Does Death and the King's Horseman prove there was a failure of the native tribe to maintain their cultural identity?
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If this play is a question of failure, it is important to be very clear about who precisely is to be blamed. It seems rather extreme to blame the tribe as a whole for failing to maintain their cultural identity, when the failure was down to one man, Elesin, and his failure to die at the appointed time. In Scene 5, Elesin, talking in private to his wife, acknowledges that his failure to commit suicide was not down to the interruption of Pilkings, but rather his own unwillingness to relinquish life:
You were the final gift of the living to their emissary to the land of the ancestors, and perhaps your warmth and youth brought new insights of this world to me and turned my feet leaden on this side of the abyss. For I confess to you, daughter, my weakness came not merely from the abomination of the white man who came violently into my fading presence, there was also a weight of longing on my earth-held limbs.
Elesin therefore acknowledges that the tragedy of this play is largely down to his own lack of will. If he were stronger in his own spirit and determination to do what he needed to do and commit ritual suicide, he could have done so, as he acknowledges in this speech. Elesin did not carry out his duty as the King's Horseman, and as a result caused massive havoc and chaos, resulting in his own son's death as he tries to make right his father's failure to kill himself at the appointed time. The failure therefore is not to be placed on the tribe, even though Pilkings tries to do so at the end of the play. The failure is to be firmly placed in Elesin's quarter.
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