The British and Yoruba Culture in Death and the King’s Horseman

An analysis of Wole Soyinka’s `Death and the King’s Horseman.

This paper analyzes Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman` that is based on a 1946 incident in Oyo, a Yoruba city in Nigeria, where the King’s Horseman prepares for the ritual suicide he must commit, part of the Horseman’s lifelong duty to his King that reflects a fundamental tenet of the Yoruba culture. The paper discusses how the Horseman is prevented from fulfilling his duty by the local British colonial officer; the paper describes how the officer transgresses Yoruba culture, offends the Horseman whose position of honor is hereditary, and sets in motion a series of unforeseen and tragic events. The paper also notes the vague ending of the book; we do not know if the Yoruban
Culture will be repaired, or if the British will begin to realize the importance of the native culture.
`Most of the rich, densely poetic first scene contains foreboding references to potential consequences should Elesin fail in his duty. In a sometimes taunting, sometimes jovial exchange with Elesin, the Horseman’s own Praise-Singer warns: ; there is only one shell to the soul of a man: there is only one world to the spirit of our race. If that world leaves its course and smashes on the boulders of the great void, whose world will give us shelter? For the Yoruba, the stakes are very high. Elesin’s duty is clear. Yet, as the first scene also makes abundantly clear, this Horseman is a man with a large appetite for the pleasures of the temporal world. The inextricable bond between Elesin’s fate and the fate of the Yoruba charges the book with a force akin to Greek tragedy.`