Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 296

Aké is a 1981 autobiographical memoir written by Nigerian author and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. In it, we learn of the author’s childhood spent in Aké, a Yoruba village in Nigeria, during World War II.

One of the themes in the book is the honesty and innocence of childhood and...

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Aké is a 1981 autobiographical memoir written by Nigerian author and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. In it, we learn of the author’s childhood spent in Aké, a Yoruba village in Nigeria, during World War II.

One of the themes in the book is the honesty and innocence of childhood and the joys of friendship and family. The author spent the first twelve years of his life in the picturesque village of Aké, and through his memories we discover the beautiful landscapes of Nigeria. At the same time, we familiarize ourselves with the various political and economic issues the country faced before and during World War II. Most notably, we learn how the adults with whom the author grew up with and the conditions in which he lived in influenced his later beliefs and shaped his character.

Another theme would be the importance of spirituality and religion. During the Second World War, many European (mainly British) colonies in Africa wanted to incorporate their religious beliefs into the beliefs of the local population. As a result, Christianity spread throughout the continent and many new religions born from the symbiosis of traditional African spiritualism and Christianity became quite popular. Soyinka explains how, as a child, he couldn’t really understand the separate religions and didn’t distinguish them. He believed that both religions—the paganism of the Yoruba and Christianity—were, in fact, very much similar. He respected both the beliefs of his people and the European colonizers and refused to judge the customs and traditions of both religions separately.

Aké is popular in literature for providing reliable and accurate information on African culture, tradition and day-to-day life before, during and after the Second World War, and is recognized as one of the most colorful memoirs in this genre.

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 373

The relationship of Christianity and the ancient Yoruba beliefs forms the backdrop of events in Aké. A prevailing theme is how the African beliefs combined and conflicted with the beliefs of Christianity. Since Soyinka’s parents and relatives from his mother’s side were devout Christians, Christian imagery from scriptures abounds in the narrative. The converts preached emphatically against the superstitions and ignorance of the general masses, yet the native beliefs were deeply ingrained in their daily lives.

The reminiscences of the elders were replete with their own or their friends’ encounters with the denizens of the spirit world. Soyinka’s uncle was believed to be an oro—a reincarnated spirit—who was befriended by the spirits in the woods where the children gathered firewood and edible plants. When he suffered from a mysterious ailment, the cure suggested by a convert acquaintance was to offer an appeasement feast to the offended spirits. It is hard to miss the irony in Soyinka’s mother’s admission that the sick child recovered after the unseen spirits had devoured the feast.

Similarly, no one in Aké challenged that the daughter of the bookseller—a family friend—was an abiku, someone who, under the spell of spirits, goes through a repeated cycle of birth and death. Her occasional trancelike state was attributed to these malevolent spirits who could be appeased only with a feast to honor them. These practices, in direct contradiction to Christian beliefs, remained unquestioned.

Even Beere Ransom-Kuti, the leader of the emerging women’s movement, was believed to possess supernatural powers. The word went around that it was her stern look at the haughty, disrespectful chieftain that brought on his stroke, bringing him literally to his knees. The power of the voodoo objects sneaked into the Kuti family compound was neutralized by the prayers of a church official. Similarly, the young aspirants for admission to the government college often resorted to voodoo practices to improve their chances, and ironically, if confronted by such an object, chanted SMOG (an acronym for Save Me O God) to ward off its evil effects. This juxtaposition of native practices and Christian remedies permeates the narrative and accounts for Soyinka’s subsequent loss of faith in his parents’ beliefs.

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