite show the society's failure to successfully mix development and tradition. The songs sung by young Wole's choir echo this. "The tunes came out clearly enough, but not the words. These emerged as some strange language, a mixture of English, Yoruba, and some celestial language . . .These indecipherable lyrics led to strange interpretations" (152).

In the market scene Soyinka sweepingly disparages the changes that foreign influence brings. He assigns America a large portion of the blame. In other instances he welcomes the benefit of technology, but does not connect it with America. Wole remembers the day that "a large wooden box was brought into the house" (107). He has reservations about "the box," but he and his family enjoy it "once that old friend the Hallelujah Chorus burst through the face of the box" (108-9). Soyinka connects America with the wreckage he believes modernity has wrought. He hurls his rage at the modern men and women "whose solution to the chaos of modern life is to try not to live at all: for them, ''Become mediocre' is the only morality that makes sense'" (22, Berman).

Work Cited

Berman, Marshall. All That is Solid Melts into Air: the Experience of Modernity. Penguin Books, New York: 1982.