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The Roles Of Women In Death And King’s Horseman By Wole Soyinka

973 words - 4 pages

In his play Death and King’s Horseman, Wole Soyinka shows that women had important and recognized roles in traditional Yoruba society. Women fulfill their social, moral and spiritual roles as mothers, enforces of the discipline, show guidance to the community. Iyaloja, the Mother of the Market, is politically and spiritually critical. Aside from being the enforcer of discipline, her towering image in terms of influence is a great source of nourishment to the entire community. In the play, the women of the market are also capable of assuming positions of power, reducing man’s superiority. Wole Soyinka shows different ways of thinking about power, influence and responsibility.
The play opens with Elesin Oba, the king’s horseman, on the day of his appointed death. The king has died and his chief horseman is expected by law and custom to commit suicide and accompany his ruler to heaven. Walking among the woman of local market, followed by an entourage of drummers and a praise-singer, Elesin proclaims, “This market is my roost. When I come among the women I am a chicken with a hundred mothers. I become a monarch whose palace is built with tenderness and beauty.” Elesin refers to the women generally as mothers. To him, there is no other place that could offer such comfort. Here we see women playing their traditional roles as mothers, not as women who gave birth, but as women who nurture and support morally and spiritually. The women of the market sing his praises, dress Elesin in their richest cloths and dance around him. The women love to spoil their children, just like they love spoiling Elesin.
In the same scene, a young girl catches Elesin’s attention and he convinces the market women that he should be allowed to marry the girl on his final night. Torn between personal and communal interest, Iyaloja sacrifices her son’s bride by giving her to Elesin. Iyaloja is the Mother of the Market, the voice of wisdom in the play. She is a recognized authoritative figure and is privileged with executive power, just like any other male figure in charge. This responsibility she fulfills with dignity, as she places community interest over personal. At this point, Iyaloja’s concern is with Elesin and the role he assumes on behalf of the society. Her act of sacrifice is just as important as the act of Elesin’s willful death. Iyaloja knows the cosmic forces of the universe, and she understands that refusing the request of a man who is “already touched by the waiting fingers of our departed” will cause disruption of the order. Iyaloja also sees risk in Elesin’s demand and voices her concern to him: “You wish to travel light. Well, the earth is ours. Be sure the seed you leave in it attract no curse.” Iyaloja is able to freely express herself and confront Elesin. She places herself into the role of Elesin’s advisor and in that...

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