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HASSAN, BASHIRAT ONYINOYI

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  • Name: LITERATURE AND ECOLOGY: A STUDY OF WOLE SOYINKA’S A DANCE OF THE FORESTS AND THE BEATIFICATION OF AN AREA BOY
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  • Length: [110] Pages

 

ABSTRACT

The current crisis of ecology and environmental pollution have gripped the attention and aroused
the concern of many people alive today. Studies show that our imprudent behaviour towards, and
utilisation of, Nature have pushed the world into a crisis that has not only led to the gradual
destruction of our ecology and its very capacity to sustain life, but also threatens our survival.
There is also the socio-economic and psychological dimension to the crisis. Many countries and
organisations have endeavoured to prevent the further spread of the ecological crisis but in spite
of all efforts, the ecological crisis continues to mount. This realisation has prompted scholars in
various disciplines to open up ecological/environmental dimensions to their respective
disciplines as a way of contributing to environmental restoration. Literary scholars have also
joined the debate through the field of ecocriticism. This study attempts to explore the ways in
which Soyinka participates and responds to the current ecological challenges. Using ecocriticism
as a theoretical tool, the study contends that Soyinka’s philosophy which informs his literary
works is Nature sensitive and attempts to address the basic presupposition at the roots of the
ecological crisis. The study reveals that the current ecological crisis is a disturbing manifestation
of the dangers inherent in a change in the structure of the relationship between man and Nature
which currently assumes that humans are separate from Nature. Through his literary works, we
get to see an alternative worldview which shows that man exists in a cosmic totality and is a part
of Nature. The study also suggests that a consciousness of this fact enables us to live in greater
peace and harmony with Nature; thus the call for a reassessment of some of the basic premises
upon which our current practices are grounded.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Title page – – – – – – – – – – i
Declaration – – – – – – – – – – ii
Certification – – – – – – – – – – iii
Dedication – – – – – – – – – – iv
Acknowledgment – – – – – – – – – v
Abstract – – – – – – – – – – vii
Table of contents – – – – – – – – – viii
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
Preamble – – – – – – – – – – 1
Statement of the Problem – – – – – – – – 8
Aim and Objectives – – – – – – – – – 10
Significance of Study – – – – – – – – – 11
Scope of Study – – – – – – – – – 12
Methodology – – – – – – – – – – 13
Theoretical Framework – – – – – – – – 15
Ecocriticism – – – – – – – – – – 15
Heidegger s Critique of Technology – – – – – – – 22
CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW
Tracing the Roots of the Current Ecological Crisis – – – – – 27

Soyinka’s Philosophy and Ecology – – – – – – – 42
CHAPTER THREE
Earth Connections and Morality in A Dance of the Forests – – – – 55
CHAPTER FOUR
Modernity, Corruption and the Ecological Space in
The Beatification of an Area Boy – – – – – – – 70
CHAPTER FIVE
Conclusion – – – – – – – – – – 85
REFERENCES –

 

CHAPTER ONE

PREAMBLE
Humans all over the world who have the privilege of witnessing the modern era are
inheritors of a magnificent history. The period marks not only the economic ascent of some third
world countries but also ecological disorder and violent processes of change that challenge
humans at every level imaginable. The 20th/21st century man is the recipient of the legacy of
industrialization and the subsequent modernity. Although extraordinary and important advances
have been made through the age of industrialization, the accompanying changes in our lifestyles
and social circumstances beyond doubt have led to significant changes in our outlook and
understanding of ourselves in relation to the world which we inhabit. The prevailing outlook of
the world especially after the age of industrialization is to perceive humans as somehow apart
from ‘Nature’, as isolated individuals and discrete entities. This profound detachment from our
surroundings has led to ecological crisis which is one of the greatest global problems of our time.
The issue of ecology has therefore come to play a central intellectual role in our present
age. It refers to the study of the relationships between humans, animals, plants and their setting.
This relationship affirms the premise that people and the planet are interrelated. Unarguable
however, ecological crisis is one of the most pressing and timely concerns at the turn of the 21st
century. The word ‘environment’, in the light of our argument, adds a human dimension to the
idea of ecology. It brings out the particular interaction of the human being with his or her habitat
defined as the life sustaining surroundings that are given to the people and that are partially the
result of their labour. Today the earth is experiencing a lot of ecological problems and it appears
that the current ecological crisis is a reflection of man’s relationship with the natural world.
– 2 –
Thomas Berry in Sullivan (1999: xi) refers to this relationship as, “the relation of humans to the
non-human components of the world that we live in. Something is not functioning properly since
the multitude of living beings around us seem to be dying out”. Pieces of evidence of this flawed
relationship are found all over the world: there are recorded cases of the shrinking of tropical
forests, desertification due to land mismanagement, the reduction of the underground water
tables, the increase in the death rates of life in lakes and rivers, the rise in global temperature, the
rise in sea levels and above all, the gradual depletion of the ozone layer due to carbon emission
and environmental pollution. The consequences of all these are numerous. These include health
problems like: skin cancer, diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera, typhoid and malaria. Others include the
socio-economic implications like: increase in crime rates, poverty and corruption throughout the
world. These examples are a small sample of the current data that indicates the present ecological
decay.
With respect to Africa as well as other third world countries, the dimension of the global
ecological crisis has an inimitable character. The continent has a complex history of manifold
challenges in her cultural and political evolution. The duo factors of colonialism (a subsidiary of
the industrialization/modernity project) and some internal dynamics, creates conditions that are
both exploitative and dangerous to human life. Nigeria, for instance has witnessed lots of
ecological challenges in recent times although many of Nigeria’s problems are typical of
developing states. Following the discovery of oil in Nigeria and subsequent independence,
Nigeria has been engaged in the enterprise of nation building and this process of nation building
has resulted in severe ecological crisis. For instance, in the process of oil production, Nigeria is
contributing to the global warming and the resultant climate change which is the most serious in
scope of all the ecological challenges.
– 3 –
There is an urgent need to question how man has created a society filled with toxins and
pollutants so much so that it affects man negatively. Going by Commoner’s (1979) first law of
Ecology that states that, “everything is connected to everything else”, one realizes that whatever
destroys one affects the other, thus the destruction of ecological systems has led to biological and
cultural destruction and disgrace so much so that Ichiyo (1999) argues that, the slogan at the
beginning of the 20th century was progress; the cry at the end of the 20th century is survival. The
acceptance of the reality of the ecological crisis is now a global phenomenon and the causes can
be traced to human activities. If left unchecked, it can lead to disastrous consequences. Thus
protecting and preserving the integrity of the global ecosystem has become the most urgent task
of our times.
Literature as a field of study cannot be left unaffected by the turn of events, for the
sustenance of ecology will require a transvaluation in which Literature must play a part. In this
increasingly industrialized global world, Literature plays a vital role in teaching the value of the
natural world. Although ecology/environmental studies and Literature are considered as two
different disciplines (the former science based and latter arts); Literature is a cultural activity that
unlocks the imagination and compels one to think and in the process, it reveals and emphasizes
truths that are sometimes exigent. According to Hsien Yu (2009:1),
Literature is the marriage of rational knowledge and the perceptual
experience as presented as a way of Art, rationality and perception.
Rationality seeks truth, perception seeks virtue and Art seeks
beauty. Rationality, perception and Art are the foundation of
literature.
Although the definition of Literature is a debated terrain, the importance of Literature cannot be
over-emphasized especially in this period of ecological challenges. Literature has the advantage
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of lasting longer and of treating issues with more perceptiveness, more balance, and more
inspiration. Today, we understand more about the politics of ancient eras in Literature than we
do from the history books. Literature has a way of going to the heart of issues of showing us our
shared humanity, of reducing real life situation and people to ordinary situations and characters
in a book. Considering the current ecological and environmental crisis, Literature can play a
major role in raising the consciousness of man in understanding his position in the globe and his
responsibility towards the environment. In paying attention to literary poetics, ecological
commentary can emerge and take effect. How we represent the world to a large extent informs
how we live in it – either responsive or not to our ecological place. Thus in the process,
Literature can effect a more environmentally- conscious position. In reinstating this fact,
Rueckert (1996: 107), advocates for the application of Ecology and its concepts to Literature
“because Ecology has the greatest relevance to the present and future of the world”. Nature and
Literature have always shared a close relationship as demonstrated in the works and practices of
pre-classical Greeks, the Romantics, African traditional practices as well as the works of poets
and other writers down the ages in almost every culture of the world. Many works of fiction and
poetry manifest ecological awareness which indicates a deep sense of engagement as well as an
overwhelming connection with Nature.
What does recent African literature have to say about our ecological situation and the
environment of ‘crisis’ or ‘risk’ which we are currently faced with? If indeed we are living in
times of survival where man’s practices destroy not only the ecological balance but stand the risk
of his own annihilation; how is African literature responding? Amongst some critics of late,
African literary fiction has been pointedly accused of failing to respond to the conditions on
ground in spite of the pressing environmental concerns. This is ironic because it is on record that
– 5 –
Africa and other third world nations are at the receiving ends of the current global environmental
challenges due to its population and meager resources. William Slaymaker in the article, “Ecoing
the Other(s): the Call of Global Green and Black African Responses” argues that much of
African writings especially those which analyze the extra-ordinary mega fauna and flora do not
genuinely qualify as ecological literature as Buell will define it. Other critics like Byron and
Santangelo accuse Slaymaker of using an Anglo-American ecocritical framework to judge
African writers.
However, a close study of African literature will reveal that the subject, Ecology, is not
new to Africa. This is because African culture as well as all other cultures that fall within the
realm of the ‘Other’ is essentially ecological in nature. African culture is spiritually and
materially integrated with the landscape. It thrives on traditional ecological knowledge.
Traditional ecological knowledge in Berkes (1993: 12) refers to, “The knowledge, practice and
belief concerning the relationship of living beings to one another and to the physical
environment, which is held by peoples in relatively non-technological societies with a direct
dependence upon local resources”. All cultural groups and human societies often preserve their
identities through a collection of oral traditions. Dylan (2010) argues that people exist not only in
geophysical places but also intellectual, ideological and intuitive systems of understanding and
inherited knots of meaning. In other words, humans fit their activities, beliefs, thoughts and
language to specific geographic locations. In Africa, these indigenous knowledge systems
existed in the oral form and were passed from mouth to mouth across centuries in the form of
stories, myths, songs, proverbs, riddles, rituals etc. Traditional ecological knowledge contained
in various oral traditions play an important role through which ecological systems are sustained.
It is through oral traditions that knowledge and practices concerning Nature are learned and by
– 6 –
extension, people gain the complex understanding of how their lives are linked to the broader
ecological cycles.
These oral traditions contribute to a large extent in the formation of African literature as
it is known today. African literature as it is known today began less than a century ago. From the
onset, literary writing in Africa has been an engaging activity which sought to interpret events
since her encounter with foreign elements. In the process, a lot of writers conveyed the oral
tradition into the written; thus there is the combination of oral traditions with the European
narrative form. A close scrutiny of most African works will reveal that African literature from
the onset has placed much emphasis on the displacement of African people, their philosophy and
culture by the colonialists, and the subsequent events that were to occur. Consequently, most
African works according to Vital (2008: 1), “can be read ecocritically because ecocriticism
values an ethic of place but most Africans have been displaced”. As a result, the process of
tracking ecological ideas in African works needs to be rooted in African region, African social
life as well as its natural environment.
Many literary works show that African culture is deeply rooted in Nature. Some
common ecological themes include: seeing the ownership, allocation and control of land as
belonging to the spiritual realm, transmitting a view of plants, animals and other elements of
Nature as being animate and alive with unique characters and preferences. Others include the
transmission of ecological knowledge of plants and animals through proverbs, riddles and songs.
Examples abound in all literary genres. For instance Achebe’s use of proverbs which passes
ecological knowledge across, Ngugi’s explicit description of the Gikuyu landscape, and many
other literary works found in Africa. Even the absence of some of these features in recent
writings in Africa is considered a tacit statement on the degradation of the ecology/environment.
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The presentation of slums in literary works as well as other features of urbanization is a product
of colonialism which has led to the weakening of old traditional values of feelings such as
fatherhood, motherhood, love, family, kinship as well as ecological ties.
This study however lays emphasis on drama genre as one of the outlets that promote a
proto-ecological agenda. This is because drama genre as a whole has socio-historical roots
buried deep in Nature as a result of humanity’s attempt to discover its identity as housed within
the ecological world. The beginnings of African drama for instance reveals social and political
practices borne out of rituals and a quest for understanding the natural and metaphysical order of
things. People were engaged with Nature and they involved metaphysical elements of Nature in
interpreting phenomena that were not understood. The result is the constant engagement with
Nature in virtually all aspects of African cultural activities like, festivals, naming ceremonies,
burials, etc. These activities are considered to have dramatic elements and are implicated in the
origins of modern African drama. In stressing the importance of drama genre as a tool to
heighten ecological understanding, David Wright in an article titled “The Pattern That Connects:
Drama as a Vehicle for Ecological Understanding” refers to the link between ecology and drama
as that which lies in the ways in which both ecological knowledge and drama draw on an applied
appreciation of relationships or connections. Furthermore, the author states that:
Drama processes actually construct relationships. These are often
thought of as person to person relationships, but they are also
relationships to groups or communities; to sensed experiences; to
places, spaces or settings; to other human lives; and to social and
personal experiences. These relationships do not stand in isolation;
they are interwoven…. Drama is life constructed with learning (pg 3)
– 8 –
Thus the relationship between drama and ecology lies in the qualities and interlinking of
relationships. Soyinka’s plays for instance, highlights man’s relationship with Nature and the
consequences of redefining such relationship which has led to the current ecological crisis. His
plays reveal a world gone ‘awry’. Such a world of ecological damage and mess requires human
restructuring of their relationship with Nature. Through his writings we get to see alternative
worldviews which enable us to live in greater peace and harmony with Nature, with other beings
who share the planet with us and with ourselves.
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Ecological problems and its socio-economic implications are the most current issues
that affect the world in general. The developments that have occurred in technology within the
last few hundred years to the present time, and the scale of environmental change are
unparalleled in the history of mankind. In a matter of years, humans have transformed the entire
ecological system; in the process they have destroyed more than they have created. Today, the
World’s peace is threatened due to the unreserved exploitation of Nature. Ironically, many
intellectuals especially in Africa point accusing fingers at colonialism, government ineptitude
within social and political institutions which has led to: under-development, corruption,
inadequate education and the like for the present ecological predicament. Although one is often
inclined to think in these directions because beyond doubts, these factors are heavily implicated
in today’s ecological crisis, and may form overwhelming barriers to protecting the integrity of
the ecology.
The main problem however lies in the change in the structural relationship between man
and Nature. There is a fundamental shift in how humans relate to the World. Man (especially
– 9 –
modern man) now sees himself as separate from and superior to the rest of Nature rather than
view himself as part of a vast system. Thus, there is a change in thought from humans as part of
Nature to humans as apart from Nature. This change in the relationship between man and Nature
leads to new metaphysical and ideological changes that encompass all major cultural institutions
and, in essence, forms a new picture of the universe and the nature of the modern man. Thus in
today’s dominating industrial culture, ‘Earth as home is not a self evident precept’ (Dylan,
2010). Many do not realize that we are born from the earth and sustained by it throughout our
lives. This change in worldview is responsible for the current ecological crisis which needs
urgent solutions.
In seeking for solution to the ecological crisis, the role of Literature is grossly
undermined and underutilized. Literature contains a vast repository of ecological knowledge. In
fact Nature in general as well as the problems that accompanied the change in the structural
relationship with Nature has always been part of the concerns of Literature. This is because
Nature and Literature have always shared a close relationship as is evidenced in oral traditions
and the works of poets and other writers down the ages in almost all cultures. In fact, ecological
reflections can be seen in the songs and stories of many cultures. In spite of this fact, critics have
not been sufficiently sensitive to ecological issues discussed in literary texts. Thus, the ecological
knowledge in literary texts is commonly left out of current efforts that seek to address issues of
the current ecological challenges.
This study therefore, seeks to demonstrate that Literature is a discursive outlet of not only
interpreting ecological crisis but of its trouble shooting. In this light, this study looks into
selected plays of Wole Soyinka to answer some metaphysical questions that border on the
organic relationship between man and Nature. It also seeks to elucidate the following:
– 10 –
i. Soyinka’s model of Man-Nature relationship, particularly in pre-colonial African
worldviews as reflected in his works.
ii. The ecological lessons that can be gleaned from Soyinka’s texts.
iii. The relationship between the ecological implications gleaned and the current ecological
crisis.
iv. If the ecological lessons deduced can influence a sustainable environmental practice.
On the whole, this study is premised largely on the idea that the way we conceptualize Nature in
many ways, determines our interaction with Nature and that Literature can play a major role in
raising consciousness of man in understanding his responsibility towards Nature.
AIM AND OBJECTIVES
The aim of this study is to illustrate the potential of Literature in promoting protoecological
agenda. Literature reflects ecological issues, and these issues are left out in current
efforts that seek to address issues of ecological/environmental degradation. Although the root
causes of the current ecological crisis and its socio-economic implications that are witnessed
today lie in how man structures his relationship with Nature, Literature can contribute to raising
public ecological consciousness that can be used to address the current ecological challenges.
This study will try to prove this fact from the study of selected plays of Soyinka. This thesis
hopes to demonstrate that there is a link between how humans structure their relationship with
Nature and how they treat Nature. To this effect therefore, the study seeks to achieve the
following objectives:
i. To illustrate that Soyinka’s conception of the African worldview as manifested in his
plays is consistent with ecological principles.
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ii. To apply ecocritical framework as a veritable analytical tool in reading Soyinka’s plays
iii. To illustrate the fact that the current socio-economic problems faced in Africa and other
parts of the world are part of the implications of the current ecological crisis which is an
indication of a structural problem that lies in how man relates with the world.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
That there exist global warming, climate change and that the air we breathe contains
pollutants are facts verifiable by modern science. These issues are also captured in literary texts.
In fact, recent occurrences of floods, drought, earthquakes and tsunamis etc are practical results
of the denigration of Nature by mankind in their interactions with Nature. Third world countries
especially those found in Africa are at the receiving end due to the high level of poverty,
corruption and an incredible population size. The irony of the whole situation is that many are
not aware of the severity of the situation. For instance, most African literary critics have
consistently dealt with issues of class, race and gender in texts but have not responded in
significant ways to ecological issues in literary texts. In the same vein, not many readers are
aware of the underlying values that writers ascribe to ecology in their writings. This makes the
study relevant, important and timely.
On the other hand, people are not aware that the separation of man from Nature is at the
root of the global ecological crisis. Consequently, the imperative of ecological awareness appears
today as a basis for a sustainable present and a viable future. It is therefore the intent of this study
to raise the ecological perception of people by drawing their attention to the fact that Literature
– 12 –
has often addressed ecological issues so that they see beyond the socio-economic, political and
gender based themes that many critics have tended to give prominence to in any literary
discourse. It is the hope that, ecological knowledge gathered from literary texts in this study will
contribute to increasing the public environmental consciousness that will eventually lead to a
change in the attitude of man towards Nature.
SCOPE OF STUDY
The recent greening in African literary studies cuts across all genres of Literature.
However, this study will restrict itself to the drama genre only: Soyinka’s plays specifically.
Secondly, Soyinka’s work can be read for so many things, but the scope of this work will be to
track ecological/environmental ideas in his works, for Soyinka’s argument about humans and
non-humans are of universal relevance and remains relevant decades after.
Soyinka has a lot of literary texts to his credit but for the scope of this work, A Dance of
the Forest and The Beatification of an Area Boy will be analyzed. The two plays are
representatives of different generations. The former underscores what man’s relationship with
Nature should be and the dangers of neglecting such relationships. The latter is a relatively recent
play that reveals the consequences of man’s disregard for Nature. This study will however make
reference to one of his philosophical works which is, ‘The Fourth Stage’ in Myth Literature and
the African World.
Furthermore, this work makes constant reference to the pre-industrial worldview and the
modern industrial worldview. The former is representative of traditional societies and the latter
represents industrial societies. The study however uses these concepts with caution because the
– 13 –
modern industrial worldview is an indefinite concept that goes beyond geographical and cultural
boundaries. In this context, the modern industrial society or worldview is treated as a culture or
world outlook that is closely associated with any or all of these: over- consumption of natural
resources and energy, materialism, industrialism, a high level of mechanization and urbanization
etc. Traditional or pre-industrial societies on the other hand, are associated with low technology,
localized production of food and commodities and strict adherence to spiritual and ecological
values.
Ecological concerns are global concerns. No society is totally exempted from the threats
and dangers which the ecological crisis poses to humanity and the entire planet. It is on this note
that the texts that will be analyzed in this study will be treated as representatives of the African
context in general even though they have their settings within a particular geographical region in
Nigeria.
METHODOLOGY
This study seeks to find the root cause of the current ecological crisis through ideas that
can be tapped in Literature. It seeks to emphasize the fact that there is a connection between
Literature and Ecology. This study thus places the ecology at the centre of its analysis. This is so
because the term emphasizes interrelations and mutually dependent interactions. The study of
Literature reveals that it contains awareness that is philosophical and rich in ecological
knowledge.
The study also uses the methodological approach derived from deductive research
method; a procedure that progresses from the general to the specific. According to Burney
(2008), deductive research tends to proceed from theory to data. The emphasis in this type of
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research will be on the deduction of ideas or facts from a new theory in the hope that it provides
a better or more coherent framework than the theories that precede it. It is a ‘waterfall’ kind of
research and conclusion follows logically from the available facts.
This study works from the point of view that Literature has often implied an awareness of
ecological issues. The study further narrows this belief to tracking key belief held by Soyinka in
his theories, and how such beliefs echo ecological principles. Ecology in this context is believed
to offer significant metaphors for thinking through the interrelations and interactions between
Man and Nature. Furthermore, understanding ecology enables

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