A Dance of the Forests

by Wole Soyinka

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

A Dance of the Forests by Wole Soyinka was a controversial play in Soyinka's native Nigeria at the time it premiered. A Dance of the Forests was performed during the 1960 Nigerian independence celebration. Soyinka wrote the play as a warning to Nigeria and other African countries about the dangers of repeating past mistakes politically, socially, and economically. In essence, Soyinka was stating that postcolonial Nigeria could veer towards the same exploitation and oppression that colonizers inflicted upon the native people.

Soyinka knew that there would be a power vacuum in the country after it obtained independence and that the Nigerian political elite were just as capable of negatively affecting the new nation as the foreign invaders of the past. The play and its central message angered the political establishment, and the new Nigerian government deemed the publication and performance of A Dance of the Forests an act of rebellion.

This reaction is understandable from the elite's point of view, since the play portrayed the Nigerian politicians at the time as corrupt, greedy, and inept. However, this portrayal is considered by many African historians to have been fairly accurate. Soyinka portrayed the government as aimless and disorganized. He depicted the politicians as more concerned with fighting each other for power and wealth than trying to improve the country.

Soyinka was aware that the colonial powers had made sure that the Nigerian political arena was divided, so that if and when the colonial powers lost control of Nigeria, the local politicians would struggle to unite the country, allowing the colonials powers to continue taking economic and political advantage of Nigeria. These were the same tactics of division and diversion that allowed the colonialists to control and govern Nigeria in the first place. Soyinka's criticism of imperialism in Nigeria and other African nations was the prelude for articulating his vision of a new Africa. Soyinka proposed solidarity, or what could be called Pan-Africanism, and advocated for the implementation of a pure form of democracy.

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