Sunday, March 27, 2011

Native Identity in Religion

JANE: Is that really true, Simon? Did he really curse you good and proper?
PILKINGS: By all accounts I should be dead by now.
JOSEPH: Oh no, master is white man. And good christian. Black man juju can't touch master.

From Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King’s Horseman: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed.: Gikandi, Simon. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2003.

This interchange between a colonist official (Pilkings), his wife (Jane), and their native servant (Joseph) displays the views of both submissive natives-- and by extension, the colonizers-- toward power dynamics between the varying groups involved in the process of colonization. Joseph claims that Elesin's curse against Pilkings is completely impotent, but his reasoning behind this claim implies that he believes that under other circumstances it would be effective. Joseph's wording, listing characteristics of Pilkings directly after his denial of the curse's power indicates that the curse is powerless only because of these characteristics-- that Pilkings is "white" and "a good christian." We know from earlier dialogue that Joseph is himself a Christian, and he seems to be assimilating to the Western culture and norms of the colonizers, in religion, language, and adherence to their social structure. This idea of a white Christian's unique immunity to the spirits worshiped by the natives shows an interesting complexity, however, in this relationship. While adopting the colonizer's religion, Joseph still respects the power of native religion. This phenomena is also seen in Pilkings' and Jane's conversation with Pilkings' Muslim subordinate Amusa, who is mortified by their vain use of pagan relics, seeming to fear some sort of divine retribution. Although the presence of Islam in Africa was present before the British colonization, this retention of indigenous practices and beliefs in spite of conflict with religions of colonizing and immigrating religions shows the immense power of religion as a bastion of native identity in resisting external influences.

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