What do the similarities and differences between the two cultures in Death and the King's Horseman demonstrate?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is interesting that Soyinka himself said that the main theme was not the culture clash between the British colonial administration and the Yoruba culture but the dereliction of duty of Elesin and the question of honour. Putting this aside for one moment, it is clear that the culture clash between these two very different cultures is something that dominates the play and, at least in part, helps drive it towards its tragic conclusion. In Act 2 and Act 4, the two cultures are clearly juxtaposed in ways that highlight the radically different worldviews possessed by each. It is hard not to avoid the conclusion that British culture comes off worse with these encounters. For example, in Act 2, the Pilkingtons dress in traditional Yoruba costume which represents a taboo, and they do this for a fancy dress ball, shocking Joseph and demonstrating a massive lack of sensitivity and awareness of Yoruba culture. It is hard not to agree with Olunde in Act 4 when he says to Jane:

Yet another error into which your people fall. You believe that eveyrthing which appears to make sense was learnt from you.

The clash of cultures highlights the difficulties of creating any meaningful engagement between the two different groups of people and shows the tendency of the British culture to dismiss anything that they do not understand as being "barbaric" or "uncivilised." It also demonstrates the tendency of one culture to dominate and demean another culture in cases of cultural conflict, which is clearly what occurred at various points during colonial history, if not being a dominant motif. 


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