‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ by Wole Soyinka

Thirty days after the King’s death, on the day of his burial, Elesin has to commit ritual suicide. He is to lead the King’s favourite horse and dog into the ancestor’s world. This ritual will ensure the harmony between the living and the ancestor’s world.

Postcolonial theatre.

On the same day, the British Prince will be at the ball which District Officer Pilkings and his wife will be attending. When Pilkings hears of what Elesin will be doing, he intervenes and makes it his mission to stop him from committing what he calls a crime. Elesin doesn’t get to perform the ritual and is instead caught and bound in the Officer’s old slave cell. Elesin has to face the shame and betrayal to his people, as well as the corrective measure that his son takes.

This is a brilliant work of post-colonial theatre that achieves a great deal with the way it widely opens the window for us to look into the Yoruba culture, spirituality, politics, power, and the reclaiming of history.

The main characters play such significant roles in highlighting the main themes of the play. Elesin shows how the failure of a leader to carry out their duty has catastrophic implications for its leader. Elesin, a man who has been preparing for this moment, whose life has been anchored to this duty, eventually fails and not only because of the Officer’s interference but also because of his attachment to material things.

The Pilkings couple exemplifies the disrespect of indigenous people’s cultures and traditions by colonizers. Elesin’s duty to perform a ritual suicide, which parallels the British ship’s captain blowing himself up to save others, is not regarded by the Pilkings in that way. If it’s African it’s barbaric but if it’s British it’s traditional. This is the same with the way they disrespect the egungun costumes but place such importance on the ball.

Death and the King’s Horseman is a play with a colossal magnitude of artistic and political importance. It reflects not only Nigerian history and the cracks in it where stories need to be reclaimed but of Africa as well. Through this work, Soyinka reminds us of the necessity of drama and theatre as a powerful social and artistic tool. It invites a critical interrogation of colonial effects on African societies, then and now.

Not only does Death and the King’s Horseman bring to attention issues that need to be dissected and thoroughly discussed, but one has to also appreciate the language and style of writing used by Soyinka – rich, eloquent, and exquisite.

It’s a masterpiece and undoubtedly worth your time.

Here’s What You Can Learn from ‘How Women Rise’ by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith

How Women Rise is an easy-to-read and useful map to finding your way through the maze of self-sabotage or self-defeat. It’s a helpful guide to helping you realise and change some of the habits that hold you back from rising.

What habits are holding you back?

The book does not ignore the fact that there are many external factors that can stand in your way, and it also does not fail to acknowledge that many of the habits are also found in men. It also explains and solves the problem of getting stuck, identifying where you are and what can help you move forward, as well as resisting change.

How Women Rise

It identifies 12 habits that keep women from reaching their goals and comes up with ways to change them. Some are related but have different roots and have different consequences.

Habit 1: “Reluctance to Claim Your Achievements.”

The focus here is on keeping your head down and shrinking into yourself in order to avoid coming off as ‘obnoxious’. Among the solutions offered there’s the ‘art of self-promotion’, which entails being bold enough to sell yourself effectively.

Habit 2: “Expecting Others to Spontaneously Notice and Reward Your Contributions.”

This shows how this behaviour can be self-sabotaging and how your hard work can end up being overlooked. It’s better to take a proactive approach and take the responsibility of saying what it is you’re doing, accomplishing and where you’d like to be.

Habit 3: “Overvaluing Expertise.”

If you invest all your energies on mastering every detail of the job you have then you are really working hard to keep that job. This will not help you if you’re trying to position yourself for an opportunity for the next level.

Habit 4: “Building Rather Than Leveraging Relationships.”

While building relationships is great, it doesn’t mean leveraging relationships means you’re a self-serving person. This section helps you realise how leveraging works, how forming healthy win-win relationships will contribute to your professional success.

Habit 5: “Failing to Enlist Allies from Day One.”

When starting a new position, keeping your head down until you’ve mastered the details so that you’re fully prepared will not help you. It can help to reach out and connect with people – create allies. You’ll learn about the importance of allies, mentors, sponsors, and more.

Habit 6: “Putting Your Job before Your Career.”

If you’ve worked so hard to get to a certain position, only to find yourself stuck there for ages then you may be busy putting so many efforts in the position you have that you may have neglected to work on the position you want. Be aware of the loyalties you have that keep you from moving up and learn how to have a healthy self-interest.

Habit 7: “The Perfection Trap.”

This is about wanting to get every detail right and being hard on yourself because you don’t want to mess up. This section highlights the cost of perfectionism and how to rather, healthily, deliver excellent results by learning to do things such as delegating and taking measured risks.

Habit 8: “The Disease to Please.”

Here you’ll check your habit of wanting to be a nice and wonderful person in all circumstances and always make everyone around you feel good, which is impossible. You’ll learn about curing your chronic ‘pleasing disease’ and how to focus on your priorities.

Habit 9: “Minimizing.”

This habit is about making yourself smaller or taking a seat at the back just so that you can always acknowledge the existence of others. This will help break the habit of physically and metaphorically shrinking yourself, undermining your abilities, and believing that others are more deserving than you.

Habit 10: “Too Much.”

You may be called “too much”- too emotional, too intense, or too enthusiastic, and may end up getting into the habit of repressing your feelings. This section will guide you to finding value in your emotions, harnessing them, and making them work for you.

Habit 11: “Ruminating.”

The focus here is on clinging to the past and focusing on dissecting past mistakes. This leads to a lot of self-blame, agonizing over things that may have set you back have already passed. You’ll learn how to break free from this negative position and how to move on.

Quote from ‘How Women Rise’

Habit 12: “Letting Your Radar Distract You.”

Your ability to notice a lot of things at once may be a strength but it has its downsides. Your focus may also be going to unhelpful distractions and have negative effects such as being hyper-aware of other people’s reactions that you may end up ruminating, shrinking, or being hard on yourself.

The above habits come with helpful tools to mitigate them. It’s a smooth read, nothing complicated or hard to follow. I’m pretty sure there will definitely be at least one habit that you associate with and this book will help you make a difference.

Cheers!

Goldsmith, M, Helgesen S. How Women Rise. 2018. Penguin Random House UK.

Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution

By Mona Eltahawy

A fascinating and shocking call to end misogyny in the Arab world.

“Why do these men hate us?”

Mona Eltahawy was shocked into feminism and she shares her experience living in Saudi Arabia and in Egypt. This book is an essential read that zooms into the brutal injustices against women in the Middle East and North Africa. Mona dismantles religion, belief, Western involvement, politics, and many aspects that tie into the misogyny that prevails in these places.

Headscarves and Hymens

On veiling, she points out how many girls and women, just like she did, go through a personal struggle with their hijab. She shows how they can defend it even when in private it’s a burden or a struggle. In some places, even though women will claim their covering is a choice, they do not have much of a choice, and in other places, women are aggressively pressured to cover up.

The violation of women in these regions goes way deeper than one can even begin to imagine. It spreads and pours into so many facets of the girls’ and women’s daily lives. Eltahawy shows how these violated women and girls have no platform to share their experiences and nowhere to find solutions.

Headscarves and Hymens

There are many examples and stories she gives to highlight the daily traumas that women go through and the forces used to keep the treatment of women as second-class citizens in place, as well as aggravating the problems they face.

The veiling of women is used as a way to tell women to cover up for their own safety against harassment and assault in the street. The onus is on the women to protect themselves instead of men being told not to commit these crimes. However, in some cases, not even a hijab can stand between the victim and the perpetrator.

There are so many heartbreaking and horrendous concerns that she shares, such as rape in its many forms and how it is handled. For example, where a girl or woman is raped, the punishment for the rapist is to marry her. This also serves to “save” the victim from committing a crime of honour. The few outcomes from reporting a crime of assault do not include true justice for the victim. They could be killed by their own family for bringing shame to the family. They could be sexually assaulted by the very police they run to.

Then there’s the purity culture. She discusses the obsession with virginity as well as the use of female genital mutilation to keep girls sexually in control and make them suitable for marriage. It’s so saddening how the mothers or the figures that these girls could run to are the same figures who are right there when it happens, accomplices to this crime.

I absolutely fell in love with all the feminists and figures that inspired her and the ones she mentions throughout the book, who protest and stand up against this overpowering and dangerous hand that is so determined to squash women, to silence and control them. I also love how she advocates sexual freedom. Eltahawy shows the importance of sexual liberation and how suppression through violence, through language and through practice creates a negative experience for women and problems when they need to voice these negative experiences.

Read the It’s Not About the Burqa review here.

This book is packed! It’s heavy but every bit of it is necessary and deserving to be said. There’s a whole lot more to discover, to learn, and to help rethink some of the ideas we have about female oppression and the role of feminism. I admire her level of bad-assery and her determination to speak up – loud and clear.

She does not limit such treatment of women to the Arab world and does state that it happens in many societies and cultures, but this is her focus, experience, and knowledge, and she does it incredibly well.

It’s a powerful read. It’s a must-have and worth revisiting.

Mona Eltahawy: Twitter