The Swamp Dwellers focuses on the struggle between the old and the new ways of life in Africa. It also gives us a picture of the cohesion that existed between the individual and southern Nigerian society. The conflict between tradition and modernity is also reflected in the play. The play mirrors the socio-cultural pattern, the pang and the sufferings of the swamp dwellers and underlines the need for absorbing new ideas. The struggle between human beings and unfavourable forces of nature is also captured in the play. Soyinka presents us the picture of modern Africa where the wind of change started blowing.
The Swamp Dwellers is a close study of the pattern of life in the isolated hamlets of the African countryside as well as an existential study of the simple folk who face rigours of life without any hope or succour. Soyinka tears apart social injustice, hypocrisy and tyranny. The Swamp Dwellers expresses the necessity for a balance between the old and the new. Soyinka is not for excessive glorification of the past. In the play we see Soyinka’s crusade against authoritarianism, complacency and self delusion. Besides, in The Swamp Dwellers Soyinka satirises the betrayal of vocation for the attraction and power in one form or another.
The Swamp Dwellers reflects the life of the people of southern Nigeria. Their vocation mainly is agro based. They weave baskets, till and cultivate land. They believe in serpent cult. They perform death rites. They offer grain, bull, goat to appease the serpent of the swamp. Traders from city come there for crocodile skins. They lure young women with money. Alu withstands their temptation. Young men go to the cities to make money, to drink bottled beer. In fact the city ruins them. The Swamp Dwellers consummate their wedding at the bed where the rivers meet. They consider the river bed itself as the perfect bridal bed. Sudden flood ruin the crops throwing life out of gear.
The swamp dwellers are hospitable. They give cane brew in calabash cups. Fly sickness blinds them. Merry making and drumming both go together in their lives. Sheep and goats are fed on cassava. They believe in salutations through drumming. They believe in sooth saying. Any attempt to reclaim the land from the swamp is considered an irreligious act. Friends who meet after a whole season indulge in drinking bouts. When the stream is swollen people are ferried across by folk like Wazuri. The swamp dwellers believe in the infallibility of Kadiye, priest of the serpent of the swamp. Their belief is exploited by Kadiye to the hilt. Igwezu questions Kadiye and his ways. It tells us of the clash between tradition and modernity in southern Nigeria. Rain brings them hope. It brings the marvel of new birth to the land. Water plays the role of both the creator and destroyer in the life of the swamp dwellers. Crops are suddenly destroyed by the swarming locusts.
The Swamp Dwellers makes use of contrast, parallelism, humour and irony in a suitable manner. Soyinka focuses the plight of the swamp dwellers in the play realistically. The swamp dwellers are at the mercy of furious nature unless they compromise tradition with modernity, embrace modern technology they wouldn’t have a bright future.