Wole Soyinka once said, “History teaches us to beware of the excitation of the liberated and the injustices that often accompany their righteous thirst for justice”.A Nigerian playwright, Soyinka, was born into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta. A Dance of the Forests is one of the most renowned of Soyinka’s plays and the play was presented at the Nigerian Independence celebrations in 1960.
Through the play, Soyinka asserted the political choice of goading the African audiences into not repeating their past mistakes. The Dark Continent, Africa; long-held under the crippling yoke of imperialism; its people were forced to be imprisoned within their mental recesses by the imperialists, who instilled within them not only a sense of inferiority but also derived their subject-mandated positions by subjugating the natives of Africa. The imperialists in Africa defined themselves as what could be put synonymous to being small islands of civilization in an ocean swathed with savagery and hooliganism. They labelled culture, art, and traditions with tags that solely befitted their own definitions of them — to them, the African culture and traditions were nothing but modified versions of savagery. Keeping in consideration the veritable idea that the imperialists thought of Africa as the land of a people unqualified to speak for themselves, they assumed that it was incumbent upon them to come and civilize these ‘savage beings’.
What Soyinka points out through his play is the idea that any system that cripples, basically falls apart due to its internal issues. Soyinka makes it clear that the reason the imperialist powers were able to colonize Nigeria (or Africa as a whole) was because of the incongruities that laid within the systems of Nigeria (and Africa) itself that provided the external agencies with a bastion to barge in and exploit these places. Soyinka endeavors, through his play, to show a mirror to the African society. He tries to highlight the fractures within the African system of government; the corruption of the politicians; maligns the celebrated African past in an effort to warn the Nigerians and all Africans to avoid repeating the mistakes that have already been made; and gives a rejuvenating vision to the freshly independent Africa of 1960, to reinvigorate its system by strengthening itself from within.
A Dance of the Forests, by the literal implications of the name, hints upon “dance” as the sense of celebrating the spirit of life, and carries out an exegesis into the native African culture and tradition by employing the word “forests’ within the title. In the play, through the example of a small village in Togo, one finds how a small community resists foreign aid and instead discovers its own potential to alleviate the poverty and the ruin that afflicts it. With hand tools, its proud men and women endeavor to structure their own destiny. Also, in the play, through the profound testimony of the people of Baga, the audiences are educated how beyond the days of pain and struggle lie the days of unrelenting glory, freedom and hope.
By staging the play on Independence Day, Soyinka succeeds in addressing the Africans regarding two imperative notions; one, that the sense of celebrating the spirit of life is as important as the will to live with freedom, which is why the abstraction of freedom needs to be understood in tandem with rectifying past mistakes; and two, the decipherment of the actual African identity by highlighting the significance of proudly embracing and owning one’s native culture and traditions. Any work of literature goes beyond the realms of geographical boundaries and transcends its creator in terms of its complexities and concerns. People from countries that have had a colonized past similar to that of Nigeria, foster a communal taste and a sense of kinship with the Nigerian nation, and therefore Soyinka’s play is not seen as work that can solely be restricted to Nigerians to ponder upon themselves. It is widely understood and regarded as a piece of literature that surpasses its contemporaneity.
In the context, the significance of staging A Dance of the Forests on Independence Day, lies in the essence of Soyinka gifting his audiences a realistic and pragmatic approach to life by enabling individuals to look into the mirror and identify the cracks within their dispositions as well as the cracks in the managerial and institutional setups in which they dwell; and gifting the audiences a path to self-discovery and self-realization, which not only would help to nourish their individuality, but also make them willingly proud of their identity and nurture the spirit of self-hood within themselves to perform better in tomorrow’s world.