Monday, October 07, 2013

257. Kongi's Harvest by Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka's writings are like the palm kernel: difficult to penetrate but once inside it is all sweetness; however, even when the reading seem simple, the meaning is far hidden within a hard epicarp. The Nobelist is always on a different plane with his works and do not make things easy for the reader. The fun is for the reader to discover his or her own understanding or interpretation, just like any work of art. Yet, it is difficult for one to say 'Eureka' when it comes to Soyinka's works and I definitely am far from shouting famous Greek phrase. His Madmen and Specialists still keeps me thinking, more than a year later. 

Kongi's Harvest (EPP Book Services, FP: 1965; 90) is no different. It is a complete Soyinka in words and spirit. Interspersed with humour, as most plays are, the story portrays the clash between traditional rule, represented by the Oba Danlola, and the modern system of governance, represented by Kongi. The dramatist extraordinaire, as usual mocks the political system - that elitist establishment draped in a facade of citizenry representation, especially the supposed modern system that is expected or projected to turn things around with one wave of the wand but which has become the route to accumulating wealth and power. He shows that the kind of democracy practiced in some of these countries, inclusive of his native Nigeria (where he has been fighting one government after another) though not limited to Africa's most populous country, are nothing other than a poor imitation of the traditional system without the burden of the traditional leaders. These 'democratised' leaders enjoy the trappings of both the old and the new they poorly represent. Kongi Harvest breathes life into the saying that in any African country of two literati or intellectuals, one is the president and the other is in exile.

Kongi, elected leader of the people, has put the traditional leader, the Oba Danlola, under some form of an arrest; his movements are restricted and his conclave of elders has been disbanded. However, Kongi has formed his own fraternity, the Reformed Aweri Fraternity, an imitation of the Oba's Conclave of Elders. When Kongi took his followers to a retreat in the mountains to develop his Five-Year Development Plan, to be based on harmony but also to exercise dominance and control, they (the followers, who describe themselves as a conclave of youthful patriarchs) sought to mould their image by adopting the 'remote and impersonal' image and the 'paraphernalia' of the elders. Thus, the move from traditional rule to modern democracy was only in name. In fact, the RAF sought to maintain the elemental characteristics of traditional rule - patriarchy and deification - in the new system. 

Combining this with Soyinka's memoir, You Must Set Forth at Dawn, the author seems to be insinuating that through our servility, obsequiousness, and greed, attitudes we quickly put on in attempt to please the leader and benefit from the booties of the state, we become accomplices in the leader's transformation into a monster. This transmogrification of leaders results when all around him, instead of being truthful with the leader, become sibilant praise-singers. In this story, when Kongi considered himself the god of the people and hence requested to be served with the first yams of the harvest, his fraternity suddenly considered him as the new god of the country and his every statement became a command; so that in their search for an image, they considered adopting 'Positive Scientificism', after the treatment of such philosophy in Kongi's newly published book. They only think what the leader has already thought and are always eager to regurgitate his speeches, fighting among themselves to do his bidding. Consequently, all of Kongi's followers behaved and acted like zombies.

Kongi's quest for complete dominance over the people directly contradicts the basis of his Five-Year Development Plan; to achieve this, and be their god, he must find a way for the Oba to voluntarily submit to him, by presenting the first yams to him, in the presence of the people. However, the cunning Oba is not willing to forgo the last thread of his significance to Kongi who has taken over the administration of country. In the end the Oba has to escape into exile.

Hooking the story together is a thread of beautiful dialogue and sexually suggestive conversations between Daodu - the Oba's nephew - and his fiance.

I suspect that there is more to this play than I have been able to glean; consequently, like other Soyinka works, I want to know if you have read it and, if so, what you think or got from this play.
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