Creating Tension by Comparing the Yoruba and British Views of African Colonialism

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SWBAT analyze how the parallel plots in create tension by using textual evidence to distinguish the Yoruba and British colonial perspectives in Death and the King's Horseman.

Big Idea

Students compare and contrast how the oppressed react to the oppressor to create tension in the text.

Let's Get Started: Comparing Text-Dependent Cultural Inferences

20 minutes

For homework, the students had to identify cultural behaviors of the British colonial community including how the African members of the British government fit into the colonial system. The goal of the on-going culture chart is for students to see the similarities and differences in Yoruba and British culture to support their analysis of why DTKH is more than a clash of cultures. These cultural assumptions are based on Act II of Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka. They had to support their findings with direct textual evidence (RL 9-10. 1).

As the students settle into their groups, I will tell them to compare their homework with the other members of their group.  The group needs to make sure that the each member's examples of cultural elements is logical and supported with evidence.  Group members should add to their own lists if new or different examples are presented by other members of the group.  

I tell them to focus on: 

  • Tradition
  • Law and order
  • Beliefs and values
  • Artistic Expression
  • Innovation
  • Nature
  • Language

I want them to focus on the same areas of British Colonial culture that we had already discussed about the Yoruba. While they may equate British Colonial culture with European culture, they need to distinguish the cultural perspective of a colonial identity or the identity of the oppressor (RL 9-10 6).  Colonial attitudes about indigenous populations frame the borders, languages, and religious identities of the majority of the countries in Africa even after their independence.  Grasping the uniqueness of colonial culture will help students when they encounter colonial and/or post-colonial literature in other classes. 

Building Knowledge: Sharing Inferences in a Whole Class Discussion

20 minutes

As the small group discussions wrap up, I assign each group one of the topics (tradition, language, beliefs and values, innovation, artistic, expression, law and order, and nature) to present to the class (SL.9-10.4). Each group needs to pick a writer and a speaker. They have to review their assigned topic and write it on the board with a text-based reference to support their example.  Next they, have to prepare answers to the following questions:

1. What is your example of culture?

2. How or why does this example exemplify British colonial culture? 

3. How does it compare to Yoruba culture?

I give them about five minutes to focus on their key topic.  These questions should help them clarify the colonial aspect of British culture (RL 9-10. 6).  Also as an extension, I hope they will be able to see how the British and the Yoruba live in a culture that is derived from the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor.

Now that the examples create a visual representation on the board, I call on each group to answer the questions based on traditionbeliefs and valuesinnovationartistic expressionlaw and order, and nature. These presentations summarize the points of the group's agreement and make new connections between the British and Yoruba cultures (SL 9-10. 1d). 

After the presentations, I ask if there are any clarifying questions. Once the questions are answered, it is time to transition to act III of Death and the King's Horseman.

Building Knowledge: Reading Act III

30 minutes

Now we transition to reading Act III of Death and the King's Horseman. Before we begin reading, I tell them to pass close attention to the interaction between the woman of the market and the African colonial police.  What does their conversation tell you about power in their relationship?  

The first section of Act III is the interaction between Amusa, the two colonial police officers and the women. The women refuse to follow their orders and emasculate them.  I want them to see that the women view Africans who work for the British as people who have acquiesced to the colonial oppressor and are therefore somewhat powerless in the Yoruba community (RL 9-10.3).  

I bring up Martin Luther King's Three Ways of Meeting Oppression which they read in our last unit.  I want them to compare MLK's examination of the oppressed and the oppressor to the Yoruba and the British in Death and the King's Horseman. Students need to see how each text portrays the subject of oppression in different ways (RL 9-10. 7).   If time permitted, I would do an entire lesson where the students used Dr. King's essay to examine this relationship.  However, I have to settle for posing text dependent questions.  I ask:

Who are the oppressed and who are the oppressors? Who has the most power and why?

How would Dr. King describe the Africans who work for the British?

Why don't the women respect the African colonial police?

The second part of act III has young girls teasing the colonial police.  After reading that section, I ask again: 

How would Dr. King describe the Africans who work for the British? 

Why don't the girls respect the African colonial police?

Then I add the question, Who has the power in this interaction the women and girls or the African colonial police?  

How does the change in power (from the British to the women/girls) create tension or conflict in the play? (Hint: consider how Soyinka transitions between act II and act III) 

This last question allows students to explore Soyinka's choices on how he structured the text impact the tension in the play (RL 9-10. 5).  


Wrap Up: Preparation for Text Dependent Questions

10 minutes

As the class winds down, I give each group a question over Act III.  There are seven groups, but I have six questions, so two groups will answer question one since it has the most sections to answer.  Each group will answer their question using textual evidence to support it (RL.9-10.1).  The questions vary in their complexity.  I want to make sure that they see some of the subtle cultural connections.  For example question six asks them to explain the ritual and who is assisting Elesin. This recall question asks the to look closely at the ritual that is specific to Yoruba culture.  I hope that during their presentation in the next class, it will spur a discussion about his suicide and why he needs/has an assistant. They have the rest of class to work on their answer.  They will present that answer at the beginning of the next class. The six question are: 

1.  In Death and the King's Horseman that Elesin's son, Olunde is off studying to become a physician. Apparently this detail was not part of the actual, historical incident upon which Soyinka based his play. So, of all the professions that Soyinka could have picked for Olunde, why did Soyinka pick the profession of physician for this character? In other words what dramatic purpose does this choice of profession have?

2. Why do the market women insult Amusa’s manliness?

3. How do the schoolgirls overpower Amusa and his constables?

4. What is the significance of the schoolgirls’ mimicry of Englishness?

5. Explain the competing definitions of “official business” and “duty” in this scene.

6. How does Elesin commence the suicide ritual, and who will assist him?

Questions four and five ask the students to really explore the language that Soyinka uses. They will have to manipulate the denotative and connotative meanings along with grappling with the figurative language to answer those questions (RL 9-10. 4).

For homework, they need to read Act IV.