Majority Knows “Best” (Project 1)

Equiano’s “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, the African” or “Life of Equiano” for short, and Soyinka’s “Death and King’s Horseman” are two books that have very heavy themes of religion and tradition from multiple points of view. What I mean by that is in “Life of Equiano”, Equiano has different views on what Christianity looks like than the mainstream. The same can be said for suicide in “Death and King’s Horseman”, where Elesin and his son Olunde view suicide very differently than the townsfolk. Both books show how minority opinions on the same issue are seen as less valuable than their (majority) white counterparts’ opinions. That is not even mentioning how the minorities actually suffer tremendously from the majority’s opinions in both books. Both Equiano and Soyinka’s books show how the majority ruins the minorities through their own stances on religion and tradition. 

In the book “Life of Equiano”, the author, Equiano, talked about his life as a slave. He was in Africa when he was captured by African slave owners until he was eventually sold to white Christain slave owners. One of the biggest things Equiano points out through his journey is how his Christain views and values are misaligned with the white Christians. Equiano always thought of Christianity as treating your neighbor as yourself, so when the white slave owners treated Equiano with such horrid conditions on the slave ship, it completely puzzled him how they called themselves Christians. 

Even if there were slaves during that time period, the slave owners should still treat their slaves with a little more respect. I know this doesn’t really make sense, I mean how can someone who literally owns someone else as property ever be nice to them? I would say it is very much a possibility and “Life of Equiano” literally shows how this is possible. Remember how I talked about how Equiano was a slave to African slaveowners before being sold to Europeans, well those African slave owners might not be the perfect example, but they are a very good example of how slave owners can respect their slaves during a period of time that slaves were common. Equiano himself talked about how nicely he was treated as a slave by the African slave owners, and this was before he knew how he would be treated by the European slave owners. 

Compare this to how the European slave owners treated the slaves, and you have to reconsider if the Christians are loving their neighbor as themselves. The worst part is that if the slave owners were just doing their job, which isn’t a valid point but for the sake of the argument, then it would be somewhat excusable because they were doing what was normal for the time. The big difference is the Christians were out to torment the slaves. This quote really shows how cruel they were being;

“One day they had taken a number of fishes; and when they had killed and satisfied themselves with as many as they thought fit, to our astonishment who were on the deck, rather than give any of them to us to eat as we expected, they tossed the remaining fish into the sea again, although we begged and prayed for some as well as we could, but in vain; and some of my countrymen, being pressed by hunger, took an opportunity, when they thought no one saw them, of trying to get a little privately; but they were discovered, and the attempt procured them some very severe floggings.”

The very idea of someone doing this to someone else is enough to make you queasy. How does it make any sense that non-Christain African slave owners treat their slaves better than Christain European slave owners? This contrast is very unsettling and really makes you think about what Christianity truly was back in the day. The fact they were “following their faith” and the minorities were viewed as subhuman is why minorities suffered. The white European Christians thought the way they viewed Christianity was the correct way, and minorities suffered from it. 

This is an eerily similar situation to “Death and King’s Horseman”, where the townsfolk, and mainly Pilkings, thought they knew best when it came to the minority’s traditions. For a bit of context about the book, a minority named Elesin was the king’s horseman, and after the king died Elesin wanted to commit suicide to follow in the afterlife. According to his tradition, this allows him to have a peaceful afterlife and is something that every horseman of the king does after the king’s death. Then a police officer named Pilkings, all throughout the book tries to stop Elesin from killing himself. Eventually, Pilkings has to result to putting Elesin in jail to stop him, until Elesin’s son, Olunde, comes to town and kills himself to allow Elesin to have a brief moment to also commit suicide so he can follow the king in the afterlife.

At face value, Pilkings is one hundred percent in the right in this situation, I mean he’s trying to stop people from dying unnecessarily. This opinion does align with a very common opinion on suicide, but by trying to enforce his values on another, there was another unnecessary death in the form of Olunde. The ritual of death to follow the king wasn’t the only tradition that Pilkings decided to disrespect. While wearing the ceremonial costumes called egungun costumes, Pilkings disrespects the customs by talking about death while wearing said costumes. Even after Jane and Amusa try to stop Pilkings from ruining traditions, Pilkings thinks he knows best and talks about Elesin’s death.  If it was just Pilkings trying to stop Elesin from dying it would be one thing, but the fact Pilkings actively doesn’t follow other’s traditions shows that he thinks he knows best. It is very frustrating to read.

“JANE: Your costume darling. Our fancy dress.

PILKINGS: Oh hell, I’d forgotten all about that. (Lifts the face

mask over his head showing his face. His wife follows suit.)

JANE: I think you’ve shocked his big pagan heart bless him.

PILKINGS: Nonsense, he’s a Moslem. Come on Amusa, you

don’t believe in all this nonsense do you? I thought you were

a good Moslem.

AM USA: Mista Pirinkin, I beg you sir, what you think you do

with that dress? It belong to dead cult, not for human being.

PILKINGS: Oh Amusa, what a let down you are. I swear by

you at the club you know – thank God for Amusa, he doesn’t

believe in any mumbo-jumbo. And now look at you !

AM USA: Mista Pirinkin, I beg you, take it off. Is not good for

man like you to touch that cloth.

PI LKI NGS: Well, I’ve got it on. And what’s more Jane and I have

bet oh it we’re taking first prize at the ball. Now, if you can


just pull yourself together and tell me what you wanted to

see me about …”

This quote from the start of the second, this is the exact wording of the conversation I described. It is very obvious that Pilkings doesn’t care about the tradition from the dialog alone. It wouldn’t be a far stretch to say that if Pilkings would disrespect a simple costume tradition, then he would stop Elesin from doing his dream of following the King in death, and Olunde also has to die because of it. It’s sad, but I think everyone can be a Pilkings now and again.

I think what Soyinka was trying to do was show people that you shouldn’t be a Pilkings and assume you are right with other’s traditions, even when your opinion is in the majority. By using suicide, a commonly frowned upon tradition, it has more of an impact when you realize you could be in the wrong in a certain situation. I think this to be the case because when Olunde confronted Pilkings about Elesin dying, Olunde talked about how his people go to war, which objectively has more death and can be seen as mass suicide, in a way. By using a common metaphor that the majority can understand, it shows how we shouldn’t assume matters involving minorities. 

While reading “Life of Equiano” and “Death and King’s Horseman” shows how the opinions of the majority can hurt the minorities when minority opinions aren’t considered. In “Life of Equiano,” Equiano shows how if the Europeans listened to the Africans, the Europeans could have had a more profitable and moral business model. In “Death and King’s Horseman,” Elesin could have had a peaceful transition to the afterlife, but Pilkings had to get involved and Olunde had to die because of it. Both books show how catastrophic it can be for minorities when their opinions aren’t considered. Equiano and Soyinka do a good job at forcing the reader to consider their current stances on how minorities should be viewed and treated.

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One thought on “Majority Knows “Best” (Project 1)

  1. I agree that if Europeans had listened to the Africans they could have had a more profitable business model. Not to mention that’s how every business model should be, understanding. If only creating mutual gain was everyone’s goal.

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