Wole Soyinka presents Commencement Rites at the Tree Creativity
Wole Soyinka has been described as ‘Nigeria’s national conscience.’ He is a professor, activist, playwright, critic and poet. His work often tells stories of democracy, government, religion, and tensions around tradition and progress. He is concerned with “the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it.” He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1986. Soyinka is the first African laureate.
In introducing Soyinka for the third and final lecture of the series, Professor Wendy Laura Belcher, professor of African American Studies and Comparative Literature stated, “The occasion on which Wole Soyinka, the first black man to win the Nobel Prize in literature speaks in honor of Toni Morrison, the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature is not just a historic moment but a poignant one. Unless the world changes radically, it is highly unlikely that you will ever again be in a room honoring two Nobel Prize winners of African descent. Nor in a room honoring two who are part of the literary sublime, great spirits whose command of language is so extraordinary that inspires not just a kind of ecstasy but a change in the course of history itself.”
Let us consider for instance whether trees should not be held responsible for capital punishment. If they were not around perhaps no one would have conceived of hanging as a way to place human beings permanently out of circulation.Perhaps the most easily apprehended distillation of the affinities we have to trees whether as poet, teacher, activist, ruminant or just plain citizen, plain human being, is that even when ignored, taken for granted, even neglected, trees do transform their environment just like humanity in metamorphose.
Like humanity they pass through transformative stages. From seed where they may be tended in a nursery, the very expression that we apply to infants. The young shoot just rub up and eventually through the majestic entity creates its own aura, alone, or with others. Both possibilities can merge into or dominate the environment.
There is no escaping the imperative of choice. Either we exert it or a single-minded, fanatical-minority will exercise that mandate on our behalf and thus deny us our existential will.
Is it really difficult to see that this is what is at the heart of the world's current dilemma?
Just as a tree does not make a forest, so does one gender not make humanity. When you compromise or you pander to fragmentary notions like cultural relativism, you are merely opening wide the gates to your own destruction. You have taken the first step, however long it takes, towards yourselves also becoming relative and thus expendable. This is when you wake up to discover that you have become first line designated victims.
Perhaps it's about time that we adopted the language of those very enemies of humanity, but this time on behalf of humanity fundamentalism. Yes, perhaps it's high time we declare ourselves fundamentalists of human liberty.