A Dance of the Forests

A Dance of the Forests Summary and Analysis of Part 5


The Dead Man enters and says, "three lives I led since first I went away/But still my first possesses me/The pattern is unchanged." The Forest Head addresses the Dead Man as Mulieru and alludes to the fact that he once knew him. The Forest Head remembers that the Dead Man was once sold as a slave for a flask of rum.

The Questioner is disgusted with the Dead Man, when suddenly Aroni enters and snatches off the Questioner's mask, revealing that it is, in fact, Eshuoro. "I was sure I recognized a similarity in venom, but I did not think Eshuoro would dare," he says.

The Forest Head decides to skip the questioning and move on to the welcoming, summoning all of the mortals, along with an Interpreter. The Interpreter brings Rola, Demoke, Adenebi onstage and the Forest Head dismisses the Dead Man, in spite of his protestations.

The Forest Head notes that the Interpreter is not the one he knows. The one he knows went to the gathering of the tribes and has been replaced by his acolyte. The Forest Head suspects that perhaps Eshuoro sent him, as Eshuoro enters and insists that he does not need slaves. After Aroni has escorted the Dead Woman offstage, the Interpreter puts masks on the mortals and they walk in a circle in a welcome ritual.

The Dead Woman is brought on, no longer pregnant and now holding the hand of a Half-Child. The stage directions state, "As each spirit is summoned, one of the human three becomes agitated, possessed, and then pronounces." The Spirit of the Palm speaks, and the Half-Child tries to figure out who is speaking, as a Figure in Red appears and begins walking in the child's footsteps. The child goes to another part of the stage, digs a hole, and begins playing sesan, a game. When the Figure in Red mimics his actions, he appeals for help, before saying, "I'll be born dead."

The Spirit of Darkness speaks, then the Spirit of Precious Stones, then the Spirit of the Pachyderms, then the Spirit of the Rivers. They all move and speak in a large chorus, when suddenly they all stop. The Half-Child and the Figure in Red continue to play their game and the Figure in Red wins, holding up his seeds triumphantly.

The Chorus of Waters stands and delivers a monologue, then the Spirit of the Rivers answers. A distant noise gets louder as a cloud of dust forms. As Aroni moves towards the Figure in Red, the Interpreter begins to dance between them, blocking Aroni.

The Interpreter calls upon the Spirit of the Sun. After the spirits of the forest murmur for a moment, the Forest Head addresses the Spirit of Volcanoes, who insists that it is not the cause of the noise. The Forest Head wants to know where the noise is coming from and the Ant Leader speaks up and bemoans the status of the ant. When the Ant Leader continues to deflect, the Forest Head asks it, "Have you a Cause, or shall I/Preserve you like a riddle?"

The ants all continue to speak up, portending a hopeless and bleak future. When they leave, the Figure in Red goes towards the Forest Head, and Triplets enter. The Forest Head describes the triplets, "You perversions are born when they [the three mortals] acquire power over one another..."

Suddenly the Figure in Red rips off his mask and reveals himself to be Eshuoro. He holds his hand out to the Half-Child, who tries to go to the Dead Woman. Just as the child is about to take the Dead Woman's hand, Eshuoro begins to play a game which attracts him. Eshuoro grabs him and throws him to the Triplets, who toss him around.

Demoke tries to intercept the tossing of the child, and eventually succeeds. He then tries to give the child to the Dead Woman, but Eshuoro blocks his way and appeals to the Forest Head. The Forest head asks Aroni, "Does Demoke know the meaning of his act?" and Aroni tells him he is holding a "doomed thing" and that the forest will not let him pass.

Demoke gives the child to the Dead Woman, and Aroni leads the mother and child off. The Forest Head leaves, then Eshuoro, triumphantly. The stage directions read, "A silhouette of Demoke's token is seen. The village people dancing round it, also in silhouette, in silence. There is no contact between them and the Forest ones."

The Dance of the Unwilling Sacrifice begins, and Eshuoro puts a jester head on Demoke, then pushes him towards the totem. When Demoke reaches it, he must climb to the top of it. As Demoke gets higher, Eshuoro lights the totem on fire. Ogun enters to catch Demoke when he falls.

Murete drunkenly drags Agboreko and the Old Man onto the stage. The Old Man runs to Demoke and holds him up, as Demoke opens his eyes. Demoke tells the Old Man that the fourth mortal was the Forest Head himself, in disguise. The mortals have learned their lesson in this action-packed day. Rola comes forward, "chastened."

As Igbale music plays, Demoke, Agboreko, the Old Man, Rola, and Adenebi speak an epilogue.


Each of the characters, save for the spirits and gods, has had some past experience that they carry with them into the theatrical present. In the world of the living, no one is ever just who they are born as; they also carry the story of who they were before with them into the present. This continuity is something close to reincarnation, but almost more immediate, as the separate lives are even less distinct, and present identities are laid over past ones more indiscernibly.

Much of the action in the play consists of non-literal, figurative or ritualistic scenarios that hearken back to traditional modes of Nigerian performance. In this way, the magical or supernatural elements are not necessarily labeled as such, but are simply extensions of the literal action onstage, rituals in themselves in which plausibility is not a concern. When spirits are summoned, or characters become possessed, it is simply stated that this happens in the stage directions.

The action is often dramatic and vivid to imagine happening onstage. Particularly in this final section, the stage world becomes ritualistic and heightened, no longer just scenes between characters but elaborate scenarios involving impressive technical elements. As the barrier between the spirit world and the human world breaks down, the stage directions become all the more impressive, demanding more and more stage magic and a greater level of illusion.

This last section depicts the merging of the human and the natural worlds. One by one, various natural elements of the Earth—the sun, the waters, the ants—awaken and address the Forest Head. In this vision of the world, the elements and nature have their own poetic position within the universe, and they are personified in the language. The sun speaks of its own body, the spirit of volcanoes describes itself as belching and spitting. In this conception of the world, nature is as alive and embodied as the humans who inhabit it.

The end of the play leaves the reader with the mortal characters, rather than the spirits. Left alone, they experience rebirth, learning the lessons of their former lives and evolving into new people. They endure the intensity of the spiritual realm and deliver the epilogue together, a testament to the journey they have endured together.