The Nigerian 1986 Nobel Laureate (Literature) offers a slender, hopeful volume about his native continent’s potential for healing the world’s spiritual ills.
Now nearing 80, Soyinka—playwright, novelist, poet, memoirist (You Must Set Forth at Dawn, 2006)—writes that a “truly illuminating exploration of Africa has yet to take place.” And so he commences one, though he does not gloss over the continent’s sanguinary history—or present. Currently, he sees boundary disputes and “the honey-pot of power,” as well as the enduring issues of race and fundamentalist religions imposed from the outside, as damaging to Africa’s potential. He conducts a quick journey through history, showing readers the Africa envisioned by the actual (Herodotus) and the fictional (Othello) and the Africa whom outsiders insisted on viewing as populated by inferiors. Soyinka argues that the abuse of Africa and Africans (i.e., the slave trade) belongs in company with the Holocaust and Hiroshima in the museum of human inhumanity. He also wonders why, in 2006, the global media obsessed over some Danish cartoons insulting to Islam while virtually ignoring the vast slaughter in Darfur. He argues most strenuously against fundamentalist religions (especially Christianity and Islam), which, he says, subjugate both body and spirit. He identifies them, dispassionately, as “destabilising factors,” more harshly as “resolved to set the continent on fire.” Soyinka offers a hopeful solution: the more gentle, encompassing, tolerant beliefs of the Yoruba. He offers anecdotal accounts of non-Western medical achievements and paeans to a more accepting, less intrusive, nonviolent set of spiritual beliefs encompassed by the Yoruba deity Orisa.
A brief but eloquent plea for peace. Perhaps it takes a Nobel Laureate to see hope as the beating heart in the body of despair.