Collected Plays: Volume 1 by Wole Soyinka
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
One of the first things I noticed about "A Dance in the Forest" is that it is not not very nationalistic, even though it was performed for the celebration of Nigerian independence in October 1960. If anything it seems like a warning to move forward rather than get stuck in a past mindset.
There are also some pretty serious critiques of some of the changes due to modernization. Rola comments that "this whole family business sickens me," to which Obaneja responds, "it never used to be a problem" (9). From my experience in Ghana this summer I noticed that there is a serious tension between the traditional family (extended family, cousins, uncles, etc) and the nuclear family that has been introduced. Disputes over land and inheritance and the whole view of family life have been in flux due to Western influences.
The passenger lorries, such as the "Incinerator" and "The Chimney of Ereko" (17) are also frequent sights in Ghana. A tro-tro is something between a bus and a taxi service that looks like a gutted out van. They are supposed to have a passenger limit, but I have seen people stacked on top of each other more than once. If you ever get the chance to ride in a tro-tro, also known as a lorry, you are in for a real treat. They all have names painted on the back for identification, but everyone knows that not all lorries are created equal. In our case, "Big Ben" was the one that could get you to the city the fastest and the safest, which is saying a lot.
I also had the opportunity to read "The Road." I have a few questions about this play, and in general I think I had troubles understanding it compared to some of the other books in African Literature I have been exposed to. There is definitely something about this God of the road that they mention throughout the story. I saw something similar reading Nigerian author Ben Okri's the Famished Road, a great read if you are more interested in these subjects. The road seems to represent something more, something about life but also about death, and we see that in the ongoing discussing with Samson and Salubi, two life long friends who have worked together driving until Salubi, feeling the road too risky, decides to quit and manage a shop. The "mate," Samson in this case, is the man who sits in the back of the tro-tro/lorry with the passengers who knocks on the top of the van to let the driver know when to stop and let them drop. They are a partnership, and you cannot drive without one.
This Professor, an educated pretentious ex-preacher, hired to forge a drivers license for Samson and Salubi, is an enigma to me. For most of the play I spent the time loathing him, but at the end when he starts to speak the truth about the "Word," which seems to be more about death than life, that is when he is killed. I would love to hear more about this if anyone has any insights on him or any other themes in this collection of plays.
In general I would say these are difficult reads, especially if you are unfamiliar with the context. I would prefer to read this in a classroom or where discussion was available.
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