A Dance of the Forests

A Dance of the Forests Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Smoking out the forest (Symbol)

The Old Man sends for a truck to smoke out the forest with the petrol fumes, all in order to find his son. This event is symbolic of the ways that humans are willing to disrupt and destroy nature in order to get what they want.

Coin purse (Symbol)

In the court of Mata Kharibu, the Slave-Dealer hands the Historian a coin purse in exchange for his agreement that his ship is a worthy vessel. The coin purse is a symbol of how bribery and corruption work in the court of Mata Kharibu. People are willing to get paid off in order to turn a blind eye to injustice, and the coin purse symbolizes their greed and the fact that they can be bought.

Out of the Soil (Symbol)

Dead Man and Dead Woman come up out of the soil in the opening of the play, which symbolizes their journey from the subterranean world of the dead to the world of the living. It represents that they are not alive, but it also represents that they have unfinished business, and that they come with issues that have been buried and that they are literally and figuratively bringing to light.

Music and Ritual (Motif)

Throughout the play, music and ritual are used as theatrical devices to illuminate elements of the narrative and render the story in different ways. Music, ritual, poetry, and possession root the play in Yoruba traditions from which Wole Soyinka was taking his inspiration, and they also serve to abstract the events, so that the spiritual, emotional, and ethical truths of the story are further illuminated. For instance, there are certain parts of the story that are so outside the realm of literal reality, such as the presence of the Dead Woman's Half-Child in the narrative, that ritual serves to make sense of events and images that a reader might have a hard time understanding otherwise.

The Play as an Allegory for Nigerian Politics

While many celebrated the play when it was first performed in 1960 to celebrate Nigerian independence, its critics believed that it was attacking Nigerian politics and interpreted it as a warning for the future. Many of the play's critics were members of Nigeria's elite who saw the play as exposing post-colonial Nigerian politics as corrupt. The play has been interpreted as an allegory for the ways in which Nigerians were tasked with casting away the structures of colonialism and beginning anew, trying to find better political modes. While Soyinka's depictions of mortals and spirits alike as fallible can be read as an indictment of Nigerian politicians in the post-colonial moment in which it was written, it can also be interpreted as offering a more idealistic vision of what might be in the future, the possibilities and potentials for a country on the brink of crafting a new identity.