by Olumide Glowville
I finally watched Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman and here are my thoughts.
A lot of people who consider the movie boring or disappointing are probably of that opinion because they are lacking three things:
- Adequate understanding of the historical background of the movie.
- The allegorical nature of the story
- And the thematic or literary concepts in the story.
This is not to say that you are unintelligent. Far from it. I am just saying that literature, theatre, and history students or enthusiasts will not find it hard to appreciate the effort, unlike most others who expected something more from the movie.
Let’s break it down.
Do you know that the movie “Elesin Oba” was inspired by a true story?
The events surrounding the aftermath of an Alaafin of Oyo, Siyanbola Ladigbolu I, who reigned between 1911 – 1944 was the subject of the story originally written as a play by Prof. Wole Soyinka, titled “Death and the King’s Horseman”
According to history, when the ritual for the Aláàfins death was to be celebrated in 1946, the British Officer went out and arrested Elesin Ọba and threw him into jail because according to British Law, attempted suicide is a criminal offence.
The Elesin Oba’s son who was at that time a trader in the Gold Coast (Ghana) rushed home in order to bury his father. On seeing him alive, he was so horrified by the abomination that he committed suicide on the spot.
The historical event was originally researched & related by Pierre Verger in the 1960s and the play by Prof. Wole Soyinka was originally published in 1975
Now that we have dealt with the history, let’s look at the cultural aspect.
Cosmologically, the Yorubas believe in three worlds; the Living, the Dead and the Unborn, which are jointly referred to as Tripartite Cosmology.
The King’s Horseman (Elesin Oba)’s sole responsibility is to escort the King wherever he goes, both in the world of the living and the world of the dead.
You may consider it barbaric, but It is a custom that’s not exclusive to the Yorubas of the Old Oyo Kingdom.
When a King dies in many cultures of the world, they are mostly buried with their slaves and properties like the Terracotta Army of the Qin Dynasty and King Tutankhamun of Egypt.
Now, that we have cleared history and culture, let’s get into the story.
The King has died for 30 days and is set to be buried, the Elesin must fulfil his duty by killing himself, but the Colonial Masters who neither understand nor appreciate the culture of their colonies interfere by arresting him for attempted suicide – thereby messing up the ritual and bringing shame to the King’s Horseman and his family.
But the movie is more than that simple story of colonial masters wreaking havoc on a simple Yoruba ritual. It is more about Elesin himself and how he brought misfortune and misery upon himself through his tragic flaws.
His problems began when he started wasting time on frivolities as the ritual night approached, despite knowing it was a necessary thing to do to reunite with the King who is believed to be waiting for his Elesin to escort him through the Heaven’s Gate.
Without such ritual, the King cannot rest and carnage may befall the land for abandoning their King. That was why Iyaloja warned him at the beginning about his seed not bringing evil to the land. Can’t remember? Go and verify! Lol 😂
In the end, the abomination happened and Elesin has to take all the blame for dragging his feet too much and letting the Colonial Masters truncate the ritual process. His lack of time sensitivity messed things up, not just for himself, but his son Olunde, and his entire family.
The play (or movie, in this case) is a tragedy that aims to remind us of the importance of timing.
Don’t waste time on things that don’t matter at the expense of fulfilling your purpose. The repercussions for that will not only affect you but also those who depend on you.
I will encourage those who watched before to do so again, with this new understanding, and see if they are still disappointed.
The movie is not without its flaws here and there but I will rather focus on the good sides, which are a lot.
More importantly, I want to say that Yorubas especially should appreciate this effort at retelling a story that is not only important for preserving our history but also a way to showcase our rich culture.
Some parts of this review can be credited to platforms like Asiri Magazine, @yorubaness @naijastories and @alamin3