Wole Soyinka Questions and Answers

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In The Swamp Dwellers, discuss the plight of the swamp dwellers. How does Soyinka convey it artistically?

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Felicita Burton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The swamp in Wole Soyinka’s play is at once an actual physical environment and a metaphor for the rural life that both sustains and constrains the people who live near it. To stay in one’s native environment represents the continuity of indigenous African culture; by extension, leaving the swamp means, on some level, rejecting Africanness for the imposed, European-derived lifestyle. Continued observance of traditional life is presented through Makuri and Alu; despite their disagreements, for them the swamp is life-giving. For example, the reeds and mud give them baskets and paints. The people’s attachment to this environment is not wholly salubrious, however; superstition supports their belief in a Serpent that must be propitiated, which endows excessive power in the priest, Kadiye. In stark contrast, Soyinka represents the rejection of the swamp through the character of Awuchike, who is pursuing commercial success in the city. Back home, however, his mother believes that he drowned in the swamp—and for him, to stay home would have been like dying.

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Pauline Sheehan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In The Swamp Dwellers, Wole Soyinka exposes the conflicts between the opposing cultures present in a pre and post colonial Nigeria and also within cultures themselves. The religious Kadiye, an elder and adviser to the humble swamp people is "fat" and contrasts with the families and especially the beggar, bringing his sincerity into question and later exposing him. The hard-working locals, full of superstitions and longing rely on the land and the floods constantly ruin their crops. Kadiye cannot stop the floods and yet he still takes from the people who trust him and believe in him. Makuri, and his wife Alu, refuse to believe what their sons tell them. Makuri is prevented from getting the most out of his land because of his traditions and superstitions.

Rural life and the allure of the city are also contrasts that the swamp dwellers must contend with as Makuri's sons go off to the city like so many others, most of whom do not return to help their aging families. City lifestyles also reverberate throughout the community and the definition of "family" and filial piety and unquestioning devotion of the swamp dwellers is brought into question amongst inconsistencies and contradictions. Soyinka conveys the difficulties through the creation of characters that embody specific antagonistic or opposing personalities. Kadiye, the beggar and Igwezu each present the opportunist, the ideal or the striving for it and the effect of making choices whether in a rural  setting or city bound. 

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