March 1, 2018
Wole Soyinka has been honored in Haiti
by Michael Barron
The Nigerian writer and playwright Wole Soyinka has received a long list of honors in his long and storied career. For one thing, he was the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and has been inducted into the Order of the Federal Republic in his home country. He has also won the Agip Prize for Literature, the Benson Medal, the Ainsfield-Wolf Book Award, and much more — not to mention being first cousins with Fela Kuti (which isn’t an honor so much as it is awesome). Oh yeah, and Obo Alake, a Yuruba leader, granted him the title of Akinlatun of Egbaland, a significant chieftaincy.
Now, he has also been named an Honorary Citizen of Cap-Haïtien, the northern Haitian city.
According to the Guardian, Soyinka had been invited to Haiti by the contemporary art foundation Laboratorio Art Contemporain to be the keynote speaker for its cultural forum, “Meetings of Here and Elsewhere.” Additional organizing was done by the Niegrian Culture Advocates Caucus. Upon his arrival in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, Soyinka was escorted to the State House, where he was given a lavish reception hosted by the nation’s first couple, President Jovenel Moïse and his wife Martine Étienne Joseph, with eight cabinet ministers in attendance. During the banquet, Moïse conferred Haiti’s Medal of Honor on Soyinka, for being “a fighter for humanity” and fighting for “the elevation of people of African descent.”
And that was just the beginning. By the end of the fourth day into his weeklong tour, Soyinka had:
- Had an auditorium at the University of Haiti named for him
- Attended an art gallery show curated in his honor
- Appeared at a public event with Haitian writers Lionnel Trouillot and Frankétienne
- Received the key to the city of Cap-Haïtien
- Been welcomed to the city by a team of 500 dancing youths
Soyinka described himself as “Haitian at heart,” and said he was glad, in the Guardian’s phrasing, “that young Haitians unlike youths in some other countries of Black diaspora, continue to keep their sense of cultural pride.”
Michael Barron is an editor at Melville House.