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London: Oxford University Press, 1964.
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Author of the Entry:
Divine Che Neba, firstname.lastname@example.org and Chester Mbangchia, University of Yaounde 1, email@example.com
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Daniel Nkemleke, University of Yaounde 1, firstname.lastname@example.org
Eleanor A. Dasi, University of Yaounde 1, email@example.com
Lisa Maurice, Bar-Ilan University, firstname.lastname@example.org
, b. 1934
Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka (Wole Soyinka) is a Nigerian poet, playwright, and essayist who, in 1986, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award, 2009. His writings cut across the three main genres of literature: drama, prose, and poetry. Soyinka’s writings capture the traditional African scenery, clash of cultures and the interception of African (particularly his Yoruba) mythologies and other myths of the world. In addition, he is a professor of Comparative Literature. Further, in December 2017, he was awarded the Europe Theatre Prize, falling among the “Special Prize Category”.
Bio prepared by Divine Che Neba, University of Yaounde 1, email@example.com and Chester Mbangchia, University of Yaounde 1, firstname.lastname@example.org
The play dramatizes an end of year festival, based on the belief that a scapegoat of the village cleanses the community from all impurities. Divided in two parts, it centres on its protagonist, Eman, who is a member of The Strong Breed in the village. He is the one to facilitate the tradition of Egugun, a festival in the Delta region of Nigeria, by offering himself as a sacrificial lamb for the clan. Set in two villages, The Strong Breed begins in the evening before the purification festival. The people plan to sacrifice a stranger, an idiot boy, Ifada. This is revealed through Eman’s (the protagonist) conversation with Sunma.
In front of his house, a new house in a foreign village, where people refer to him as a teacher, Eman discusses with Sunma, his host in his adopted village, about his reluctance to leave the village with her, despite her advice that he should leave the village immediately in the night. However, Eman wishes to attend the festival at all costs before leaving the following day (the first day of the new year), demonstrating the Yoruba saying that “A dog that is destined to be lost never heeds the hunter’s warning whistle”. Eman notices the idiot boy, Ifada, playing outside his house, and to his surprise Sunma treats the boy as an inferior caste. Eman, however, does not see Ifada as an outcast and demands that Sunma treats him the same way as other boys of his age, and tells her that the boy happens to be unlucky. As they argue on what to do about the boy’s situation, a little sick girl comes along with Ifada, dragging along an effigy of a human being. Eman and Sunma’s discussion turns to focus on the girl. The girl serves as the author’s mouthpiece, and explains what her mother believes about the effigy (the Carrier or scapegoat). Yet again, Sunma gets furious over the little girl who demands dresses for the effigy. The scenario ends with a quarrel between Ifada and the little girl, while Ifada is beating the effigy to get rid of the girl’s illness.
The play continues with Sunma’s continuous plea that Eman leaves the village, as she relates the hatred that the villagers have for him. Through her, the audience learn that her father, Jaguna, became a priest of the festival so as to ascertain that all the sacrifices are made for the village to get rid of the evil. Unable to persuade Eman to leave, Sunman summits to his demand: that they leave together on the night of the festival.
Drums are heard offstage, indicating the movement of the people to arrest Ifada for the sacrifice. Ifada, who for the while has been running behind the girl to use her as Carrier, refuses to use it. Terrified by what will happen to the innocent boy, Eman decides to hide him from the villagers, going against Sunma’s cry that he should not be involved in it. The leaders of the group of drummers are Jaguna and his friend Oroge. They bang on the door and Eman opens it, but denies that the boy is hiding inside. Jaguna and his team warn Sunma to caution his friend Eman to handover the boy. Frightened by the group’s desire to burn his house should he not cooperate, Eman hands over Ifada and warns them against any assault against a boy as innocent as Ifada, comparing the boy to himself, an outsider, who cannot be used as a Carrier. The people then decide that he is the right person to be sacrificed. Terrified, he escapes into the shrubs towards the river, looking for water to quench his thirst.
The play progresses with a projected consciousness, wherein Eman recollects his family’s role as Carriers. Another flashback takes Eman to the time when he was unwilling to return to his village, when his beloved wife Omae died while giving birth to his child. His thoughts switch to the advice of a Old Man’s, that as member of the strong breed family (carriers), one cannot escape from the duties of a Carrier. Another flashback takes Eman to the time when some men wanted to catch him and Omae talked to him about the initiation into manhood. During the initiations, Eman escapes and only returns after twelve years, thereby believing in the rites of his people. As the play ends, another projected consciousness shifts to the present where Eman, in the purification ritual, is hanged?, and during the process, reflects on the powerlessness of Sunma and Ifada, who are helpless because of the loss of their friend (Eman himself), who has been used to purify the land.
In The Strong Breed, Soyinka combines African and ancient Greek mythologies. The scapegoat principle, which is the central motif in The Strong Breed is analogous to the Thargelia festival in honour of Apollo. During the Thargelia festival, as the Greeks record, a man was stoned, beaten and driven out of the city, as a means of purifying the city. Like Eman, who serves as the sacrificial lamb in Egugun (of the Delta region in Nigeria), the Athenians believed that stoning and beating of the scapegoat cleanses the society and its inhabitants from sin.
In addition, the ancient Greek myth of the Phoenix and the blood sacrifices are adapted by Soyinka to structure his play. The myth of the Phoenix, where the Phoenix rejuvenates and become healthier and mightier than before is depicted through the family line of the Strong Breed in the play. Death amongst the Strong Breed, especially that of Eman’s father, is an opportunity for rebirth. Eman grows up and offers himself as a sacrifice to purify the land. Just as the Phoenix dies by burning, and then resurrects in order to regain its form, Eman sacrifices himself in order to save the community, by purifying it. In The Strong Breed, Eman’s family line, as old as the Phoenix, has the task to carry the boat’ (or the ills of the society), something that his father has done for over twenty years. His departure indicates time passing, and necessitates the rise of a new generation of strong breeds. Although Soyinka adapts the myth of the Phoenix, Eman does not resurrect physically like the Phoenix. Concurrently, his spirit and blood renews and cleanses the land.
Soyinka, Wole. The Trials of Brother Jero: And the Strong Breed; Two Plays. Dramatists Play Service Inc, 1969.
Van den Broek, Roeelof. The Myth of the Phoenix: According to Classical and Early Christian Traditions. [Translated by I. Seeger]. Vol. 24. Brill Archive, 1972.