Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 750
The opening sentences of Aké provide a major clue to one of the work’s key elements. This opening introduces the reader, without any warning, to an unfamiliar world. The view of the landscape presented is not very distinct, as most readers will not share the author’s intimacy with the various landmarks. Similarly, the names seem not to belong to known places and the associations and significance of those names speak of a culture, language, and perspective that have little to do with Western orientations. Yet, what most readers find foreign is home to the author, and the distinctiveness and reality of that home is what Soyinka wishes to affirm and sustain throughout Aké. By opening the work as he does, Soyinka is both conjuring up a world and declaring that world’s independence. The land of Aké is a reality because it is different, mysterious, and unknown.
It is in such terms that young Wole’s experiences are shaped. His story continually returns to those elements that are fundamental to his native world. These elements constitute all that is necessary to sustain a rich and rewarding life. Soyinka skillfully varies the rate at which such elements are encountered. Some of them are featured as constants—among these, foodstuffs and language are the most prominent. From the point of view of telling his story, there is no necessity for Soyinka to include numerous phrases in the Yoruba language. As reminders that English is a secondary language, not required in order to carry out life’s various duties and transactions, however, the Yoruba phrases are the most significant. They reveal the people’s independence and self-sufficiency.
Similarly, the profusion of foodstuffs that crowd the pages strongly identifies the people of Aké as self-supporting. Not only is there no shortage of essential foodstuffs, but there is also a highly developed native cuisine. Moreover, food is not merely pleasing to the palate. It is also used as medication. By emphasizing this fundamental fact of life—food—Soyinka provides numerous important reminders of the culture, life-style, and sufficiency of life in his native place. These reminders reveal their significance in the context of the tax revolt with which the story of the author’s childhood concludes. This tax revolt, as Soyinka’s mention of various Nigerian patriots of the time suggests, was one of the early incidents in the struggle for Nigerian independence.
More striking than the use of Yoruba and the presence of food is the authour’s depiction of various native religious observances. The inclusion of this material is perhaps the most obvious way in which Soyinka insists on the independence and distinctiveness of his background. The incident featuring juju (magic) at the government school, toward the end of the book, is the sharpest reflection of the influence of an imported culture. This episode may also be used as a vantage point from which to look back on the use of native religion throughout the narrative. Its presence, however, is not intended to make irrelevant the world of government school, district officers, and the Lagos administration. As the closing page of Aké makes clear, young Wole’s future is thought to be inevitably in the hands of colonial culture. With the nature of Soyinka’s Western education in mind, however, it is all the more noteworthy to observe his emphasis on the native elements of Aké.
The issue of native culture also arises through the way in which Soyinka uses local characters. It is clear that the world of Aké changes during Wole’s childhood. The awareness of World War II is part of the change, as is the presence of the automobile, gramophone, and radio. Yet, the impact of such innovations is habitually thought of by Soyinka in terms of the community’s survival. Despite traveling to England through waters infested by U-boats, Mr. and Mrs. Ransome-Kuti return safely. They also succeed in making their mark in relevant English circles and in translating the nature and significance of their trip back into local conditions. This couple provides the focus for the complicated links between literacy, political awareness, and a sense of independence.
Soyinka’s references to the pop music and fast-food outlets found in the downtown Aké of his adulthood show that the sense of independence that animated his childhood has not been maintained as he would have wished. This realization makes Aké not only an engaging recollection of childhood innocence and delight but a significant cultural testament as well.