The Gods Are Not To Blame

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The Gods Are Not To Blame
Author Ola Rotimi
Country Nigeria
Language English
Genre Novel, Play
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication date
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 80 pp
ISBN 0-19-211358-5
Preceded by Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again
Followed by Kurunmi

The Gods Are Not To Blame is a 1968 play and a 1971 novel by Ola Rotimi.[1] An adaptation of the Greek classic Oedipus Rex, the story centers on Odewale, who is lured into a false sense of security, only to somehow get caught up in a somewhat consanguineous trail of events.[2]


The novel is set in an indeterminate period of a Yoruba kingdom. This reworking of Oedipus Rex was part of the African Arts (Arts d'Afrique) playwriting contest in 1969 CE. Rotimi's play has been celebrated on two counts: at first scintilating as theatre and later acrruing a significant literary aura.[3]


The book begins with an Ifa Priest's predictiction of a newborn son of King Adetusa and his Queen Ojuola that will grow up to "kill his own father and then marry his own mother!" The baby's feet are tied with a string of cowries...

Now years later, the child Odewale is King and married to Ojuola. An old man Alaka, half clown, half philosopher, comes to tell Odewale that his "parents" have died. However, Alaka also lets slip that they were not Odewale's real parents. Shamed by the suggestion that he is illegitimate, Odewale brutally forces Alaka to reveal the truth: that Alaka found him in the bush and brought him to the neighbouring Ijekun chief to be fostered.

Theme and motifs[edit]

A stranger to Kutuje, Odewale, arrives in a village bothered, saddened, and grief-stricken and very involved in tribal warfare with adjoining tribes for a long period of time, which has killed their former king, or so they believe.

He becomes the village leader.

the people made me
me of Ijekun tribe,
they broke their tradition and made me,
King of Kutuje. (⊕7)

Odewale the liberator[edit]

Odewale as a heroic liberator who slays the oppressor, thereby precipitates an internal conflict within the oppressor's setting, before finally pacifying what then becomes a liberated community. Just as this narrative is delivered, it is almost immediately thwarted by certain information regarding this conflict. The war begins as the people of Ikolu "killed hundreds, they seized hundreds and took hundreds more captive" (⊕5) and it ends as;

We attacked the people of Ikolu,
freed our people,
seized the lands of Ikolu,
and prospered from their sweat...
Ikolu is no more,
but Kutuje prospered. (⊕7)

After conquering the neighboring enemy, he promises to find the murderer of their slain king, Adetusa, unaware of how well he fits the description of the nemesis who carries the curse of his new-found kingdom. Eventually, he finds that "he" was the killer, accidentally killing his father because he felt insulted by him. The terrible revelation that the Ifa Priest's prophecy has been fulfilled leads to the suicide of Ojuola and the blinding of Odewale.Lawrence S Davis[4]

The Gods Are Not To Blame reflects critically on perhaps the most cherished myth of cultural transmission that civilization entertains about itself as a means of explaining its own perpetuation. Rotimi's play does so not only by dramatizing this myth with certain ironic instance, but also by juxtaposing this myth with a Yoruba model of cultural transmission.[nb 1]


According to Lindfors,

The Gods Are Not To Blame does not necessarily mean the divinities of the Yoruba pantheon, rather it alludes to national, political powers - those that dictate the pace of the worlds politics. The title he says, implies that these political 'figures' should not be blamed or held responsible for our own failings.[5]

Yet, like any cultural artefact, the play could communicate more than one meaning, there are various theories to what or what not the title is trying to express and most of these arguments could be mobilized to challenge even the author's own reading of this drama.

For instance, the very distinction between the oppressing powers on the outside and the local population on the inside is, and was, just as untenable as the difference amongst the communities that the oppressors sought to exploit.

An alternative reading of the play is the argument regarding "free will" - given the Greek idea that "attempting to avoid an oracle is the very thing which brings it about", and it is indeed this argument that Odewale himself deploys in one of his encounters with Aderopo.

The Yoruba theory[edit]

Another detail within the play may signify the play's passage through, or displacement of an Oedipus complex in the play's relationship to the European Canon. The detail in question figures twice, initially at the end of Odewale's curse on whoever killed his father, and at the conclusion of the abortive encounter between Odewale and Baba Fakunle.[nb 2]


The Gods Are Not To Blame made its début in Nigeria in 1968. It was nominated for an award at the ESB Dublin Fringe Festival 2003. It was launched again in February 2004, Bisi Adigun and Jimmy Fay's "Arambe Productions" presenting what Roddy Doyle described as an exhilarating and exciting version of the play to the O'Reilly Theatre.[6][7]

Number of Acts and Scenes[edit]

The play consists of three acts and ten scenes. That is: Act 1 : 2 scenes Act 2 : 4 scenes Act 3 : 4 scenes


  1. ^ Barbara Goff and Michael Simpson 2007: c2 92-93
  2. ^ Barbara Goff and Michael Simpson 2007: c2 130-131


  1. ^ Dictionary of Literary Biography Complete Online: Emmanuel Gladstone Olawale Rotimi|E.G.O (ed 2009) Gale Research
  2. ^ "Preview: The Gods Are Not To Blame, Arcola Theatre, London". The Independent. May 26, 2005. Retrieved 2011-02-17. 
  3. ^ Barbara Goff and Michael Simpson, Crossroads in the Black Aegean: Oedipus, Antigone, and dramas of the African diaspora, Oxford University Press, USA, 2007 ISBN 0-19-921718-1
  4. ^ Michael Patterson,The Oxford Dictionary of Plays Oxford University Press, USA, 2005 ISBN 0-19-860417-3
  5. ^ Bernth Lindfors, Dem-say: Interviews with eight Nigerian writers, African and Afro-American Studies and Research Center, Austin, Texas, 1974.
  6. ^ Arambe Productions, The Gods Are Not To Blame, O’Reilly Theatre, Belvedere College, Dublin, Ireland, February 2004. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
  7. ^ O’Reilly Theatre, The Gods Are Not To Blame, Main Auditorium, Belvedere College, Dublin, Ireland, 7–14 February 2004. Retrieved 2011-03-09.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]