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Kongi’s Harvest

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Kongi’s Harvest
President Kongi, the dictator of an African developing nation, is trying to modernize his nation after deposing King Oba Danlola, who is being held in detention. Kongi demands that Danlola present him with a ceremonial yam at a state dinner to indicate his abdication. Daodu is Danlola’s nephew and heir, and he grows prized yams on his farm. Daodu’s lover Segi owns a bar where Daodu spends most of his time. Segi is revealed to be Kongi’s former lover. The different tribes are resisting unification, so Kongi tries to reach his goal by any means necessary, including forcing government officials to wear traditional African outfits and even seeking advice from the man he deposed. In a climactic scene at the state dinner, Segi presents Kongi with the disembodied head of her father. Post-Colonial review

Colonization and Post colonization are twin evils in the so called civilized times. During colonization criticizing the Empire was not possible. But in the postcolonial era the colonized is not spared. Personal freedom demands that a human being has the right to follow any religion and faith. According to social rights he has the right to social security, protection and participation in the cultural life of the community. But these fundamental rights were denied to the colonized and the post colonized. The writers in the post-colonial period expose the cruelty and dehumanization ruthlessly practiced on the colonized. The very means and ways by which the native was discredited become effective weapons to hit back at the colonizer.

The native was demeaned as a ‘savage’, his land called ‘a dark continent’, his heart ‘heart of darkness’, his religion ‘barbarous’ and himself ‘a cannibal’. The post-colonial writers use their cultural myths to prove the ignorance of the colonizer and his racial prejudice. They prove through their myths the greatness of their religion, the cosmic vision engendered by it, the possibility of rejuvenation inherent in it and the lesson of universal brotherhood advocated by it. The writers aim at exploiting various techniques as myths, carnival, intertextuality, palimpsest, contrapuntal reading, symbol etc. to help the reader see things from a new angle so as to question the official version of history, the so-called authenticity of the canon and the authority of intellectual hegemony exercised. The difference between the post-modern writer and the post colonial writer is that the former does it to promote nihilistic playfulness, whereas the post colonial writer is always conscious of the suffering undergone by the individuals; starting from concrete experience of pain he expresses his characters’ utter disorientation at the psychic level. The post colonial writing aims at rejuvenation of the wronged colonized and restoration of their prestige and identity.

Myths engender ageless wisdom. When a writer uses it creatively and dynamically, he invests them with fresh layers of meaning and interpretation which highlight the contemporary reality. Malinowski’s observation affirms this; “Myth contains germs of the future epic, romance and tragedy” and continues that it “finds itself in certain of its forms of subsequent literary elaboration” Myth and ritual in a primitive society are the sustaining forces both in normal times and crises. No wonder all the African writers seek recourse to myths for restoring the fragmented personality of their fellowmen and reclaiming the distorted faith in their cultural tradition. Soyinka as a great traditionalist uses myths as the core of all his writings whether they are poems, fiction or drama.

Kongi’s Harvest, Wole Soyinka’s latest play, has predictably created a sensation at Dakar, where it was presented at the Negro Arts Festival. For Soyinka has chosen a topical subject, African nationalism, and whether he tikes it nor not, his hysterical Kongi has probably been judged as much in terms of Nkrumah’s ejection, for example, as by artistic merit. This reviewer is largely unfamiliar with African politics and the traditional values upon which Soyinka apparently bases so much of his work. Consequently, these remarks of an unabashed outsider of necessity concern only the clarity and coherence of the play considered, perhaps unfairly, outside its social context.

As mounted in the Arts Theatre at the University of Ibadan—that is, without the final scene, called “Hangover” and with considerable confusion attending its conclusion—the play depicts for the outsider what sort of harvest a man reaps if he sits alone on top of a mountain. That is Kongi’ssituation through the greater part of the play’ he descends, at its conclusion, to a harvest festival at which he is presented not with the expected new yam, but with a decapitated human head.

Kongi, as several characters, in the play remark, is a poseur , a man who thinks of the world as watching him at all times. He sits upon his mountain looking out on the world, and at the same time, he is visible to that world. Such an approach to living seems to have taken its, emotional toll. Kongi is, hysterical, and in the final scene, he delivers in mime what we are told is a four-and-a-half hour speech, while the affairs of the world – the preparation of the new yam and the noise thereof— completely submerge the words of the speech. The speech is pure gesture, devoid of sound, unheeded by the world. The gestures, full of fury only, are those of a man out of all emotional control.

Ranged in various more or less defined sorts of opposition to Kongi are at least three characters. The first of these is Oba Danlola an old arid obstinate, fiery, traditional leader. He is in detention as the play opens, presumably for opposition, and one of the major actions of the play involves bringing Danlola to present Kongi with the new yam—to renounce in effect his traditional authority in I he feast. The old order passeth, and DanLoJa finally consents.

The outsider is not really competent to judge Obas generically. One imagines that, as sketched, Danlola is a stock traditional figure, and he seems a pleasant enough fellow. Yet, at one point, two characters liken him to Kongi in the important matter of posing. To the uninitiated there seems little obvious point in the comparison not because Danlola does not pose, but because his posing does not seem to have produced hysteria. This point may also be made in terms of the notion of “isms” developed in the play. Kongi, rules a land called Isma and his devotion to “isms” seems to be a function of his posing. Danlola, poseur though he may be, can’t really be said to participate in this fondness for “isms”. We have only the bare, unqualified assertion of Danlola’s likeness to Kongi and nothing visible on the stage to suppport the statement. Surely, here Soyinka has either led us considerably astray, or has failed entirely to carry us with him.

Apparently, Danlola’s nephew and heir, Daodu, is also ranged against Kongi and his “isms”, “Apparently”„ because we see Daodu do precious little. He is a bar fly, a habitué of Segi’s Night Club, and Segi’s present Lover. Segi is a sort of Herculean whore, Kongi’s former mistress about whom terrifying stories circulate: she destroys men, the suggestion is, sexually. It does not appear to what extent.

Kongi’s present, highly disorganized condition is owing to his experiences with her. Nor is it clear whether it is Segi or Daodu who has the upper hand in their relationship. When he is not drinking Segi’s beer. Daodu raises champion yams on a farm settlement which runs a sort of Loose competition to the Kongian establishments, outdistancing them every time, it is his yam which is selected at the concluding festival, pounded and presented to all but Kongi, Obviously in the matter of harvest Daodu and his yams are separated from Kongi and hiS human head by the distance between life and death. However, Daodu at one point in the play announces a platform of resistance to Kongi which is predicated upon very nearly universal hatred and, to follow the metaphor, human heads. Segi opposes his position pleading for a loving approach to one’s fellow men, but, like so much in the play, the point of this conversation remains obscure.

One is left to speculate whether Segi here asserts her basic domination of Daodu, or whether Daodu is to be viewed as the “developing character” who grows out of his hatred, or whether it is all a horrible joke. Segi’s words of love sullied by her profession. At any rate Daodu’s program of hatred seems clearly opposed to his benevolent yam growing, and we never see him do anything which resolves the issue.

Segi may also be placed in opposition to Kongi, but if it is difficult to determine Daodu’s and Danlola’s positions, with Segi the problem is hopeless. Primarily this is true because we see her do even less, than Daodu. She never acts unambiguously in such a way as to disprove the persistent story that she destroys men. Her relation with Daodu is so undefined as to shed little light on this matter. For much of the play she maintains silence, which she breaks most noticeably with her passionate appeal for universal love. Here, her destructive tendencies seem open to question. Her other major action, completely at odds with her profession of universal love, concludes the play. Facing Kongi directly, she presents him with the decapitated head of her father. As staged, the confrontation is symbolic with a capital ‘S’ , in view of the obvious sexual overtones of the harvest festival, one immediately suspects that Kongi’s particular harvest results from cultivating the Likes of Segi, that if one resorts to her one can only get abominations. Here again Soyinka may have led us astray. If Segi is a champion in the pitched battle between the sexes—engaged in the good fight Soyinka his portrayed in The Lion and the Jewel—destroying men as rumor reports he does, Soyinka has carried us a long way from African nationalism in that final scene. For in that case, Kongi, and also Danlola and Daodu are mere tools in a perverse fertility rite, and the trouble with Africa lies not in its dictators, but in its whores.

In view of the series of major interpretive alternatives suggested above, one is forced to conclude that Kongi’s Harvest is, to the outsider an incoherent sprawl. Alternative, and mutually exclusive interpretations are not artistic ambiguity, Soyinka sets us on a number of scents, which pursued, lead in no single direction. We are led into every briar patch in the area, along widely divergent andmutually exclusive paths, and end by running in very small, perplexed circles.

Against such a view of the play two objections might be raised. First, some of the suggestions about the meaning of various actions might be termed over-ingenious. Such an objection must be at least partially granted; yet, Soyinka himself must bear partial responsibility for this critic’s over-zealous application, Soyinka has the true dramatist’s gift of making actions seem significant. His imaginative use of action and language effectively commands the audience “look here, this is important, and you should watch carefully”. When a comparison of two characters is underlined try considerable discussion of the comparison, when a dumb character finally speaks, when a passive character finally acts, we cannot choose but suspect the situation is important. Perhaps Soyinka is too good at gelling, our attention, with the result that we are fascinated by the non-essential as well as the essential.On the other hand, it might be objected that a man as unfamiliar with African politics and culture as this reviewer cannot form a proper opinion of such a play. This too is a formidable objection. Still, drama is a public form of art, if it is anything, and an artist like Soyinka should decide whether he wants to reach anything larger than a purely Nigerian or African public. It would seem that an artist tries to order parochial events in such a way that they have more than a parochial significance in presenting the uninitiated a dramatic experience with African politics Soyinka only confuses, and one can only suspect that he is confused himself.

The matter of Right and Left Ears of State exemplifies the outsider’s difficulties very nicely. Those two remarkably named characters are introduced, as the henchmen of Kongi’s Organizing Secretary. They are a grand “sight gag”—the conception funny enough to demand our attention, and we expect that they will do something amusing. Instead, they disappear mutely into the backroom of Segi’s Night Club, never to re-appear. We later learn that they have been killed in retribution for Kongi’s politics. Their memory lingers on, however; we can’t really believe that we have lost them so early; moreover, various characters employ “ear” phrases which recall their names to us. As a result, when in the last scene, the head is presented to Kongi, we, without Soyinka’s stage note stating whose head it is, recall, even if only for a brief moment, our old friends the Ears. Our attention, in other words is at least partially distracted at this important point by the strong expectation that the Ears will prove interesting. Soyinka must reckon with the fact that he can arouse our interest, and in nonessential matters, handle that talent carefully. It is a great disappointment to realize finally that, in the interests of coherence and clarity, many fascinating dramatic touches in Kongi’s Harvestshould, like the Ears of State, be more fully developed, carefully subordinated, or lopped off.


The end of the play leaves no hope in us for the purging of such societies. The struggle by Daoudu and others to overcome Kongi’s destruction is doomed. This futility of action is first hinted in the proverbs from “Hemlock” .
Even Daodu and Segi who are the only ones courageous enough to openly condemn Kongi’s rule, are in the end victims of the predicted general clampdown indicated by the iron grating that clamps on the ground at the end of the play.

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