Death and the King’s Horseman

Death and the King’s Horseman Quotes

Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Norton edition of Death and the King’s Horseman published in 1975.
Act 1 Quotes

Praise-Singer: They love to spoil you but beware. The hands of women also weaken the unwary.

Elesin: This night I'll lay my head upon their lap and go to sleep. This night I'll touch feet with their feet in a dance that is no longer of this earth. But the smell of their flesh, their sweat, the smell of indigo on their cloth, this is the last air I wish to breathe as I go to meet my great forebears.

Related Characters: Elesin (speaker), The Praise-Singer (speaker)
Page Number: 10
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Ah, companions of this living world
What a thing it is, that even those
We call immortal
Should fear to die.

Related Characters: Elesin (speaker), The Praise-Singer
Page Number: 13
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Praise-Singer: I say you are that man who
Chanced upon the calabash of honour
You thought it was palm wine and
Drained its contents to the final drop.

Elesin: Life has an end. A life that will outlive
Fame and friendship begs another name.
What elder takes his tongue to his plate,
Licks it clean of every crumb? He will encounter
Silence when he calls on children to fulfill
The smallest errand! Life is honour.
It ends when honour ends.

Related Characters: Elesin (speaker), The Praise-Singer (speaker)
Page Number: 15
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Act 2 Quotes

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.

Amusa: 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!

Related Characters: Simon Pilkings (speaker), Sergeant Amusa (speaker), Jane Pilkings
Page Number: 24
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Jane: But Simon, do they really give anything away? I mean, anything that really counts. This affair for instance, we didn't know they still practised the custom did we?

Pilkings: Ye-e-es, I suppose you're right there. Sly, devious bastards.

Related Characters: Simon Pilkings (speaker), Jane Pilkings (speaker), Elesin, Sergeant Amusa
Page Number: 29
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Jane: Simon, you really must watch your language. Bastard isn't just a simple swear-word in these parts, you know.

Pilkings: Look, just when did you become a social anthropologist, that's what I'd like to know.

Jane: I'm not claiming to know anything. I just happen to have overheard quarrels among the servants. That's how I know they consider it a smear.

Related Characters: Simon Pilkings (speaker), Jane Pilkings (speaker), Joseph
Page Number: 30
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Act 3 Quotes

Amusa: The chief who call himself Elesin Oba.

Woman: You ignorant man. It is not he who calls himself Elesin Oba, it is his blood that says it. As it called out to his father before him and will to his son after him. And that is in spite of everything your white man can do.

Related Characters: Sergeant Amusa (speaker), Elesin, Iyaloja
Page Number: 35
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- One might even say, difficult?
- Indeed one might be tempted to say, difficult.
- But you do manage to cope?
- Yes indeed I do. I have a rather faithful ox called Amusa.
- He's loyal?
- Absolutely.
- Lay down his life for you what?
- Without a moment's thought.
- Had one like that once. Trust him with my life.
- Mostly of course they are liars.
- Never known a native to tell the truth.

Related Characters: Elesin, Iyaloja, Sergeant Amusa
Page Number: 38
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Then tell him to leave this market. This is the home of our mothers. We don't want the eater of white left-overs at the feast their hands have prepared.

Related Characters: Iyaloja, Sergeant Amusa
Page Number: 39
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Our marriage is not yet wholly fulfilled. When earth and passage wed, the consummation is complete only when there are grains of earth on the eyelids of passage. Stay by me till then. My faithful drummers, do me your last service. This is where I have chosen to do my leave-taking, in this heart of life, this hive which contains the swarm of the world in its small compass. This is where I have known love and laughter away from the palace.

Related Characters: Elesin (speaker), Iyaloja, Olunde, The Bride / The Young Woman
Page Number: 35
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But will they know you over there? Have they eyes to gauge your worth, have they the heart to love you, will they know what thoroughbred prances towards them in caparisons of honor? If they do not Elesin, if any there cuts your yam with a small knife, or pours you wine in a small calabash, turn back and return to welcoming hands.

Related Characters: The Praise-Singer (speaker), Elesin
Page Number: 45
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Act 4 Quotes

Resident: You should have kept me informed Pilkings. You realise how disastrous it would have been if things had erupted while His Highness was here.

Pilkings: I wasn't aware of the whole business until tonight sir.

Resident: Nose to the ground Pilkings, nose to the ground. If we all let these little things slip past us where would the empire be eh? Tell me that. Where would we all be?

Related Characters: Simon Pilkings (speaker), The Resident (speaker), Elesin, The Prince
Page Number: 47
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Olunde (mildly): And that is the good cause for which you desecrate an ancestral mask?

Jane: Oh, so you are shocked after all. How disappointing.

Olunde: No I am not shocked Mrs. Pilkings. You forget that I have now spent four years among your people. I discovered that you have no respect for what you do not understand.

Related Characters: Olunde (speaker), Jane Pilkings (speaker)
Page Number: 50
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Olunde: I don't find it morbid at all. I find it rather inspiring. It is an affirmative commentary on life.

Jane: What is?

Olunde: The captain's self-sacrifice.

Jane: Nonsense. Life should never be thrown deliberately away.

Olunde: And the innocent people round the harbour?

Jane: Oh, how does anyone know? The whole thing was probably exaggerated anyway.

Olunde: That was a risk the captain couldn't take.

Related Characters: Olunde (speaker), Jane Pilkings (speaker)
Page Number: 51
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How can I make you understand? He has protection. No one can undertake what he does tonight without the deepest protection the mind can conceive. What can you offer him in place of his peace of mind, in place of the honour and veneration of his own people? What you think of your Prince if he had refused to accept the risk of losing his life on this voyage? This...showing-the-flag tour of colonial possessions.

Related Characters: Olunde (speaker), Elesin, Jane Pilkings, The Prince
Page Number: 53
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How can you be so callous! So unfeeling! You announce your father's own death like a surgeon looking down on some strange... stranger's body! You're a savage like all the rest.

Related Characters: Jane Pilkings (speaker), Elesin, Olunde
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 5 Quotes

Elesin: You did not save my life District Officer. You destroyed it.

Pilkings: Now come on...

Elesin: And not merely my life but the lives of many. The end of the night's work is not over. Neither this year nor the next will see it. If I wished you well, I would pray that you do not stay long enough on our land to see the disaster you have brought upon us.

Pilkings: Well, I did my duty as I saw fit. I have no regrets.

Related Characters: Elesin (speaker), Simon Pilkings (speaker)
Related Symbols: Chains
Page Number: 62
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You did not fail in the main thing ghostly one. We know the roof covers the rafters, the cloth covers blemishes; who would have known that the white skin covered our future, preventing us from seeing the death our enemies had prepared for us. The world is set adrift and its inhabitants are lost. Around them, there is nothing but emptiness.

Related Characters: Elesin (speaker), Simon Pilkings, Olunde
Page Number: 63
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You were the final gift of the living to their emissary to the land of the ancestors, and perhaps your warmth and youth brought new insights of this world to me and turned my feet leaden on this side of the abyss. For I confess to you, daughter, my weakness came not merely from the abomination of the white man who came violently into my fading presence, there was also a weight of longing on my earth-held limbs. I would have shaken it off, already my foot had begun to lift but then, the white ghost entered and all was defiled.

Related Characters: Elesin (speaker), Simon Pilkings, The Bride / The Young Woman
Page Number: 65
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It is when the alien hand pollutes the source of will, when a stranger force of violence shatters the mind's calm resolution, this is when a man is made to commit the awful treachery of relief, commit in his thought the unspeakable blasphemy of seeing the hand of the gods in this alien rupture of his world. I know it was this thought that killed me, sapped my powers and turned me into an infant in the hands of unnamable strangers.

Related Characters: Elesin (speaker), Iyaloja, Simon Pilkings
Page Number: 69
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Elesin: Go to the gates, ghostly one. Whatever you find there, bring it to me.

Iyaloja: Not yet. It drags behind me on the slow, weary feet of women. Slow as it is, Elesin, it has long overtaken you. It rides ahead of your laggard will.

Related Characters: Elesin (speaker), Iyaloja (speaker), Simon Pilkings, Olunde
Page Number: 71
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No child, it is what you brought to be, you who play with strangers' lives, who even usurp the vestments of our dead, yet believe that the stain of death will not cling to you. The gods demanded only the old expired plantain but you cut down the sap-laden shoot to feed your pride. There is your board, filled to overflowing. Feast on it.

Related Characters: Iyaloja (speaker), Elesin, Simon Pilkings, Olunde
Related Symbols: Chains
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:
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