Wole Soyinka: The Literary Lion


The writers are sometimes called the conscience of humankind they're the ones often holding up a mirror era with good lighting too so we can see ourselves more clearly the beauty and the blemishes the compassion and the meanness and what do writers get for the service to society this truth telling well in many parts of the world that many times throughout history they get censorship exile prison sentences and worse one of the world's greatest authors who suffered mightily for his words is Nigerian Rian playwright and poet wally show Yinka in nineteen eighty six he became the first African to win the Nobel Prize in literature his voice alone is worthy of some sort of prize take a listen to him reading the end of his poem Sammer Ken and other markets I have known upon about the market as a tolerant equalizing space world is a marketplace does goes the song close of market in some light feet will lead the way homewards when is up closed forever the next market day the indigo thrown wait to lead each Sika by the hand into that last century across the art overshadows one market day in the soup Cairo zealots counterfeiting and did not retrial the moving finger rights and having the mind survives to sing the way on the Golden Road where dreams of Summa cum live tomorrow's market day we'll play another of his poems at the end of this episode but we've got quite a life life story to cover in the interim will lay show Yinka is on this episode of what it takes a podcast about passion vision and perseverance wants from the Academy of Achievement I'm your host Alice Winkler at this child is gifted I did and I heard that enough that I started to believe if you have the opportunity not a perfect opportunity and you don't take it you may never have another child it all so clear it was just like the picture started to form itself there was new win which ally to prevail over the truth darkness over light light over every day I wake up and decide today I'm going to love my life decide is houses if they're gonNa break your leg when you go into that place stay out of there and then along companies differential experiences that you don't look for you don't plan for but boy you better not miss him since I've introduced woolley show you guess it's a truth teller let's start with his definition of truth which he borrows from the Sufi philosopher and sage tear no bocar there are three kinds of truth is your truth unders mind truth and there is the truth use and then I took that once Detroit possibly there is fourth that there is Komo truth but I have a little bit of a hard time believing will lay show Yinka on that last point after listening to his interview with the Academy of Achievement Movement recorded in Capetown South Africa at the Academy's two thousand nine summit he has spent most of his life trying to reveal truths standing standing up to tyranny in the process his dozens of plays and many books of essays and poetry draw a Nigeria's violent chaotic political Michael History on his years in exile and imprison and on the myths and stories of the European culture he grew up in his own story begins in nineteen thirty four in the town of a bail Kuta when Nigeria was under British colonial rule my father was a schoolteacher go ahead Ma start in the primary school believe passionately in education my mother was a sort of petty trader we know small small items cloths jewelry some foodstuffs some local could manufacturer material Aw She traveled quite a bit she was also a is to call our tenant political left tenant of very feisty stupid politically astute onto your mind cold Mrs ransome-kuti who once led a revolt vote of the women against the traditional ruler they're lucky about quota was imposing so unfair taxation on women's guts and so that led to some for cast so I grew up in this really really exciting atmosphere of UH politics real political activism on the one hand and then you're more shall we say steed political discussions which went on around my father he was sort of the center of small law middle class intellectuals Electrolux's would debate everything from the World War going on at the time to the the price of newly-introduced newly-introduced motorcycles in the in the area they usually in our society children are principles be neither seen nor heard when elders around is supposed to respectfully leave them alone but I was curious I I just loved the debates there get excited issues and so somehow was allowed to eavesdrop I like the the other children just fascinated by discourse exchange of ideas between adults just used to fascinate the reason I was never tide of listening to and I picked up some of the ideas we had and I would ask I was really known as the question you're up to his old asks questions and dog Dog Day by ten explain things his father and his mother were at the same time strict disciplinarians who lived by the expression further expand the chart but show Yinka says he had the freedom to explore and he was a great observer of the community where he grew up a community that stood at the crossroads of tradition and modernity of Christianity Islam and rubel ritual these complexities appear and reappear in his place which have been performed throughout the world in in London and New York and all of Africa but many of the societal values he champions in his work we're manifest at home within in his own family we were taught as children was a ethos of absolute equality especially children my parents says I used to say to collect waifs and strays so we had a lodge from it I mean some of them were relations for than we were the before they the parents would come and virtually donate the China Sea look Help me get this child you know all this child has given me talk trouble he was shown the goes some discipline here or maybe their parents were going away somewhere maybe the worked with the railway because because who were in the civil service certain departments of the Civil Service you will let it be transferred anywhere anytime you're teaching also in some with missionary school should be transferred those sort of physical geographical mobility among many employees in it at the time when traders also people working for private commercial companies could get Santa For instance Waco call at guard he worked for cocoa-exporting from could be sent to the interior for some time and some of these parents who bring their children to us so the the population or by a household was constantly shifting and they came from different strata of society and so we were taught the not so much directly but through the attitude that allow parents to all children that's there was no privilege everybody was a child and if you misbehave got this much punishment as the other children so if anything uh we were treated more harshly than the other children because we were supposed to better into show an example in essence he says his one claim to status this the son of the headmaster worked to his detriment but there was one big advantage his home had books and when he was just a toddler he started to figure out how to pick out the words and I had a sister who was only two to a year and two months here in three months three months older than I was when she began school she it made my life miserable because she put on her school uniform home and sort of looked at me with a kind of condescension so I'm I'm going to school you have to stay behind eat was infuriated and so on Day and then of course we live in a parsonage and a which meant that there were some schools missionary schools decision who's playgrounds abutted the long in front of our house so I would watch these cookies also coming out in their during their break to play and then I could see also through the school run through the school run windows or performers these pupils bent over their books their papers I mean it was it was like a conspiracy so one day I'd had enough and I followed my sister to school picked up books from my products desk for me it was the most natural thing going to school you have to have books so I picked up my father's which I couldn't read and the next thing I knew was I was behind her screamed at me what are you doing here what go back now so schoolteacher came out to see what the forecast was all about and he looked old enough to come to school I said Oh I'm ready. And just indulge decided to indulge me filter would get fed up with it after the first day but no so I actually began school a two and a half years later when his aunt I ant and his mother began to organize women to resist onerous taxes on the goods they were trading show Yinka was recruited to teach the women how to read and write but it was when he entered the University College Ibadan that he really got his feet wet challenging the establishment in a theatrical way he and a circle of six friends formed an organization at university this was in nineteen fifty two that they called the the pirates confraternity to ridicule the privilege and posturing of their fellow students many of them were children rich people you know what we call the children of colonial aristocrats and they brought that mentality of colonial aristocracy in to collect certain uh totally divorced consider themselves divorced from the rest of the community a sense of responsibility with which I grew up it was just not there and so they have these clubs and other clubs Social Club for instance all mimicking British considered British culture always dressed up in ties jackets and so on the college atmosphere was uh-huh model than Cambridge and so on you went to dinner hi Dina high t to wear robes to go to dinner I hit it all that stuff. I didn't mind the occasional ceremonial ceremonial but to mimic British managers and so on to some ridiculous and so we started is was a rebellion against this stayed British formalism we started the pirates confraternity and one of its a the motto was against Moribund Conventional and and we used to dress his we don't rough-and-ready pirates we have to seal concord on top of a flat surface of the bookshop our climb up bookshop and within knock up the a Lotta unseal into the horizon is all typical student fund the pirates confraternity grew and eventually spread to other campuses but Wola showy Inca didn't stay the group's leader for long because partway through his studies at University College Ibadan it dawned on him exactly what he wanted on a to study and that required him to move to England I hated my fanatics had no time for physics chemistry will manage to struggle through through it was a struggle in school once that was done I threw my books you're all my mathematics books to the window concentrated on literature feature wanted to write he was able to carry his scholarship with him to the University of Leeds where he completed his degree with a major in English literature then he started a doctoral degree but the real world of literature won out over the academic to play to their theater in London Josh and I it was not immediately accepted for performance but sufficient interest was generated for the Director Arctic director to invite me over and so I spent most of my time or to rehearsals reading plays in London instead of doom line thesis in in elites so I consider myself a doctoral dropout and why place article theater the most socialized socialized form of literary expression simply because it involves different all the time there's a dynamic which exists into theater which you do not find reading or reading a different different sensibilities completely reading a novel is almost send individual exercise poetry even more personal mall intimate theatre two is where the community expresses itself most directly home of Shankar's first place that he wrote in London when he was still villainous early twenties were the swamp dwellers and the lion and the jaw both were set in Nigeria both incorporated music and dancing thing in the kind of folklore he grew up on and both touched on themes that have been part of his work ever since power and hypocrisy oh so I was trying to recapture certain sense of community which had known in Syria and the transition between traditional national society the concept of western quote unquote civilization and trying to see the weaknesses in things not quite as was not nestle progression on this just expressions uh-huh all of my own observations of society the line and the Joe was performed in Nigeria in nineteen fifty nine the play has two main characters characters one is a pompous young schoolteacher within affinity for Western ideas the other is chief who believes only in tribal wisdom system the play is extensively about a fight over the village beauty but written on the cusp of Nigeria's independence it questions what progress Chris should look like exactly in Africa during his early years is a playwright in London will lay show Inca told the academy of achievement delegations Gatien's of Nigerian nationalists would come over to discuss the terms of independence with the British Home Office the process of decolonization patient formerly began in nineteen sixty but the process show Yankus says had serious flaws and in the end before the British left they a managed to install Nigerians that they knew would best protect their intrests because Galanga has never really want to leave anywhere leave only because they find find the other compelled to buy war embarrassed militant action or because the they're they're clever enough to realize the camel maintain continuing neocolonial linkage with their possessions by granting independence but they keep the contact and they do that living there surrogate behind that's what the British did pick on the list progressive part of the country falsified sensors falsified elections to make sure that when he left the Hanadova Pau to them we'll is she says he knew things would quickly go south in the new Nigeria just from watching from his perch in London the delegations nations that arrived for the negotiations and I couldn't help observing that Be Yes they were committed nationalist but at the same time see I always had probably because of my background elitism and privilege subjects which twitter respond confrontationally immediately because I and I I really ingrained in me this egalitarian principle and the sense of service and I saw the first commas as been very almost as if they're busy motivation was to step into into the shoes of the departing colonial officers be colonial British colonials so them already positioning themselves ah take over power and privilege seemed to be more important to them than service and commitment to the community babs this will become even more understandable if you took into consideration the fact that I was is already at that time because you know they political as already heavily politicised I was very acutely aware of what is happening in south South Africa poverty hardening of the South African apartheid system February play in England was directed at what apartheid South Africa called the invention and Group of spoke about this community anytime during the holidays as we come together go to work in pocket Bonnie and sit on the West African Union Discussing Politics National Politics Continental politics and and we were they'll sue felt maybe main mission first mission was to go aw and liberate South Africa there's no doubt at all in is but this is our immediate mission now this got derailed within within encountered the the first flagbearer says of our national independence and we said we're GONNA ask ourselves shouldn't charity really begin at home you know isn't this the first line all all concerned with should have because I began to see them as new as Intel potential internal colonialists list and of course events proved us right so my attention became diverted towards Nigeria and I couldn't wait to get back and of course was route dance to the forest as a warning play that what we saw indicated clearly that we might have to fight the war of independence all over again this time against our leaders so it's all this came about because because of this politicized vision and a habit add Developed of examining issues very carefully you know in other words not get to carried away by slogans but trying to see what I what lies behind the slogans and how after one fees of struggle is ended ended the next phase might have to be confronted the dance of the forest is cautionary played that skewered the Nigerian political elite I was actually chosen in a contest to be produced as the official play of the Nigerian independence celebrations he'd already returned into Nigeria by that point anxious to participate in the country's post colonial re-formation back home he became editor of an important African Literary Array magazine and he formed a small guerrilla theatre company to perform a different kind of theater than what he was writing for the stage former needed a small group which could take a theme currency improvised around it and perform in the marketplace the on the lawns in Toronto Civil Service Headquarters outside the House of Assembly any open space as well as in the theater hitting directly at unacceptable conduct events with recognizable mimicking acting recognizable individuals pillorying by government and so on without any ambiguity by nineteen sixty five he was a university professor fesser teaching English and theater and things had begun as he'd predicted to fall apart ballot raking corruption power-mongering where the order the day he described those years in his third memoir as the Panchal Amos Years Than Columbus sum up for me the a political mess into which we got ourselves I expression actually by one of the politicians who's a great populist by the way very fascinating character and the Grand Columbus years I used that expression to describe the the the abortion of our expectations the crude the crudeness which politics the violence the ballot-rigging which carried over even into the House of Assembly the fissures this become quite open blown wide open and so virtually settled into into the politics off Niger itself which for me was sad the sad recognition even though I offer mission of warped our heart predictably to still sad to find it coming to pass so receding constantly was that vision of the entire continent marching down south to liberate South Africa which I thought shoot have been our priority in the first place and and so I got that frustration from the two sides to a station from diminishing of that Continental Vision because I saw Africa has women and then frustration about not being able to write the anomalies within Mount Society Got Kamal Deeper and deeper involved in I dream politics and that's when he was arrested and jailed for the first time during the elections of nineteen sixty fifty four I knew that was GonNa cups sometime or the other well those elections were very violent they could not reach the election successfully sewer and so what they did was to start altering the results they were elections with a lot at stake Nigeria was now one of the world's is largest oil exporters and Britain's still exercised enormous economic control in the country but show Yankee believes it was still more contest asked for power than for the control of resources far is an element in itself which one should never underestimate you dominate others seems to be he kind of animal parts of the human makeup which we haven't worked evolved out of in the midst of the turmoil and the violence exacerbated exacerbated by the growing cultural and regional divisions in the country will lay Cherie Inca learned that the premier of western Nigeria where he lived had decided sided to blatantly ignore the election results and announce his false victory on the radio since you have the support of the federal government something drastic ah to be done and so with some assistance some of my usual collaborators I commands to stop the broadcast substitute my I read prerecorded mountains statement so I when the studio and took the prime minister the PR premise tape off and substitute my own you went away. She a Yankees tape contained his accusations of election malpractice so I was tried all right very nasty charge most charged with armed robbery because apparently this hello this event was supposed to take place with the aid of a gun so cutting people you know come into frame they don't charge on drudgery date cost under a pound or whatever and substitute one anyway so that runs where was the robbery anyway I was trying to quit thank goodness but that was after several months of detention and protests by writers from around the world world that same year show Yinka wrote several new plays including one called Congas harvest which was later made into a movie directed by Ossie Davis in the following year nineteen sixty six with the seeds of election corruption planted and growing there was a coup by the Nigerian military led led largely by officers who were from the Egbo tribe that coup failed and made civil war seem inevitable there were massacres use it all especially against the eagles because the first coup the lead is where I must be able and so- reprisal killings took place and the drums of war begun to sound very very loud the east Eagles who fell there have been really valid because they were hunted down all over the place not just in the north they decided decided to secede by friend Christopher Kibo was able of course we again from the Writers Artists Community Entity who quite close Christopher Akiko was a teacher and a librarian and still considered one of Africa's greatest modern poets. When I was detained into that I'm robbery episode he used to come visit me? Detention was not actually formerly early diagnosis not granted bail that's all as his visit man the police cell where was held police station and would vetus portrait together Mark Ridley he would reach sport loped breeding is on points he wanted you to hear exactly how it sounded suit was very oral musical kind of report was a musician also by the way so that wasn't surprising and so he became quite griped her clothes and when the war was when I realized that war really was going to happen to and he'd left leg the other people that fled to the east where there were more secure Jenner Chubby loosen the East I heard of the writers like Gabriel Okara in the east and I felt maybe by linking up and resurrecting combat tight community with could might be able to do something to prevent that war and so travel by referring obstucted airless countries begun he traveled to the East where the population was mostly Igbo they had announced their intentions to split from Nigeria to form a New Nation Biafra when show Inca arrived in the Biafran territory he was suspected as an enemy and was arrested by the secessionists but when they realized who he was they released him and just at that moment by chance his friend Christopher Okougbo walked into the same police station back from the war front that was the last time they saw each other big boat went back to the front and was killed and show Yinka went back to western Nigeria where he was arrested for having traveled to the east he was accused of all sorts of things including buying jet fighters the Biafran his efforts is a go-between between the Biafrans in the Nigerian Federation in the West had failed but his reasons for trying trying we're clear desert simple I belong to the West the euro suitably pediatrician and any war war is being fought has being forced on behalf of people and This wall committed me as Nigerian committed me and I I felt was wrong and I refuse to accept that to be committed in that way the Biafrans had been violated they had been massacred there were one massacre just like a wave of Moscow's and have been hunted everywhere in other words the comeback of the of the federal side at least that portion which I belong indicated quite said in plain language anguish even though it was not articulated as such you the Annalong a part of the federation nothing was done to make them feel secure secure at least not enough was dumped begun peel secure the rights of the nation and then after they ceded which I consider rather a tactical tactical mistake not to political crimes not the more common but it was a tactical error and but then go after him to declare war against them unleash Banaa busies of unity above anything else you need to avoid I mean who committed the act this uniting the nation in the first place those who made the field they were part of the full entity so for me it was an unjust war which I could not be apart find out if I had not gone to the East I would have gone into exile 'cause I would refuse to be part of that entity which would war against people who had been so humanized so ineffective just want peace of mind to try and do everything possible to make sure the war did not show Yankee was held in prison for twenty seven months twenty two of them in solitary confinement without ever being formerly charged first of all I was held in Lagos Lagos prison maximum security prison in Lagos and when I smugglers smuggler statement denying all the charges and insisting that the government then panicked and decided to move me to dinner and place I mean complete solitary confinement the I was I was shocked so most bitter moment beatrice movement Oh my incarceration to find the minister of information calling it an international press conference under leading what was supposed to be my confession it was horrible things that can happen to anybody in in prison that what else is going to come next what are they going to Cenex what are the speaking in mining breeding not to be accusing me I mean that's okay but actually seeing a how here his confessional statement and every bit to be accepted to be a fabrication but After I got to do noun so state tate completely quiet sometimes attempt to reach the outside world just made sure they thought I was complete model prisoner Krizner totally resigned to be in isolation and I began to probe the chinks and manage to start getting things outside even send some poems for publication my publisher absurd tips crippled him toilet paper with Inca benefactor in one thousand nine hundred sixty seven he went on a hunger-strike but still his case never went to court I knew they were going once how sticking from Lagos Katrina placed in solitary confinement I knew in our debit card now they there's just no long and they were shopping enough to realize that if the case went was shot before call to just be a platform to express spine my views about the wall said so all I did was right communicate it is breaking through that isolation it was mostly for other people not for myself to make us were anxious on the outside no that I was working he didn't only sneak poems out from prison he actually began to write a memoir which evolved later into a novel called the man died I began writing struggling notes you know in prison but it wasn't actually republished until uptight come out writing beginning therapy festival it meant I was reconstructed on existence dissolve so an active is because I wasn't supposed to ride I was supposed to have paper banned anything any reading material theriault whatsoever so this became an exercise in self preservation acting up my spirits it's also an to occupy very long pause them of the day not speaking to one and I even I'm just writing evolved all kinds of mental exercises even when back to the subjects which I said I hated in school in particular mathematics said it to recover mathematical formula by trial and narrow and critic problems myself which are solved all right to give the mind is asserted an exercise in self preservation writing was spotted show Yinka only got out of solitary gary and out of prison in nineteen sixty nine when the civil war ended and amnesty was granted political prisoners he took refuge in France France to recover and worked on several books including a collection of his poems from prison at the end of the year he went back to his job at the university in Ibadan Baden and tried to live a normal life he even eventually developed a very good relationship as he characterized it with Yakubu go on who was the head of the military government during the civil war in other words the ruler in charge jerring show Yankers long imprisonment something which I discovered when I came when I came out of prison some time after I came out of prison was that go on was is a obviously an inexperienced young officer trust into this position relied as many leaders is unfortunately due on the kind of information is given by

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