A Dance of the Forests

A Dance of the Forests Summary and Analysis of Part 3


Agboreko tells the Old Man that Aroni has taken the dead couple "under his wing." He then tells him about the revelation that Rola is actually Madame Tortoise, "...and they are strongly linked to her. Through what crime I do not know." The Old Man wants to know where Aroni plans to hold his ceremony, but Agboreko tells him he does not know, and that Murete will not tell him. Agboreko says, "Aroni is Wisdom itself. When he means to expose the weaknesses of human lives, there is nothing can stop him. And he knows how to choose his time."

The Old Man asks if Oremole is among the dead and Agboreko tells him he is not. "...Would the others accuse on his behalf?" the Old Man asks, and Agboreko says he does not know. A Councillor chimes in and suggests that there is still hope, as the Forest Father has not spoken yet and there is a chance that Aroni is just acting on his own.

When Adenebi asks who Forest Father is, everyone stares at him and does not answer. Agboreko goes to try to get more answers from Murete.

Adenebi wants to go and in the process reveals to the Old Man that he was with Demoke. The Old Man asks him questions about the four mortals and it comes out that Adenebi also saw the two dead people, whom he mislabels as "those mad people you find everywhere." He also reveals that the woman he was with was Madame Tortoise.

The Old Man infers that Eshuoro was the fourth member of their party, "leading you all to your destruction." Then the Old Man alludes to Oremole's death, saying, "A servant of Oro was killed. Nothing will rest until we are all bathed in blood." He calls for Agboreko, who hurries back in and tells the Old Man that the two dead people want human advocates. Adenebi begins to get frightened that he has been classed with the other mortals and fears retribution for his past sins.

Then a procession enters: the beaters (one with a whip), a dancer, an acolyte, a dirge-man, and an assistant, who hands Agboreko a divination board, a bowl, and kernels. They go through a divination ritual and the Old Man is disappointed. They continue in the ritual, which includes a ceremonial dance. They grow more and more anxious, eventually panicking and running away in fear.

Adenebi calls for his fellow mortals, as forest creatures and forest spirits surround him. Adenebi says, "I have always lived in mortal terror of being lost." Obaneji, Rola, and Demoke all reenter and Obaneji asks him if he figured out "who burnt out 65 souls." Obaneji tells him he is going to the welcoming of the dead, and after hesitating for a moment, Adenebi follows him off stage.

Part 2. Murete is at his dwelling, about to go to the human festivities, and stops to clean his nails on the bark of a tree. He mutters to himself about the fact that Aroni has ostracized him, when Eshuoro enters, grabs Murete's neck and warns him not to tell anyone that he has seen him. Eshuoro asks Murete if it is the day of the welcoming of the dead, and Murete tells him that it is. He says, "I know they have asked for conquerors and Aroni has sent them accusers, knowing they would never welcome them."

Eshuoro is upset that Aroni did not invite him to the welcoming and tells Murete that he plans to turn it into a "bloody sentence." Murete suggests that he go speak to Forest Father. Eshuoro tells Murete that Aroni is planning to let the four mortals go after the welcoming of the dead and that he plans to stop it. When Murete protests, Eshuoro says, "Not by my hand. But if the humans, as always, wreak havoc on their own heads, who are we to stop them?"

Eshuoro complains to Murete that of all the sons of the Forest Father, he has suffered the greatest indignity at the hands of a human. When Murete tells him to take it up with Forest Father, Eshuoro reveals that he is upset about the totem that Demoke carved in town, and from which the apprentice fell. "My head was hacked off by his axe!" Eshuoro exclaims.

Murete is dismissive of Eshuoro's anger, suggesting that he is being disrespectful of art itself, and Eshuoro tries to strike him with a branch, so Murete runs off. Eshuoro delivers a long and passionate monologue about how he will avenge the desecration of his tallest tree.

In another part of the forest, a Forest Crier emerges, as well as several forest spirits. He invokes the spirits and inhabitants of the forest and calls on the entrance of the Forest Father to "unveil the phantasmagoria of protagonists from the dead." Forest Head and Aroni enter.


In the world of the play, the past and present are blurred in that people are strongly linked to their descendants even in the world of the present. The revelation that Rola is Madame Tortoise, for instance, is at once the revelation of the fact that she is the descendant of an infamous prostitute named Madame Tortoise, and also that she is Madame Tortoise in the present. There is an elision made between the world of the living and the world of the dead that suggests that the characters cannot escape their origins, that no individual is simply who they are, but they each carry the crimes, sins, and insecurities of those that came before.

As they begin to piece together what is happening, Adenebi, the Old Man, and Agboreko begin to see that Aroni has summoned the dead to come back and, in effect, "haunt" the mortals who have done them wrong in the past. There is unfinished business to be reckoned with and injustice that needs to be remedied. The dead couple is there to remind the four living subjects of the crimes they committed in the past. The world of the dead has something to teach the living.

The play interpolates contemporary European modes of playwriting with more traditional representations of Nigerian rites. For instance, after the Old Man, Agboreko, and Adenebi have convened, they perform a divination ritual and dance in order to welcome the dead. These rituals have historical and spiritual precedent, and while they do not necessarily appear to have a literal bearing on the plot itself, they affect the characters deeply and portend the reckoning that is to come.

Wole Soyinka blends not only elements of European drama and African myth, but also the world of humans with the supernatural. Spirits like Eshuoro, Aroni, and Murete move through the world with an elevated power and a special place in the fabric of the forest, yet they squabble and have appetites just like the humans over whom they preside. Murete loves nothing more than getting drunk in his tree dwelling, and Eshuoro experiences envy and resentment at not being invited to the welcoming of the dead. Thus, we see that the world of the humans and the world of the gods is not so distinct, that those in power are just as fallible as their inferiors.

Embedded in the thematic narrative of the play is the struggle between the human world and the natural world, as it is presided over by the gods and spirits. A god like Eshuoro resents the humans for meddling with his forest, particularly resenting Demoke for carving something in one of his tallest prize trees. Meanwhile, the Forest Head is more at peace with the human world, even if he too is meddling with it in his own ways, by disguising himself as Obaneji and following Aroni's lead.