Name : Upadhyay Devangana S.
Subject : African Literature
Topic : Tradition Vs Morality in Wole Soyinka’s ‘The Swamp Dwellers’
Stander : M.A.
Submitted to : Department of English, MKB University
Semester : 04
‘The Swamp Dwellers’ was first seen when it was submitted to the 1958University of London Drama Competition and then a year later in Ibadan, when it was presented with The Lion the Jewel. Unfortunately records of reviews of the London performance could not be obtained. In Nigeria, however, Sangodare Akanji gave in-depth reviews of both plays as presented by the Student Dramatic Society in February 1959. These plays were directed by Geoffrey Axworthy. The reviewer’s comments focus more on the literary and less on the theatrical merits of both plays. For instance, about the Lion and the Jewel he comments: “Wole Soyinka has an instinct for the stage and the dramatic situation. He can create convincing characters and he has a superb sense of humour.” Akanji then uses the remainder of the review to explore the central characters in the play. A similar approach is used in The Swamp Dwellers where the introduction of the review evaluates theme.
The Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka was one of the few African writers to denounce the slogan of Negritude as a tool of autocracy. He also was the first black African to be awarded the Noble Prize in Literature.
Wole Soyinka was born July 13, 1934 in Abeokuta a village on the banks of the River Ogun in the western area of Nigeria. His mother was a Christian convert so devout that he nicknamed her “Wild Christian” and he father was the scholarly headmaster of a Christian primary school whom he nicknamed “Essay” – a play on his occupation and his initials S.A. Soyinka was educated through the secondary level in Ibadan and later attended University Collage, Ibadan, and the University of Leeds, from which he graduated honors. He worked for a brief period at Royal Court Theatre in London before returning to Nigeria in 1960. His play, “The Invention” was staged in 1957 at the Royal Court Theatre. At that time his only published works were poems such as “The Immigrant” and “My Next Door Neighbor,” which appeared in the magazine Black Orpheus. Two of Soyinka’s plays The Lion and the Jewel and The Swamp Dwellers were performed by students at Ibadan in 1960. Later that year his play A Dance in the forest was produced for the Nigerian independence celebrations. In 1963 Oxford University press issued a collection of his plays. These were ‘the Trials of Brother Jero’, ‘The Strong Breed’, ‘The Swamp Dwellers’, and ‘The Lion and the Jewel’. He also continued to publish poetry in Black Orpheus and other journals, and he was very active in theater group activities in Nigeria.
· Tradition Vs Modernity
Tradition and Modernity both are opposite from each others. It was very difficult to tell that which path that we want to followed. Tradition is good or Modernity is good. Tradition and Modernity is issues is not new but very old. With the development of human being this problem was comes to in exist. In the play also we can find the same problem. Igwezu and Awuchike they both are twins. One is representing Tradition and another is representing modernity.
The Swamp Dweller by Wole Soyinka is a backward village of Nigeria in the Delta region. But the characters of the play often have important interaction with the town life. Typical to the people of a poverty ridden village, the town is a place of money, and luxury to the Swamp dwellers. To the older generation of the swamp dwellers however the town is the symbol of corruption. Here the attitudes to the city life are mainly expressed by Alu, Makuri, Igwezu, and Kadiye. The older generations’ views to the city are expressed through Alu and Makuri. Alu and Makuri have two sons Awuhike and Igwezu. Both of their sons went to the city for better prospects.
But Awuchike attracted by city cuts of all his with his parents. This ungratefulness even more consolidates Alu and Makuri’s prejudice against the city. This ungratefulness even more consolidates Alu that Awuchike went to the city because he had go sick of the Swam. Moreover, Makuri says that young men go to the city because he had go sick of the money. But most of them forget their folk and cut their relation with the roots, says Makuri.
To Makuri the city is the place of immorality and corruption. Some of the events confirm Makuri’s views. For example, Desala who had gone the city with her husband Igwezu left him and went with Awuchike who had more money. Gonushi’s son is another example of the victim of city. He also went to the city and cut off his relation with wife and children. All the Swamp Dwellers consider city as the place to make money. This view is expressed through the Kadiye. As soon as Igwezu returns home from the city the Kadiye visits Igwezu’s house. But Igwezu is still outside. The Kadiye wants to know from Makuri if Igwezu had made a fortune in the city. According to Kadiye all can make money “in the city.”
In his conversation with Igwezu, the Kadiye asks Igwezu, the Kadiye asks Igwezu repeatedly about how much money he did make in the town. The Kadiye thinks that had made enough money to buy the whole village. When Igwezu talks about his final restrain, the Kadiye doesn’t believe it. To him it is impossible for a man who went to city to be in debt or financial constrain.
But the real picture of city is expressed by Igwezu. In his conversation with Makuri, Igwezu says that the city is the place where only money matters. Money makes a man important and big in the city. On the other hand people without money have no place in a city.
Thus we see that the Swamp Dweller have mixed feeling about the city. To most of the Swamp Dwellers city is the place of comfort, money and luxury. But there are also some people who hate the city life but is forced to go to the city
‘The Swamp Dwellers’ focuses the struggle between the old and the new ways of life in Africa. It also gives us a picture of the cohesion that existed between the individual and southern Nigerian society. The conflict between tradition and modernity is also reflected in the play. The play mirrors the socio-cultural pattern, the pang and the sufferings of the swamp dwellers and underlines the need for absorbing new ideas. The struggle between human being and unfavorable forces of nature is also captured in the play. Soyinka presents us the picture of modern Africa where the wind of change started blowing.
‘The Swamp Dwellers’ is a close study of the pattern of life in the isolated hamlets of the African countryside as well as an existential study of the simple folk who face rigors of life without any hope or succor. Soyinka tears apart social injustice, hypocrisy and tyranny. ‘The Swamp Dwellers’ expresses the necessity for a balance between the old and the new Soyinka is not for excessive glorification of the past. In the play we see Soyinka’s crusade against authoritarianism, complacency and self delusion. Besides, in ‘The Swamp Dwellers’ Soyinka satirists the betrayal of vocation for attraction and power in one form or another.
‘The Swamp Dwellers’ reflects the life of the people of southern Nigeria. Their vacation mainly is agro based. They weave baskets, till and cultivate land. They believe in serpent cult. They perform death rites. They offer gain, bull goat to appease the serpent of the swamp. Traders from city come there for crocodile skins. They lure young woman with money. Alu withstands their temptation. Young men go to the cities to make money, to drink bottled beer. In fact the city ruins them. ‘The Swamp Dwellers’ consummate their wedding at the bed where the rivers meet. They consider the river bed itself as the perfect bridal bed. Sudden flood ruin the crops throwing life out of gear.
The swamp dwellers are hospitable. They give cane brew in calabash cups. Fly sickness blinds them. Merry making and drumming both go together in their lives. Sheep and goats are fed on cassava. They believe in sooth saying. Any attempt to reclaim the land from the swamp is considered an irreligious act. Friends who meet after a whole season indulge in drinking bouts. When the stream is swollen people are ferried across by folk like wazuri. The swamp dwellers believe in the infallibility of Kadiye priest of the serpent of the swamp. Their belief is exploited by Kadiye to the hilt. Igwezu questions Kadiye and his ways. It tells us of the clash between tradition and modernity in southern Nigeria. Rain brings them hope. It brings the marvel of new birth to the land. Water plays the role of the creator and destroyer in the life of the swamp dwellers. Crops are suddenly destroyed by the swarming locusts.
‘The Swamp Dwellers make use of contrast, parallelism, humor and irony in a suitable manner. Soyinka focuses the plight of the swamp dwellers in the play realistically. The swamp dwellers are at the mercy of furious nature unless they compromise tradition with modernity, embrace modern technology they wouldn't have bright future.
We can see conflict of tradition and modernity in the play. Village is representing tradition and city as modernity. They both are different from each others. This play is representing those different very well.