(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Aiyeru, a coastal African “farming and fishing community” whose main moneymaking industry is boat building, is isolated from the rest of the country by lagoons and is approachable only by boat. It has kept its traditional ways, while most of the country, notably the modern city of Ilosa, has yielded to foreign influences. It has only recently come to the attention of the public as a curiosity for tourists and sociologists. The National Cocoa Corporation sees it as a new region to be exploited and has sent its promotions group, headed by Ofeyi, the protagonist, to prepare the way. The meeting of Ofeyi and Aiyeru, however, is to have far different consequences. Uncomfortable in a Westernized Africa and dissatisfied with his role as a jingle-maker for the Corporation, Ofeyi brings to Aiyeru subversive ideas about farming and, later, revolutionary ideas for transforming the entire society, ideas that, Ofeyi is surprised to learn, are fundamental to Aiyeru’s way of life. Ofeyi complains to Ahime, the chief minister, that Aiyeru has neglected its social responsibility; it must pursue a more aggressive role in counteracting the alien influences that are corrupting the country. It is only Ofeyi’s naivete and ignorance that prevent him from recognizing that Ahime is far ahead of him in understanding his concerns and that Aiyeru is already, under the guise of a safe, peaceable village, engaged in spreading its ideas through those children of Aiyeru who live outside the community. Ahime does not immediately enlighten Ofeyi (the reader also remains uninformed), but he is pleased with Ofeyi’s plans and, in fact, has half expected such a messenger to appear. The chief elder, the Custodian of the Grain, even chooses Ofeyi, an outsider, to replace him—a startling and incredible proposal which Ofeyi rejects, for it entails being both the spiritual and the physical propagator of the species in Aiyeru. Yet Ofeyi does figuratively take on the job—Wole Soyinka describes a mystical merger of the two during the old man’s funeral—when Ofeyi asks Ahime for the right to use Aiyeru men in a two-year campaign to challenge the government Cartel and the Corporation. While such activities are already going on, Ahime welcomes...

(The entire section is 904 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Gibbs, James, ed. Critical Perspectives on Wole Soyinka, 1980.

Moore, Gerald. Twelve African Writers, 1980.

Moore, Gerald. Wole Soyinka, 1971, 1978.

Palmer, Eustace. The Growth of the African Novel, 1980.