A Dance of the Forests

A Dance of the Forests 20th century Nigerian Theater

While performance modes undoubtedly predate the 20th century, Nigerian theater history is often traced back to the 1940s, during which time the Yoruba people created performances using mime, drumming, music and folklore. These traditions are some of the sources that Wole Soyinka used in writing A Dance of the Forests, incorporating many traditional styles into a more contemporary Western aesthetic.

Curiously enough, what is now thought of as "traditional" Nigerian performance took many cues from Christian doctrine and church practices, side effects of colonialism. Influential figures in early Nigerian theater, who all had traveling theater troupes, were Hubert Ogunde, Kola Ogunmola, and Duro Lapido, who each cultivated different distinctive modes of performance, ranging from profound tragedy to goofy satire.

After being educated in England, Wole Soyinka became determined to take his Western education and incorporate it into his playwriting, not as a way to side with the colonizer, but in an attempt to combat corruption in his country and give African identity back to itself. Throughout his career, he used the language of Nigerian theater as a way to critique the system and speak truth to power. He is quoted as once saying, "...I think the Yoruba gods are truthful. Truthful in the sense that I consider religion and the construct of deities simply an extension of human qualities taken, if you like, to the ninth degree. I mistrust gods who become so separated from humanity that enormous crimes can be committed in their names. I prefer gods who can be brought down to earth and judged, if you like."