Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 568
In Ake, Soyinka recounts his childhood in the teeming Yoruba world of the most densely populated black African country. He supplies a plethora of details of life in a household in which both African tradition and Christianity are honored. The young Wole enjoys the sights and smells of the busy markets to which women walked many miles carrying their goods and is attracted to the dancing, music, egungun (ancestral masquerade), and ogboni meetings. The whole household carefully monitors him to end his compulsive habit of swiping akara in the pantry. Asked to perform for visitors, the precocious Wole is ambivalent. While Soyinka does convey momentary disgust or despair, nearly all of his memories are happy ones; an exception is his account of Folasade’s illness and death.
Soyinka’s style in Ake is rich and lyrical. He makes use of innumerable Yoruba words and proverbs and many synonyms and spelling variants. His reader cannot fail to be dazzled by the vivid details of the Episcopal Bishops Court compound and St. Peter’s Church. He conveys a sense of the child’s constant movement about the home and outside, cataloging the abundance of flora and his home’s smells, tastes, and sights: slogans stitched into samplers, the contents of many mysterious jars and bottles in his mother’s bedroom.
Soyinka’s characterizations are remarkably astute. At the age of three, he follows his sister to school, which to him seems a fascinating play place; the perceptive headmaster receives him in all seriousness and thereafter frequently invites the gifted Wole for lunch. Several episodes show the shrewd negotiations his mother carries on with his father. Soyinka’s tone is playful as he deftly reveals the essence of relatives’ and visitors’ personalities. He subtly conveys the child’s emerging awareness of his father as the latter enacts his daily routine of dressing, exercising, tending his roses, conferring, and disciplining.
Rich details of childhood experiences are at times interwoven with equally vivid images of commercialization and cultural degradation:The Hausa women who sold guguru carefully graded their corn; we combined in our purchases the hard-roasted teeth-breakers, the fluffy, off-white floaters and the half-and-half, inducing variations into taste-buds with slices of coconut or measures of groundnuts. Today’s jaws on Dayisi’s Walk appear no less hard-worked, indeed they champ endlessly—on chewing gum. Among the fantasy stores lit by neon and batteries of coloured bulbs a machine also dispenses popcorn, uniformly fluffed.
Even in his indictments of Westernization, Soyinka’s verbal dexterity and inventiveness are apparent:The blare of motor-horns compete with a high-decibel outpouring of rock and funk and punk and other thunk-thunk from lands of instant-culture heroes. Eyes glazed, jaws in constant, automated motion, the new habituees mouth the confusion of lyrics belted out.
Soyinka offers the viewpoint of a child on the successful Women’s Movement campaign to abolish the market tax. One national leader, Azikiwe, takes up the call for an end to taxation and presses it further, calling for an end to white man’s rule. In a confrontation, the district officer’s rudeness so angers the women that they riot, demand his immediate removal from the premises, and sing a male war song. Near the scene of their siege, a baby girl is born—a good sign. Beere leads the negotiations with the new district officer, pressing the women’s demands until the tax is dropped.