The subject matter in A Dance of the Forests involves gods and mortals, the living and the dead. They participate in the Forest Dance to highlight the importance of the past in determining the present (especially in regards to the African nation of Nigeria).
There is a huge array of characters in this play that are both living and dead. It is through the observations of the character called Dead Woman that we learn the most about Soyinka’s thoughts in regards to contemporary Africa. In short, Dead Woman asserts the following:
The world is big but the dead are bigger. We’ve been dying since the beginning.
This is a perfect summation of Soyinka’s thoughts about the link between past and present. Keep in mind that Soyinka is writing for a Nigerian audience right after many African countries had achieved independence. Despite the positive outlook of most Africans of the time, Soyinka is trying to get the continent to consider the past and to remember that poverty and violence and discrimination happened in the past and could absolutely happen again. Soyinka presents this point by using the interaction between gods and mortals through the “trial” of two living persons during the Forest Dance. According to Soyinka, rituals such as this are the only way to traverse the divide between past and present.