Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

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.