Praise-Singer: Our world was never wrenched from its true course.
Elesin: The gods have said no.
Praise-Singer: There is only one home to the life of a river mussel; there is only one home to the life of a tortoise; there is only one shell to the soul of a man; there is only one world to the spirit of our race. If that world leaves its course and smashes on boulders of the great void, whose world will give us shelter?
From Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King’s Horseman: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed.: Gikandi, Simon. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2003.
This line that comes early on in Death and the King’s Horseman sets the tone for the significance that the villages culture has. It shows how the tradition of their culture goes back a significant time and is not welcome to change. In specific, “great void” refers to the traditions that the village has when it comes to death. The village has gone through many struggles but they have never given up on their culture and the traditions and rituals that come with it. They have continued with this strict appliance to tradition because they think that if they did not their culture would crumble like a river mussel without a home. Their firm adherence to the rules and rituals of their culture makes sure that their culture survives and does not get swallowed up by any other culture, such as Jane and Pilkings’. This passage shows how volatile their culture is and how much of a threat Pilkings interfering with their rituals could be. They take their rites so seriously that if one does not go according to plan their entire culture would be in chaos and the future of their village would be in doubt. Pilkings represents a great threat and conflict to the culture because, though he tries to get along with the villagers, he wants them to follow his orders. The conflict between the villagers trying to follow the traditions of their culture while Pilkings’ tries to keep them under his control persists throughout the story and leads to many struggles between characters. This struggle between the cultures is what leads to Elesin and Olunde’s downfalls.