If the British colonial masters had done no other thing, the use of compelling force and overriding effect on the political, economic, and cultural activities of African societies during their colonial epoch is more of a big issue of discourse.
In every African society is a fixed set of cultures, norms, and traditions believed to be practiced by the descendants in conformity with their parent’s and forebear’s lifestyles.
With the use of trans-generational apparatuses like oral traditions, folklores, drums, moonlight tales, rituals, festivals, storytelling, and physical performance, people who belong to society are able to learn the principles of the culture they found themselves in. However, The British rulership did not only disrupt the political institution and economic activities of the African colony but also brought about some forms of disorientation, incursion, cultural alienation and interrupted some of the cultural practices that didn’t go down well with the western (culture) way of life.
The movie, Elesin Oba translated “The King’s Horseman” is a 2022 Nollywood movie directed by the late multi-talented, Biyi Bandele released on the 28th of September, 2022 with a mixture of African and foreign characters cast.
Elesin Oba is a theatrical adaptation of the book titled “Death and the Horseman” by Nobel Laureate prize winner, Prof. Wole Soyinka which mimed its inspiration from the wish to revisit the effect of colonial rule on African societies with a focus on the Yoruba culture and traditions during the British colonial era.
The movie takes the coloration of actual life events in the old Oyo empire of Yoruba where the combination of fate, dramatic distraction, and British overriding effect derailed the success of a very important cultural rite.
Yoruba belief on Elesin Oba
In Yoruba land, it is believed that when a king dies, there is an important generational rite to be performed which necessitates a major figure known as the “Elesin Oba” otherwise regarded as the “Abobaku” to sacrifice himself to serve the ruler in the afterlife.
The inability to perform this rite is believed to have resulted in the dire consequence of which the deceased be left wandering and might bring ill and misfortune to his people. It is believed in the Yoruba cultural system that after death, there is an afterlife. For a late monarch, the Elesin Oba will serve as a companion and a torchbearer for the late king in the afterlife.
The Elesin Oba or Abobaku in Yoruba Land is a well-decorated chief, while the king is alive, the Abobaku is allowed to enjoy a pool of luxury and wealth. He enjoys many privileges and the right to do many things but when the king passes on, it is an automatic death note to King Horseman to sacrifice himself within a stipulated period.
Elesin Oba, The Plot
The movie began its set with the announcement of five king’s death and the rite to which the horseman must join him commences. The King’s Dog had just been killed and the Abobaku must submit to his death during this period, unfortunately, Elesin Oba, acted by the lusty Odunlade Adekola played the role of a man distracted by fate to perform his rite.
Odunlade Adekola in this movie enjoyed the luxury derailed with an expected rite of sexual pleasure to get married to a virgin which he believed to serve as a send-forth, a request reluctantly accepted by the Iyalode which delayed the rite before the British magistrate arrested him and forestall the process.
The Elesin Oba’s son, Olunde who saw the arrest and failure to perform the expected rite as a ‘shame’ to his lineage later submitted himself to the sacrifice in place of his father. Elesin Oba upon seeing the dead body of Olunde laying down committed suicide by hanging.
Many movie critics commented on the plot and settings of this movie but this article will dwell on the position of the British masters on the failure of this rite and their general contribution to the extinction of African cultural practices.
The British in the movie portrayed a cognitive picture of neglect of African culture, it can be seen in the first quarter of the movie that the British Resident Commissioner, Pilkings, and his wife Jane were cluelessly and comically roaming around their house in the sacred egungun regalia which was seized during the arrest of a native traditionalist. The messenger, Sergeant Amusa (acted by Jide Kosoko) warned them about the cultural disrespect which they refused to heed.
In another case, Pilkings sees suicide no matter the form where is portrayed as a local and bad idea and decided to forestall the process by saving Elesin’s life, not minding the consequence on the people.
African Culture: The Declining Effects.
Arguably, the coming of the global west to African soil contributed to the declining effect on African customs and traditional values, aside from overriding the cultural practices, the European way of life has affected negatively the way Africans behave, through the use of disorientation tools, their mode of dressing, their style of relationship and what they believe to be their values has changed, also the introduction of industrialization and urbanization forced men to leave their villages to find work which resulted in breaking the strong family ties in African homes.
Ferdinand Tonnes in one of his books on social theories identified the concept of Gemeinschaft and the Gesellschaft system (the old ‘communal’ and new ‘associational’ society). The Gemeinschaft system which replicates the old African society believes strongly in the spirit of togetherness, communalism, and peaceful coexistence.
This system is built on the fact that what affects one affects all, all for one, and one for all. People have simple and direct face-to-face relations with each other, while the other contrasting system believes in the new capitalist system and rational will, where “All Man for Himself”. This system is typified by modern, cosmopolitan societies with a huge desire for self-interest and maximizing economic and political profit not minding who is affected.
The coming of the Europeans also affected the thriving of locally made craftsmanship and products. African society has a pool of ideas that worked locally and boosted their economy before the global West swayed away from the relevance of these vocations and made people condescend to foreign-made products.
The Late Biyi Bandele’s storytelling prowess in combination with nice and modern camera angle and positioning made the movie top-notch. His past movies which include “Half of a Yellow Sun” with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandiwe Newton was an adaptation of the Chimamanda Adichie novel back in 2013 is superb and of course, this theatrical adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s “Death and the King Horseman” novel is not a bad production.