The body unbound: ritual scarification and autobiographical forms in Wole Soyinka’s Aké: the years of childhood

08 May 2013

The scarification in Aké is invested with major significance apropos Soyinka’s ideas on African subjectivity. Scarification among the Yoruba is one of the rites of passage associated with personal development. Scarification literally and metaphorically “opens” the person up socially and cosmically. Personal formation and self-realization are enabled by the Yoruba social code brought into being by its mythology. The meaning of the scarification incident in Aké is profoundly different. Determined by the form of autobiography which creates a self-constituting subject, the enabling Yoruba sociocultural context is elided. The story of Soyinka’s personal development is allegorical of the story of the development of the modern African subject. For Soyinka, the African subject is a rational subject whose constitution precludes the splitting of the scientific and spiritual which is a consequence of the Cartesian rupture. The African subject should be open to other subjects and the object world. Subjectivity constituted by the autobiographical mode closes off the opening up symbolically signalled by scarification.