Born July 13, 1934 in Nigeria, which was then a
Is Yoruba, a term that signifies an ethnic group in
Nigeria and Benin, the religion practiced by Yoruba
people that has many spirits (or orishas), and the
language spoken by Yoruba people
Studied in Nigeria and in England
Wrote plays for the Royal Court Theatre in London
Plays were produced in both England and Nigeria
Was exiled for his political activism and was unable to
live in Nigeria during the 1990s and was not able to
return until 1999
Worked as a professor in the United States during exile
and continues to work as a professor around the world
Won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first African
and person of African descent to win the award
Refer to control over a piece of land and its people by a more
Colonialism – establishment of a colony by sending a group of
people from a dominant power to live in and control a weaker
one (e.g. the U.S. was once a British colony, India was once a
British colony, the Philippines was once a U.S. colony)
Imperialism – broader term that implies domination of a group
of people and their land, which may include colonization (see
above) but does not require it (e.g. the U.S. controlling
Afghanistan, U.S. using foreign aid in return for countries
protecting their interests, U.S. attempt to control Cuba by
forcing an embargo)
Colonialism in Nigeria
Began around 1800 when England began controlling
West African ports to stop the Transatlantic Slave
By 1885, England had complete political, financial,
and social control over what is now Nigeria
Nigerians fought against the control from England
from the very beginning, but England had better
weapons and more resources
Nigerians continued fighting for freedom during the 19th
century and into the 20th century.
They wanted to form an independent country that was
not controlled by England but by Nigerians
Soyinka was involved in the Nigerian independence
movements during the 1950s.
In 1960, Nigeria gained independence from England.
1960 is called the “Year of Africa,” because many African
countries gained independence that year.
The term “postcolonial” refers to the time period when
colonization is over.
Postcolonial Nigerian history included many civil wars,
dictators, and disputes over leadership after the British
Nigeria is a major source of oil, so struggles for the
natural resource have included multinational companies
who want access to the oil.
Nigeria has been relatively peaceful since 1999, when
democratic elections began naming leaders for the
Death and the King’s
Written in 1975
One of Soyinka’s most famous plays
Set in 1946, before Nigerian independence and
while the British were in control of Nigeria
Based on a real story, in which the king’s horseman
wanted to commit ritual suicide as part of Yoruba
tradition but the British colonial authorities believed
the ritual was immoral and had to be prevented.
According to Yoruba tradition, when a king dies, his
horseman must commit ritual suicide so his spirit
can help guide the king’s spirit into the afterlife.
If the horseman does not commit suicide, the king’s
spirit may wander the earth and disrupt life for the
British authorities viewed the practice as barbaric
and felt it their duty to stop it.