Imagery and the Inseperability of Precolonial, Colonial, and Postcolonial in Ake

Caleb Paull '93 (English 34, 1991)

Wole Soyinka's Ake is an autobiography of his childhood in Nigeria, but for one jarring moment he shifts the reader's attention to a store-lined street in the Nigeria of the early 1980s. By contrasting Western images of "McDonald's," "coca-cola," and "disco sounds," to the memories his idyllic (and distinctly Nigerian) childhood marketplace Soyinka expresses disgust at the Westernization of his homeland.

The hawkers' lyrics of leaf-wrapped moin-moin still resound in parts of Ake and the rest of the town but, along Dayisi's Walk is also a shop which sells moin-moin from a glass case, lit by sea-green neon lamps. It lies side by side with McDonald's hamburgers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, hot dogs and dehydrated sausage-rolls.

Despite Soyinka's clear distaste for Western commercialism, he shows us a world which has not been forced on the people of Ake but has been chosen by the younger generation. It is also not a world in which the Nigerian culture of his youth has disappeared but one in which African tradition has been joined by and joined to Western capitalism. The moin-moin seller of the past exists alongside McDonald's, the emblem of commercialization. Neither culture is subsumed, neither is independent.

Interestingly, this image of a town which Soyinka believes has lost touch with its African roots is not an image of colonial times, but of postcolonial times. Or are the two separable? With the exception of this brief, modern scene, Ake takes place in a Nigeria which is under British rule, yet for much of the book we are allowed to forget this. Soyinka describes a town rich with traditions, images and folklore that sharply distinguish it from any type of European society. Not until Wole goes beyond the town walls, following the the marching band to a British military compound are we shown the British occupation directly. Thus we are reminded that colonization does not obliterate the previous culture but finds some way to meld with it. Colonial culture is the evolution of precolonial culture given new circumstances, a new context to adjust to. Thus African culture remains visible.

Similarly post-colonial Ake grows out of colonial Ake. Nigeria gains political independence from Britain, but, as Soyinka demonstrates through his use of Western images, cultural separation does not follow. Just as colonial Nigeria was shaped by precolonial Nigeria, postcolonial Nigeria is inseparable from the previously emergent culture. Colonialism and postcolonialism, colonization and decolonization are not distinct from one another but part of a continuum of evolution in which each new layer of culture relies on the preceding layers for its base.