Folklore And The Quest For Re-Invention A Study Of Wole Soyinka’s Death And The King’s Horseman And Hope Eghagha’s Death Not A Redeemer

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Folklore And The Quest For Re-Invention A Study Of Wole Soyinka’s Death And The King’s Horseman And Hope Eghagha’s Death Not A Redeemer


Folklore as an aspect of the African oral tradition has been traced to traditional African society handed down by customs, beliefs and an aspect of culture handed down by our for forefathers through orature. Conflict that arises over death and the quest for re-invention in the plays of Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman (1975) and Hope Eghagha’s Death not a Redeemer, (1998) as well as the themes, genres, song and other aspect of oral literature that form its aesthetics. Sociological theory, the study of the human relation in the society will be used for the critical analysis of the two plays under study.

The analyses of the two plays have revealed the importance of folkloric tradition in the African oral tradition and it has also revealed that folklore helps Africans. Reunite with their traditional past which they have lost through colonialism. The conclusion is drawn from two perspectives of the playwrights, Wole Soyinka is saying that tradition must stand using Olunde to portray this view; Hope Eghagha on the other hand beliefs that tradition should be respected, but it is open to change, as the only permanent thing is change.

Chapter One

1.0 General Introduction

1.1 Introduction

A member of African dramatists who writes African plays in English Language adapt their work from the oral tradition particularly Wole Soyinka and Hope Enghagha whose works serve as the focus of this research.
Wole Soyinka’s Death and the king’s Horseman (1975) are based on ritual, custom, tradition of particular people, which is said to be folklore. Hope Eghagha’s Death not a Redeemer (1998) is motivated by Soyinka’s Death and the king’s Horse man (1975). Few definitions by scholars on folklore will give a better understanding on what folklore entails.

Edward D. Ivese and Joe Scott (1978) saw folklore as:

No song, no performance, no act of creation can be properly understood apart from the culture or sub-culture in which it is bound and which it is a part, nor should any work of art be looked on as a thing in itself apart from the (continuum of creation consumption).

Benjamin A. Botkin (1938) gives a very clear definition of what folklore is about.

Folklore is a body of traditional belief, custom and expression handed down largely by word of mouth and circulating chiefly outside of commercial and academic means of communication and instruction.

These definitions express what folklore entails in different words.

Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of that culture, sub culture or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folkloristic. The word ‘folklore’ was first used by the English antiquarian William Thomas in a letter published by the London journal in 1846. In usage, there is a continuum between folklore and mythology. Smith Thompson made a major attempt to index the motifs of both folklore and mythology providing an outline into which new motifs can be placed and scholars can track all older motifs.

Folklore can be divided into four areas of study, artifact (such as voodoo dollar), describable and transmissible entity (oral tradition), culture and behaviour (ritual). These areas do not stand alone; however, as often a particular item or element may fit into more than one of these areas.

Artif Of Acts

Object such as dolls, decorative items used in religious rituals, hand-built house and barn, and handmade clothing and other crafts are considered to be folk artifacts, grouped within the field as “Material” “culture”. Additionally, figures that depict characters from folklore, such as statues of the three wise monkeys may be considered to be folklore artifacts, depending on how they are used within a culture. The operative definition would depend on whether the artifacts are used and appreciated within the same community in which they are made, and whether they follow a community aesthetic (The three wise monkeys over the Tosho-gu shrine in Nikko, Japan).

Oral Tradition

Folklore can contain religious or mythic elements; it equally concerns itself with the sometimes mundane tradition of everyday life. Folklore frequently ties the practical and the esoteric into one narrative package. It has often been conflated with mythology, and vice versa, because it has been assumed that any figurative story that does not pertain to the dominant beliefs of the time is not of the same status as those dominant beliefs.

Sometimes folklore is religious in nature, like the talks of the Welsh Mabinogion or those found in ice landic skaldic poetry. Many of the tales in the Golden legend of Jacob de voragine also embody folklore elements in a Christian mythology are the themes woven round Saint George or Saint Christopher. In this case, the term ‘folklore’ is being used in a pejorative sense. That is, while the talk of Odin the Wanderer has a religious value to the Norse who composed the stories, because it does not fit into a Christian configuration it is not considered “religious” by Christians who may instead refer to it as “folklore”.

“Folktales” is a general term for different varieties of traditional narrative. The telling of stories appears to be a cultural universal activity common to basic and complex societies alike. Even the forms folktales take are certainly similar from culture to culture, and comparative studies of themes and narrative ways have been successful in showing these relationship. Also it is considered to be an oral tale to be told for everybody. On the other hand, folklore can be used to accurately describe a figurative narrative, which has no sacred or religions content. In the Jungian view, which is part of the method of analysis, it may instead pertain to unconscious psychological patterns, instincts or archetypes of the mind. This may or may not have components of the fantastic (such as magic, ethereal beings or the personification of in animate object). This folklore may or may not emerge from a religions tradition, but nevertheless speak to deep psychological issues. The familiar example tale may primarily be one of mundane, instruction regarding forest safety or secondarily a cautionary tale about the dangers of famine to large families, but as latent meaning may evoke a strong emotional response due to the widely understood themes and Motifs such as “the terrible Mother” “Death” and “Atonement with the father”.

There can be both moral and psychological scope to work, as well as entertainment value, depending upon the nature of the teller the style of the telling, the age the audience members, and the over all context of the performance. Folklorists generally resist universal interpretation of narrative and where ever possible, analyze oral versions of telling in specific contexts rather than print sources, which often show the work or bias of the writer.

Cultural Aspects Of Folklore And The Dynamics Of Culture

Folklore William Bascon says has many cultural aspects, such as allowing for escape from societal consequence. In addition, folklore can also serve to validate a culture (romantic nationalism) as well as transmit a culture’s morals and values. Folklore can also be the root of many cultural types of music; country blues and blues grass all originated from American folklore. Folklore can also be used to ascertain social pressures, or relieve them, for example in the case of humor and carnival. Folklorists study medical, supernatural, religious and political, belief system as an essential, often unspoken, part of expressive culture.

Mary Magonlick describes cultures as dynamic. Anthropologists and folklorists of previous generations sometimes lamented that an age of high technology and global capitalism would result in the demise of “traditional” cultures. Today, we more often consider culture and tradition as fluid and dynamic resources which interact with the modern world, rather than bearing over run or determined by it.

Folklorists Barre Toelkens Sums up the current view of many scholars about the dynamism and vitality of “culture”. In folklore, as in the biological world, variation from a hypothetical norm is universal. No two individuals are exactly alike in every detail no matter how closely related. Variation affects every sort of characteristics, structural or functional, and occurs in tradition. Toelken says: (1996)

“Folklore is ever-changing, always developing, on the move.”

Toelken also stresses that folklore and cultural processes are all linked by single force. The interactive dynamics of living culture. They can be studied but such studies will offer greater insight when built upon the premise that cultures always change. As scholars from all fields, including physics are nothing, the whole universe and everything within it is in constant movement and flux.

When the modern notion of culture was first margined by Victorian Scholars, it was used to prove the evolutionary model Western civilization as the apex of human possibility. These thinkers had Darien’s evolutionary model to work from, and thereby recognize change as a constant force in earlier history. In 19th century Edward Tylor defines culture synonymous with civilization as: (1970)

“That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Although this definition seems very inclusive and wide ranging, its ultimate effect is to define and ultimately to limit culture as a particular “whole” Tylor accounted for the messiness of his categories with concepts like “Survivals” bits of culture that hang on into the next stage of evolution (1970).

Clifford Geertz sees culture as equivalent to a text, and therefore something to be interpreted, Shery B. Ortner explains his concept of cultures “Geertz” arranged that: (1999)

“Culture must be seen as the webs of meaning within which people live, meaning encoded in symbolic forms that may be understood through acts of interpretation analogous to work of literary critics…”

Geertz’s notion of culture spurred a generation of ethnography and interpretation of cultural production. The notion and practice of “think description” that he contributed are still valuable. Culture has never been seen as other than complex; yet the full measure of its complexity, the extent of the “web” is now emerging as process as vast and overwhelming as life and cosmology.

Contemporary Oral Tradition

Many genres of folklore have vanished forever with the passing of lest tradition bearers familiar with them. There is living folklore all around. Complex work place lore, various contemporary tales, legend and anecdotes, rumors, parodies on proverbs and riddle. It will be interesting to see that relationship between traditional agrarian folklore and contemporary forms of folklores in the near future, the traditional taxonomy, the perspectives contributed by the theory of immanent Art, ethnopoetics, cognitive, science, structuralism, sociolinguistic, psycholinguistic, as well as the notion of folkloristic variation.

These developments all represent a shift away from the world of old text criticism of purely and solely diachronic or typologically oriented frame works, and they also mean a shift away from the world of grammar new syntheses.
Tradition and Authenticity: cultural renewed occurs individually, flowing from and shaping individual lives, while shaping and resonating with lager patterns of traditions, worldview, and personal inspiration. Tradition flows into and from this process of convergence. Classic defines tradition as: (1995).

“History, culture, and the human actor meet tradition, which is volitional, temporal action”.

When humans commit to willful acts of creation intended to express cultural or social connection, they are participating authentically in traditional culture. Throughout time and space cultures change and adapt rather than die.

Dell Hymes (1975) understands tradition in equally fluid and emergent terms:

“the traditional begins with the personal. Its distribution in history, in a community, is important, but secondary, not defining. Something’s partakes of the nature of the traditional already when the effort to traditionalize has brought it into bearing… intact traditional is not so much a matter re-creation, by successive persons and generations, and in individual performance. ”

Folklore and tradition both rest on notions of situation creativity and performance.

Demallie (1988) develops his definition of culture with consideration of the dynamic and fluid nature of culture. He notes that both symbols and their associated meanings change over time and according to various outside and inside influences, providing the dynamic that keeps human groups in constant flux. Such fluidity of culture is universal and natural. Give this fluid and dynamic definition of culture. “authemtic” need only refer to moments of creativity or interpretation, when individual commitment brings social association. So long as one acts freely, with desire to connect to the “traditional” within a society (i.e, the work and ideals of other society members which are also willful, creative and consciously connected to values or ideals of a social group) resultant creations, expressions or interpretation are authentic.

Folklore In New World Black Fiction: Writing And Oral Tradition Aesthetics (Reinvention Of Culture) Chiji Akoma

The complexity of the new world demands that any meaningful exploration of its cultural landscape, especially with reference to its literary production, take not of the regions multiple racial identifies, the histories of slavery, military conquest and various forms of migration to the area in different time and circumstances. For a study on folkloric forms in narratives by writers of African descent in the new world, it is certainly important to bear that complexity in mind. Although this work draws from African oral performance aesthetics in the examination of works by selected authors.

The intersections between African folkloric practices and other cultural traditions that is present in these texts. It is fair to claim a black bias based on the preponderance of signals indicative of that heritage and on the strength of the claims made by the authors. This point is worth emphasizing, for in a region composed of indigenous people and descendants of people from Africa, Asia, and Europe it is tempting to view literary production through the prison of it’s most dominant number, the United States, which despite the growing visibility of its minority writers. For much of the Southern Hemisphere that has long come under the political and economic dominance of the North and Europe, the ramification of this dominance might be felt through the marginalization that occurs due to limited access to the world stage.

In the context of such dominance, many despotic black writers have sought to assert their place in the New World’s cultural production through conscious engagement with and tribute to their continental African heritage, defined by oral verbal arts and folklore. It is not difficult to assess the reason behind the close association between folklore and New World written narrative tradition.

1.2 Purpose Of The Study

The particular purpose of this research topic is primarily to do a critical analysis on Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman (1975) bringing out the conflict over death in the play, And also Hope Eghagha’s Death not a Redeemer (1998). The Theme, genre, Rhythm, song, method language, and cartelization will be analyzed in both plays.

The project work is intends to bring into focus folklore and the quest for re-invention and how the selected authors have been able to portray this in their various play.

1.3 Scope And Limitation Of The Study

This project work is limited to Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman (1975) and Hope Eghagha’s Death not a Redeemer (1998) brings out the folklore in both works and also establishing the re-invention that occurred in folklore.

This work is going to critically look at the conflict over death in both plays and also move on to analyzing theme, Genre, language, method, characterization, song, Rhythm in both plays. Then the project gives a general conclusion of the entire work, how the project work will be beneficial to all.

1.4 Justification Of The Study

This project work looks at folklore because it has been long forgotten; bring a re-birth of folklore in a different way. Doing a merging of two different plays, a play that has been written since 1975 by Wole Soyinka and a very new play written in 1998. This two plays can not be compared, but they both deal with folklore, death and re-invention. That is why this project decided to use both authors, for the project work, because that is what is suitable for the topic.
This research work specifically discusses the issue of conflict over death in Wole Soyinka’s Death and the king’s Horseman(1975) and Hope Eghagha’s Death not a Redeemer (1998), it will also deal with analyzing Rhythm, theme, Genre, language, cartelization, song in both plays.

1.5 Research Methodology

This research work sets to examine folklore and the quest for re-invention in the selected work. To this extent, sociological method is adopted for the research. Sociological theory is centered on the attempt to understand the society. Sociological theory relies heavily on the scientific method, its objective, and does not presume to judge the society. Sociological theory has separated itself from the other ‘social sciences’ with its focus on society, a concept that goes beyond nation and includes organization and relationships. The proponents are Jurgen Habermars, Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, Dorothy Smith, Alfred Schutz, Jeffrey Alexander and others.

Some of the key developments that influenced sociological theory were: the rise of individualization the appearance of the modern state, industrialization, and capitalism, colonization and globalization and the world wars.

Sociological theory includes conflict theory, critical theory, Ethnomethodology, feminist theory, functionalism, interpretive sociology. But this research work will be looking at Ethnomethodology because it’s examines how people make sense out of social life in the process of living it. This aspect is chosen because it deals more with the project work.

1.6 Organization Of Chapters

The project work shall be divided into five chapters.

  • Chapter one is the introduction to the topic. The chapter contains scope and limitation of the study, purpose of the study, justification of the study, research methodology and organization of the chapters.
  • Chapter two is the literature review.
  • While chapter three is the conflict over death in Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman (1975) and the conflict over death and the quest for reinvention in Hope Eghagha’s Death not a Redeemer(1998).
  • Chapter four is the analysis of Death and the King’s Horseman (1975) and Hope Eghagha’s Death not a Redeemer(1998),
  • While chapter five is the conclusion, findings and Recommendation.

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