Exploring Creation, Death, and Rebirth in Wole Soyinka’s “Abiku”

Through symbolism and a dramatic monologue, Soyinka crafts a narrative that encompasses themes of creation, death, and rebirth.

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In Wole Soyinka’s poem “Abiku,” the poet delves into Yoruba mythology and explores the mysterious concept of the Abiku child—a recurring figure believed to be an immortal changeling.

Through symbolism and a dramatic monologue, Soyinka crafts a narrative that encompasses themes of creation, death, and rebirth. This blog post aims to delve into these themes.

The Paradox of Creation and Destruction

A central theme in “Abiku” revolves around the paradoxical nature of creation and destruction. Soyinka incorporates the Ogun myth of creation, emphasizing the interplay between birth and death. The Abiku child serves as a powerful symbol of this paradox, defying all attempts to prevent its endless cycle of coming and going. The child’s boastful tone throughout the poem highlights its immense powers and its ability to defy charms, magic, and human interventions.

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The Circular Notion of Time

Embedded within the African concept of circular time, the Abiku child embodies the repetitive nature of existence. The child’s agelessness is emphasized, highlighting the cyclical plot of its journey. Soyinka uses the phrase “Once and the repeated time, ageless / Though I Puke” to express the timeless presence of the Abiku. This conveys the idea that the Abiku is simultaneously a newborn and older than its own parents and grandparents, emphasizing the eternal recurrence of life and death.

The Universal Presence of Abiku

While the Abiku child is a specific entity, the poem suggests that it represents a broader concept. Soyinka reveals that pouring libations is intended to send the Abiku child away, indicating its undesirability. Yet, the poem suggests that every human being is, in a way, an Abiku—”born to die.” This insight connects the Abiku figure to the universal human experience of mortality, emphasizing the inseparable link between life and death.

The Horrors of Death and Mourning

Soyinka vividly portrays the impact of the Abiku child’s presence on those around it. The sixth stanza depicts scenes of mourning and grief, with people shedding tears of sorrow wherever the child appears or disappears. The child becomes synonymous with death and horror, regardless of the time of day or night. Imagery of carnivorous birds and flies-eating spiders further accentuates the havoc caused by the Abiku child, evoking a sense of constant suffering and torment.

The Inevitability of Death and the Celebration of Life

Within the paradoxical themes of birth and death, Soyinka explores the inevitability of mortality. The phrase “The ripest fruit was saddest” conveys the universal human dread of death. However, despite grappling with the notion of death, Soyinka’s poetry also celebrates the richness and sensuousness of life. He highlights the interconnectedness of birth and death, comparing the protruded womb of a pregnant woman to a burial mound. This comparison signifies the unity of the two states and emphasizes the poet’s keen awareness of the intricate balance between life and death.

Opposition and Cosmic Balance

Soyinka’s exploration of birth, death, and rebirth in “Abiku” underscores the notion that opposition sustains cosmic balance. The poem argues that life would lack meaning without death. It depicts a world where creation and destruction are closely intertwined and controlled by centrifugal and centripetal forces. This concept extends beyond individuals and applies to civilizations, cultures, and even the universe itself, which undergo cycles of creation, disintegration, and recreation.

Conclusion

Wole Soyinka’s “Abiku” delves into Yoruba mythology, conveying profound insights into creation, death, and rebirth. Through the enigmatic Abiku child, Soyinka explores the paradoxical nature of existence, the cyclical nature of time, and the inseparable link between birth and death. The poem serves as a powerful reminder of the inevitability of mortality while highlighting the importance of opposition and cosmic balance in the fabric of life. Soyinka’s words invite reflection on the complexities of our existence and the profound mysteries of the universe.

Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images
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