Conflict Between Colonial And Traditional Culture in Soyinka's Aké

Uzoma Ukomadu

Aké, the autobiographical account of Wole Soyinka's Nigerian childhood paints a picture of the colonial climate that existed in the ending phase of the epoch of British colonialism. One particular passage, near the end of chapter two, contains an exemplary illustration of the tension between the two main cultures represented in this novel, colonial Christianity and traditional beliefs of the indigenous Yoruba:

He nodded yes, "Any of us can watch. As long as you are male of course. Women mustn't come near."

"Then you must come and call me the next time' I said. "I want to watch"

"You want to what ?" It was mother, her voice raised in alarm. "Did I hear you say you want to go and watch engúngún in his compound?"

"Osiki will take me" I said.

"Osiki will take you nowhere. Better not even let your father hear you."

"Why not?" I said, "he can come too. Osiki, we can take him can't we? He is not like Mama, he is a man too." [32]

Here Soyinka recounts how, in his childish naiveté, he planned to go to see the spirits of the dead incarnated as masqueraders. After his mother forbade him from going and warned him not to mention his intentions to his father, he answered, saying his father could follow him. This implied that he thought his mother's prohibition stemmed from her misunderstanding of traditional customs which excluded certain people, in this case women, from partaking in events such as these. This contrasts with his mother's actual prohibitory motivation which stemmed from her decision to maintain a household of strict Christian ideological values which did not allow indulgence in events such as the procession of the engúngún.

This is only one of many passages which implies that the discarding of traditional customs, and maybe even values, was a necessary trade off that accompanied the colonization of Aké. The first chapter of the novel contained one of the first instances depicting the symbolic confrontation of cultures. Here Soyinkaís motherís uncle successfully repelled an iwin , or wood sprite, saying, "Back I said, in the name of Godî, after she and her brother had tread upon ground that the iwin had forbade them from intruding on. However the actual assimilation, and evidently subsumation, of one culture by the other is not seen until much later on in chapter ten where Soyinka tells of young women bleaching their skins and frying their hair in an attempt to imitate the aesthetic set by the, "white voluptuous bodies."

This leads to an interesting dichotomy in the novel. Soyinka writes of Aké in two particular time-frames. One, the colonial Aké, still maintained distinct differences between the two predominant cultures, while in the post-colonial era, replete with itís Fuji-Rock and moin-moin and burger sellers, the lines of differentiation were not as lucidly defined. Soyinka asserts that in embracing the trend of western emulation Aké, in fact loses itís own traditions and indigenous cultural elements. Soyinka, in apparently yearning for the days of old, is not making a statement favoring colonialism. Interpreting his lament of the overly-commercial western oriented metamorphosis of AkÈ is dismissing the fact that Soyinka shows that the vestiges that the colonial mindset had proven to be just as detrimental to the indigensí cultural identity, if not more so than the colonial system itself.


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