Death buried with him in order for the

Death and the King’s Horseman
is a play
about a Yoruba ritual suicide, which takes place in Nigeria in 1946 (Soyinka
1). The King has just died, which means that his Horseman, Elesin Oba, must
kill himself in order to guide the King into heaven. The suicide is performed
in honour of the King to be able to keep the Earth in motion. As the ritual is
being prepared to take place, the District Officer, Simon Pilkings, prevents it
from happening because in British law, it is an illegal and barbaric custom
(Soyinka 31). Once the suicide is stopped, much shame is brought upon Elesin,
causing his son to kill himself in order to end the shame brought upon his
father. Elesin then kills himself in prison, completely ruining the importance
of his death (Soyinka 75). This ties into Hughes explanation in  “Myth and
Education” about how once the laws of a religion are stripped away, they become
meaningless and absurd (Hughes 148-149). This is what occurs when Elesin Oba’s
ceremonial death is prevented, which causes him to kill himself with a chain.
Elesin’s inner world is stripped away once the laws of his religion are broken
and he kills himself without following the ritual. This causes the custom to
lose its significance, making Elesin death pointless. Instead of dying in
honour of the King, he dies in shame for not being able to fulfill his duties
as Horseman. This will be proven through the explanation of the Yoruba
religion, its ties to the inner world and the consequences of breaking the law
of ritual suicide.

The King’s Horseman has a
very important duty in the religion of Yoruba. This Nigerian religion believes
that if their King dies, his Horseman, dog and horse must be buried with him in
order for the King to be guided into the after world (Soyinka 28, 40). The
Horseman must follow the law of his ritual by killing himself on the last night
of the “pre burial ceremonies that last nearly thirty days” (Soyinka 47). If
the Horseman does not complete the suicide, much shame is brought upon him and
his family.

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The Yoruba people strongly
believe in the laws of their religion the same way the British believe in the
laws of the state. This ties into Hughes discussion about religion and the laws
of the inner world. When laws are seen as objective, they can be “imposed on
the whole world” (Hughes 148). The same way Pilkings believes that he can
impose his law against suicide on everyone, Christian or Yoruba. As for the
Yoruba people, they only follow the laws of their religion, with a goal to
become one with their God, Olorun (Soyinka 44). They are very spiritual people
who completely disregard state law. This is why religion is the only reason
that it is mandatory that the Horseman kill himself. Hughes explains that with
the modern world and the “lowering of religious awareness” people are more open
to different perceptions, unlike the Yoruba people who are very religiously
inclined (Hughes 146). High religious awareness and low scientific objectivity
would “persuade human beings to identify themselves with what is no more than a
narrow mode of perception” (Hughes 146). This explains why both Elesin and his
eldest son do not see the tragedy of dying for their King (Soyinka 55). They
would not see it any other way, because their religion always comes first
(Soyinka 73). This is made clear when Iyaloja, “Mother” of the market pleads
with Pilkings at the prison to “just let Elesin fulfil his oath and we will
retire home and pay homage to our King” (Soyinka 73). The sole goal of the
Yoruba people is to perform their duties for the King and Olorun. Religion is
so important to them that they live through the laws and beliefs in their inner
world and make all decisions based on them.

There are consequences to
breaking the laws of ritual suicide. When Pilkings holds Elesin in prison he is
prevented from completing his ceremonial duty. As a result, he is shamed and
disowned by his people. Since honour is such an important value, Elesin’s ”
heir takes the burden on himself (Soyinka 75). Olunde takes his own life to
be rid of the shame brought onto his family by his father (Soyinka 75). Elesin
feels so much shame that he “flings one arm round his neck, once, and with the
loop of the chain, strangles himself in a swift decisive pull” (Soyinka 75).
Now that Elesin has broken the laws of the ritual by Olunde taking his place of
honour and he strangling himself, the death becomes unnecessary. Elesin’s death
is only supposed to occur within the suicide ritual, but now that Pilkings has
prevented that, Elesin’s inner world is stripped away alongside his honour.
Elesin’s inner world is stripped away because the laws of the ritual become
meaningless once they are not respected. The law becomes invisible all because
Pilkings took control of the burial ceremony. Yes, Elesin still commits suicide
but in a different context. His death is no longer used to bring the king into
heaven because Olunde takes his place for that. Hughes explains that “As
religion is stripped away, the inner world becomes an outcast. Once the
suicide is stripped of its religious and spiritual aspect, it becomes
meaningless. Once the context changes, the death loses its important meaning.
 Also, “without religion, those powers become dehumanized” (Hughes 149).
Which further proves that when the religious part of the death disappears, the
death seems inhumane and useless. It makes the ceremony appear like chaos. The
rejection of Yoruba’s religion in his suicide is in effect rejection of
Elesin’s inner world. This changes the whole meaning of the religion and the
reason behind the suicide. In the prison cell, Elesin feels compelled to kill
himself because his people are belittling him by saying that his son is the
bigger man “who will feast on the meat and throw him bones” (Soyinka 76).
Elesin does not die for the king but to end his own embarrassment. Elesin’s
inner world is stripped away once Pilkings intercepts, completely removing the religious
side of the suicide. Elesin no longer kills himself in honour but instead in
shame.

To conclude, Pilkings
stops Elesin Oba from committing ritual suicide during the ceremony. As a
result of this, he is looked down upon and instead his son follows the rules of
the ritual and kills himself to spare his father’s shame. This strips Elesin of
his inner world because the opportunity to perform his religious duty is taken
from him. The Yoruba people strongly believe in their religious laws, unlike
the British that are following state laws. Consequently, Elesin is incapable to
complete his service as Horseman to the king and is shunned by his own people.
Once shunned, Elesin kills himself with a chain, making his death lose its
significance stripping him of his inner world and his honou