Movie review: The King’s Horseman & a colonial authority funded by personal ego

In the course of Nollywood’s adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s everlasting stage play, Death and the King’s Horseman, the following themes prevail:
  1. Colonial Arrogance

In order to establish an unchallenged colonial administration, any form of opposition against the British government as portrayed in Elesin Oba, must be wiped out. This includes the tradition of the African people, especially the African religion. This is prevalent in the movies through the arrest of the masquerades reported by Amusa, the confiscation of the masquerade costume as well as the prevention of Elesin from undergoing the ritual suicide for the proper burial of the deceased king.

This plot almost went unnoticed until the scene at the ball ceremony where Pilkings’ visitor, a more senior officer in the British government, having read the content of Amusa’s report to Pilkings, reminds Pilkings of the main reason the tradition of the people they perceive as “chaos” must be silenced; to establish the most “peaceful colony”.

Therefore, we cannot argue that the British officials, especially Pilkings and Jane, his wife, do not recognize the tradition of the people of Oyo (which is to be taken as all the colonies under Britain during the era). They do; they simply understand the reality that, to take total control of a certain people, you have to eat into and destroy their defence.

  1. Selective Disregard for Taboos/Superstition

If by any chance, we argue that Pilkings do not recognize or understand the tradition. How then does he believe that pork is a taboo to Moslems? If he genuinely disregards taboos and superstitions he calls “barbaric”; why did he threaten to feed Amusa pork for one month?

Pilkings understands, he simply chose what to believe and what not to believe like many other humans, generally. Amusa is guilty of this same hypocrisy as well as Jane. For instance, the same Amusa that warns Pilkings not to wear the seized masquerade costume is the same officer that carries out the instructions to prevent Elesin from marrying the virgin. Why believe in one tradition or superstition and disregard the other? Isn’t that hypocritical?

Pilkings who does not believe in tradition is suddenly threatening Amusa, a Moslem, with pig meat? Pilkings and Jane who spearhead the disregard for culture suddenly find a masquerade costume beneficial for their performance at the ball room? This is the human nature; hypocrisy and exploiting what we don’t believe (out of hate, derision, arrogance or dis-appeal) only when they favour us.

The King’s Horseman.

The seizure of these costumes, I must mention, is a portrayal of the British carting away to Europe various cultural artefacts in various tribes in Africa. It is historically documented. Till date, Africa is still recovering her stolen artefacts from the Europeans. The same artefacts they didn’t believe but found fit to be displayed in their museums. Irony!

  1. The Rigidity of Tradition & How Religion Kills Logic

Tradition is so rigid to the extent that the people at the helm of affairs find it an opportunity to abuse its rigidity. Tradition is so rigid that Iyaloja will not say “no” to the request of Elesin, even when it squarely bounces back on her own first son. Elesin’s last wish before embarking on the ritual suicide is to marry a virgin whose marriage to Iyaloja’s son is fixed long before Elesin’s request.

Elesin knows the rigid system so well and he unabashedly exploits it to the satisfaction of his perilous desires. To some extent, away from these desires, one arguing in favour of Elesin may take into consideration his want of a lineage continuity; with the sex with the virgin, he is to impregnate the woman who hopefully bears a child that continues his hereditary path as the king’s horseman, having lost Olunde, his only son, to the Oyinbos’ education. Regardless of this sentiment, any desire that hurts someone else’s emotion and take away the person’s happiness is selfish.

Sadly but not surprisingly, the acceptance of Elesin’s demand by the virgin’s family, the market women, the whole community and especially Iyaloja and his son, the husband-to-be to the virgin, only proves one thing; tradition, like many other religions of the world, is devoid of logic. Logic don’t work in religion as more often than not, the practicers think with their emotions. Anything that cannot be questioned at all is totally illogical.

  1. Education as an Elevator of Man’s Understanding of the Society

Two people put their acquisition of education to display through the understanding of people in the movie — these are Olunde and Pilkings respectively. Olunde admits his stay in England gave him the opportunity to understand the British people. Olunde, an educated fellow, in spite of his education and his grudge against his father, still maintains his old perception of the traditional system in place in the land. He vehemently warns Jane not to prevent his father’s suicide because he understands what is at stake. Jane thinks he is happy seeing his father die. However, it is education at work. Olunde’s love for his father will not be the reason he will turn against the people by stopping the ritual. He recounts his father’s teachings about the protection of his people. Here is logic over emotions.

The King’s Horseman.

Olunde understands his people’s culture and that of the whites simultaneously and he never disregards any for either. Olunde questions the British intervention of his people’s tradition. He tells the viewers that the whites don’t respect what they don’t understand, and that (the disrespect) is not logical either. He also, in the process of reminding Jane that her people have had worse chaos than the suicide ritual in Oyo, asks the whites to be humble enough to allow others survive the way they choose because the whites have always survived in their own way too even when it meant “mass suicide” as he read on their “news feeds” back in England.

Pilkings, on the other hand, contrasts Olunde’s knowledge and plainness. Pilkings’ education allowed him the liberty to study the African people and understand their ways, but his ego continues to come into play. Therefore, he must reiterate the practice of European superiority over Africans by wiping out the people’s culture. He admits to this when he meets with Elesin in the cell. “it’s a nice bargain to lose sleep for one night to save a life, ” he tells Elesin, admitting to Elesin’s claim of he (Pilkings) intruding the people’s peace by preventing the ritual. He even reminds Amusa that “you are a Moslem, don’t tell me you believe in those…” just to manipulate him against believing in the tradition he was raised in.

Sam George Mac is a music journalist known for the reviews of several music albums and songs. He is a singer and songwriter of Afrobeats, Dancehall, Highlife and RnB with the stage name SGM — a graduate of Mass Communication from The West African Union University, Cotonou.

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