I believe therefore I am

In Act II of Death and the King’s Horseman we are introduced to Simon Pilkings the District Officer.  His interactions with Sergeant Amusa and the houseboy Joseph foreshadow the density of the conflicts to come.  In Act I the conflict unraveling was one of Elesin, his duty to the community, and his wants; but in act II, a conflict of beliefs come into view.

Pilkings character is irreligious, and to a large extent, insensitive towards other’s beliefs.  His first insult is aimed indirectly at Amusa, who walks in on the Pilkingses wearing and dancing in a “dead cult” ceremonial garbs. (18-20)  Amusa is shocked and finds it difficult to interact with Pilkings because of the symbolism behind his dress.  Amusa makes multiple statements regarding the inappropriateness of the situation: “Is not good for man like you to touch that cloth,” (19) and “How can man talk against death to person in uniform of death,” (19).  Also, when Pilkings claims that Amusa is a “good Moslem,” (19) Amusa doesn’t confirm or deny this; adding to the reader’s suspicion that Amusa, whether officially Muslim or not, still sees power in local religious customs, and defines himself by them.  When Amusa, a man in servitude of the law, is questioned about helping arrest the original owners of the clothes, he responds that he arrested “ringleaders who make trouble” but that he never directly went against the egungun, instead, he treated it with respect. (20)  Later in the act, Pinkings still displays no religious belief and insults Joseph, a Catholic convert, by claiming “holy water nonsense” (24).  Jane, Simon’s wife, warns him of how such disrespect will cause Joseph to quit and thus Simon apologizes, but it is superficial. (25-6)  As for the Pilkingses, their identity appears to be through the class, thus the dress-up, the tango practice, the (soon to be) meeting with the Prince at the ball—their focus is on a different planet from that of other groups in their immediate surroundings and a collision of beliefs appears to be imminent.

Although Soyinka warns in his introduction that this work is not to be caged in a “clash of cultures” box, the different characters almost beg us to explore the various beliefs and somehow begin from a ‘clash of beliefs/cultures’ to other topics.  Especially because we talk about identity a lot in this class, and with the understanding that our environment shapes us to varying degrees, it would be odd to ignore the cultures presented.

-Joes Martinez

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