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From the Western perspective, it is hard to understand ritual suicide as anything positive or helpful to the living. There almost seems to be no Western equivalent to the duty of Elesin in Death and the Kings Horseman. However, Wole Soyinka gives us a comparable situation in Janes description of a captain blowing up a ship to save the people on the shore. Its a moment of hypocrisy on Britains part, both trying to prevent Elesins suicide and lauding a Western suicide which purports to do the exact same thing - save the living from destruction. Its also clear that Olunde sees this ridiculous parallel, but he does not make Jane see the connection. Instead, he lets the matter drop, which, in the Western perspective is puzzling. We want everyone to see the truth and explain it, and think worse of Olunde because of his inability to show Jane whats really going on. But it is really his own unique viewpoint and actions that show that what he does is much smarter than our want of brute force.


Olundes intelligence stems from thinking before acting. Yes, Jane gives perfect ammunition to explain why his father saving his people from destruction and going to a much better place, but that doesnt mean the best solution is for him to point this out. Changing peoples opinions in discussion might be a Western virtue, but opening ones trap is not always the best strategic option. Olundes education and background combined give him a unique vantagepoint on action, and he sees that he can best help his people by waiting and evaluating the situation.


There are three essential reasons why Olunde avoids pointing out the obvious to Jane. First of all, while Jane seems intelligent and ready to accept what he says more than any other Brit in the play, it is also true that Westerners like to discover the truth and reality themselves. Being led by Olunde might cause an immediate rejection of whatever he has to say because she has an ingrained belief in the inferiority of his early upbringing, and thus in any beliefs related to his culture. The truth will be much stronger and more immediately convincing for her if she discovers it herself. So, even if he spoke and pointed out smartly the connection, it wouldnt be as credible to her. Other than the small amount of boasting pride he might feel, there is really no reason for him to tell her.


Secondly, and perhaps the most obvious of reasons, her knowing the reality as starkly and consciously as he would put it wouldnt cause any good in the grand scheme of things. Yes, he would right, and would win the argument, as it were, but nothing will change. She holds no power in the British hierarchy, as we see later in the play. Furthermore, it would probably cause her great discomfort. We know that she is close to understanding the connection between her captain and Olundes father, but if it were to be brought to the surface suddenly, she would have to deal with it directly. And this would involve recognizing her husbands ignorance and the harm of his action on the Yoruba. So there is no direct necessity or benefit by his telling Jane.


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Finally, Olunde is in the unique position that he is both a Yoruban and trusted by the British; seen as one of their own. If he fights openly for the rites of the Yoruba that seem abhorrent to the English, he will lose this position in their eyes. And it is indeed this situation which allows him to kill himself to save the destruction to his people. Although he does seem fairly certain that Elesin will die instead of going with Pilkings, it is still a beneficial circumstance for Olunde, and hes smart enough not to sacrifice that for a small amount of pride or to try and convince someone who has no power to do anything.


We can see from this small piece in the book that Soyinka is continually forcing us to recognize that the Western way is not the only way. By presenting us with situations that we cannot understand at first, we are led to understanding only by thinking through what happens. While it might seem at first that the Yoruba are giving up the battle, they are really keeping their high ground without stooping to fight with the English.





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