Wole Soyinka

Banquet speech

Wole Soyinka’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1986

Your Majesties, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It was inevitable that the Nordic world and the African, especially that part of it which constitutes the Yoruba world – should meet at the crossroads of Sweden. That I am the agent of such a symbolic encounter is due very simply to that my creative Muse is Ogun, the god of creativity and destruction, of the lyric and metallurgy. This deity anticipated your scientist Alfred Nobel at the very beginning of time by clearing a path through primordial chaos, dynamiting his way through the core of earth to open a route for his fellow deities who sought to be reunited with us, mortals. I covered that event for my publishers – well, taking a few poetic licences, naturally – under the title IDANRE. You may have run into that reportage which has been translated into Swedish under the title, OGUN SKUGGA. If you have not, I recommend that you proceed to the nearest bookseller for this piece of pre-history which makes Ogun, very definitively, the progenitor of your great inventor, Alfred Nobel.

I urge this especially because, if you happened to take a casual walk through the streets, or peer into the hotel lobbies of Stockholm, you might get the impression that my nation, Nigeria, has tried to solve some of its many problems by shifting half its population surreptitiously to Sweden. I assure you, however, that they have merely come to satisfy a natural curiosity about the true nationality of this inventor. For they cannot understand why their Ogun should have transferred such a potent secret to a Swede rather than to his Yoruba descendants. The mountains of Sweden are a tempting habitat for this deity, we know, but the Swedish winter and long midnights are hardly congenial to his temperament. And while the local acqua-vitae might help to infuse some warmth into his tropical joints, we do know that he tends to stick to his favourite palm wine.

Some day, I suppose, we will unravel this mystery. In the meantime, however, we will content ourselves with saluting the vision which made our presence here today a positive event, since it was Alfred Nobel’s hope that the humanistic conversion, even of the most terrible knowledge, can improve the quality of life for mankind. That also is the lesson of Ogun, that essence of the warring duality of human nature. And we join in the endeavour that the lyric face of that demiurge will triumph in our time, snaring for all time that elusive bird – peace – on our planet earth.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1986, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1987

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1986

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