“The Lion and the Jewel” is a play written by Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka. The play is set in the village of Ilujinle and explores the clash between traditional African values and the influence of Western culture.
“The Lion and the Jewel” by Wole Soyinka is now part of the reading material for literature students in WAEC, NECO, and JAMB from 2021 to 2025.
ABOUT WOLE SOYINKA THE AUTHOR OF “The Lion and the Jewel”
Wole Soyinka, born on July 13, 1934, is a Nigerian playwright, poet, essayist, and critic. He is one of Africa’s most distinguished literary figures and the first African laureate to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.
Other Books Written by Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka has authored numerous works, including plays, poetry, essays, and memoirs. Here is a selection of some of his notable books:
- “A Dance of the Forests” (1960): Explores the complexities of post-colonial Nigerian society during independence celebrations.
- “The Man Died: Prison Notes” (1972): A collection of reflections during Soyinka’s imprisonment, offering insights into politics and human rights.
- “Death and the King’s Horseman” (1975): Explores the clash between traditional African beliefs and colonial influences based on a historical event.
- “Madmen and Specialists” (1970): Examines the impact of war and violence on individuals and society.
- “The Man and the Owl” (1960): Explores themes of political intrigue and corruption.
- “A Shuttle in the Crypt” (1972): Collection of poems reflecting Soyinka’s experiences during imprisonment.
- “Ogun Abibiman” (1976): Poetry addressing socio-political issues.
- “Myth, Literature and the African World” (1976): Collection of essays discussing various literary and cultural topics.
- “Art, Dialogue, and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture” (1988): Compilation of essays covering a wide range of subjects.
- “Ake: The Years of Childhood” (1981): Memoir providing a vivid account of Soyinka’s early years in Nigeria, offering insights into family, culture, and the socio-political landscape.
- “You Must Set Forth at Dawn” (2006): Memoir recounting experiences and reflections on political events in Nigeria.
BACKGROUND OF “THE LION AND THE JEWEL” by WOLE SOYINKA
Soyinka‘s The Lion and the Jewel is one of his most famous works as a prolific playwright. Although Soyinka wrote the play while living in London it was first performed in Africa at the Ibadan Arts Theatre in 1959 and garnered positive reviews.
Soyinka’s ‘The lion and the Jewel, is renowned for its complex themes and allegorical structure. It is also notable for its insights into the Yoruba culture and tradition.
“The Lion and the Jewel” was published in 1963 and It is still performed relatively often in both Africa and the West.
Wole Soyinka’s “The Lion and the Jewel” tells the story of a young lady, Sidi, who is the village belle of illujile and her decision on whom to marry. Her choices are Lakunle, a schoolteacher, and Baroka, the Bale of the village. The first scene tagged “Morning,” takes place outside of the schoolhouse that projected into the market located at the centre of ilujinle village. Sidi comes up on stage, carrying a pail of water on her head as she walks by, Lakunle, the village school teacher, rushes outside to criticize her for carrying it on her head, claiming that it will damage her neck and it doesn’t befit her as a
woman who is supposed to be modern. He also criticizes Sidi for dressing immodestly. Lakunle mentions his desire to marry Sidi and Sidi tells him that she will marry him whenever he likes, as long as he pays her “bride-price” first. Lakunle claims that the custom of paying for a wife is offensive and refuses to do it.
Some of the villagers enter the stage and inform Sidi that a man known as The Stranger has returned to the village. When the Stranger last visited the village, he took photographs of Sidi and he has now returned with a copy of the magazine in which Sidi’s pictures have been printed on. The villagers inform Sidi that she looks very beautiful in the magazine. The villagers join together to do mimed/dance performance telling the story of The Stranger’s previous visit to the village. The performance is
temporarily interrupted by Baroka who then joins in with the performance himself and humiliated Lakunle, probably to downplay his importance in the presence of the villagers. After the performance, Sidi drags Lakunle away in order to look for The Stranger so that she can see herself in the magazine.
Alone on the stage, Baroka muses out loud while he admires sidi from a copy of magazine he brought out from his Agbada and he muted to himself that it been five full months since he last took a wife.
The second scene, “Noon,” takes place on a road in llujinle. Sidi is seen consumed by the admiration of her images in the magazine and Lakunle appeared behind her with a bundle of firewood that belong to Sidi. They both meet Sadiku, the eldest of Baraka’s many wives. She approaches Sidi and tells her that Baroka wishes to marry her, much to Lakunle’s dismay. Sidi who had become fully aware of her beauty seeing her photographs in the magazine announces that she is now too good to marry Lakunle and too good to marry Baroka as well.
Sadiku promises Sidi a life of bliss in Baroka’s household he has sworn never to take another wife after Sidi. But Sidi turns down the proposal. Then she delivered the last message from the Baale requesting Sidi to at least come for supper at his house tonight to honor her. Sidi mocks Baroka’s “little supper” and tells Sadiku to tell him she does not sup with married men. Lakunle then intervenes as he tells the story of how Baroka sabotaged an attempt to build a railway line near Ilujinle, which is performed in a mimed dance as Lakunle tells the story.
The scene continues in Baroka’s palace, he is seen lying in bed, and kneeling beside him is his latest wife known as Favorite. Baroka announces his intention to pick another wife.
Her reaction makes Baroka accuse her as a “vengeful creature”. Then Sadiku returns to tell Baroka that Sidi has rejected his proposal. Baroka is saddened by Sidi’s response but he expected it and devices other means by confessing to Sadiku that he has become impotent and had hoped that marrying a young woman would cure him. Baroka makes Sadiku promise not to tell anyone about his impotence.
In the final scene, “Night”, the setting is the village center. Sidi is seen standing by the schoolroom window, still admiring her photograph. Sadiku returns to the streets of the village where she gleefully celebrates the news of Baroka’s impotence and tells Sidi about it after an intensive persuasion from her. Sidi decides to visit Baroka so that she can inwardly mock him. Lakunle opposes this idea because he fears that Baroka may become violent towards Sidi if he realizes that she is mocking him.
At Baroka’s palace, Sidi arrives and Baroka feigns no knowledge of Sadiku proposing to Sidi on his behalf. Baroka reveals to Sidi that he has plans for the village to print its own stamps and promises Sidi that he will print her picture on the stamps, meaning that her face will become famous throughout the country.
Back in the village, Sadiku and Lakunle watch a mimed dance performance spreading the news of Baroka’s impotence. Sidi returns to them in floods of tears. Lakunle fears that she has been raped and Sidi confirms to Sadiku that she is no longer a virgin.
Lakunle announces that he will marry Sidi despite this and Sidi runs away. Sadiku follows Sidi and then returns to Lakunle.
Sadiku tells Lakunle that Sidi is preparing herself for a wedding. This news shocks Lakunle who feels that things are moving too fast. Sidi returns and laughs at Lakunle for believing that she would marry him. Sidi announces her intention to marry Baroka, who has faked his impotence as a way of luring Sidi to visit him. Sidi exits the stage singing.
Summary Of “THE LION AND THE JEWEL” by Wole Soyinka
The play is set in the village of Ilujinle and explores the clash between traditional African values and the influence of Western culture. Here’s a brief chapter-wise summary and analysis:
- Scene 1: The play begins with a discussion between Lakunle, a young schoolteacher influenced by Western ideas, and Baroka, the aging village chief. Lakunle is in love with Sidi, a beautiful village girl.
- Scene 2: Sidi, the village belle, is introduced. She is admired by both Lakunle and Baroka. Sidi is resistant to Lakunle’s modern ideas and prefers the traditional ways.
- Scene 1: Sidi prepares for a photographer who is coming to take her pictures. Lakunle criticizes her for not embracing modernity, while Baroka plans to marry Sidi as his new wife.
- Scene 2: The photographer arrives, and Sidi poses for pictures. Baroka tries to use his influence to win Sidi over.
- Scene 1: Sidi’s pictures are published in a magazine, making her famous. Lakunle proposes again, but Sidi is still hesitant. Baroka, however, has a plan to win Sidi.
- Scene 2: Baroka feigns impotence, creating a rumor that he is no longer a threat to Sidi’s beauty. This makes Sidi reconsider her options.
- Scene 1: Sidi agrees to marry Baroka, thinking he is no longer a threat to her beauty. However, she discovers the truth about Baroka’s plan.
- Scene 2: The play ends with Sidi realizing the power dynamics at play and the importance of embracing both tradition and modernity.
- The play explores the clash between traditional and modern values in post-colonial Africa.
- The characters represent different aspects of Nigerian society, with Lakunle embodying Western influence, Sidi representing tradition, and Baroka symbolizing the cunning and manipulative nature of those in power.
- Soyinka uses satire and humor to comment on the complexities of cultural change and the impact of colonialism on African societies.
- The play highlights the struggle for power and control between men and women, tradition and progress, and the consequences of blindly adopting Western ideals.
“The Lion and the Jewel” is a significant work in African literature, addressing themes that resonate beyond its specific cultural context. It’s a commentary on the challenges of modernization and the preservation of cultural identity in a changing world.
THEME OF THE LION AND THE JEWEL by Wole Soyinka
The Struggle between Tradition and Modernity.
The struggle between tradition and modernity is conceivably the most evident theme in the play. Baroka represents tradition while Lakunle depicts modern consciousness in the play. It seems Soyinka is setting a clear dichotomy between these two. However, as the play progresses Soyinka defies the audience’s assumptions. Lakunle espouses a variety of backward views and seems to abandon his progressive principles when it is convenient to do 50. Similarly, Baroka says he does not hate progress but hardly finds its sameness and stagnation boring. He fights off the intruder, the surveyor who supervises the construction of the railroad. This he achieves by bribing the white surveyor to move the rail tracks through other neighboring towns. This way he blocks civilization from coming to llujinle. Lakunle on the other hand, his notion of modernity is superficial. In the end, tradition wins modernity when Baroka proves that modernity and tradition can subsist side by side.
However, Soyinka uses these activities and struggles between the characters that represent tradition and modernity to propose that progress is not bad, but that it must be done on African terms.
Marginalization of Women as Property
Wole Soyinka’s “The Lion and The Jewel” was written when polygamous was fashionable in Africa, thus its theme of the marginalization of women as property. Traditionally, they were seen as properties that could be bought, sold, or accumulated. In the play, Baroka inherited his late father’s last wife, Sadiku, who then became his eldest wife. Even when he announces to his latest wife his intention to marry another wife he does done with no regard for her feelings and is even labelled as a “vengeful creature”.
This theme also plays out even through the “modern” Lakunle when he looks down on Sidi for having a smaller brain, and later thinks it will be easier to marry her after she loses her virginity since no dowry is required in such a situation.
Deception and Manipulation
The theme of deception and manipulation is evident in the play when Baroka lied about his virility to Sadiku knowing fully well that she can’t keep a secret. Also, other characters in the play decide to trick and manipulate others to achieve their ends. This is perceived to be a much more effective method than being straightforward. Sidi and Sadiku try to fool the Baale so they can feel a sense of triumph at his humbling, not knowing that the Baale had fooled Sadiku to subdue Sidi and wins her as one of his wives. Even though these activities in the play was downplayed with a great deal of witty repartee, it is a known fact that lying and manipulation are pronounced in the play.
Male Gender Superiority.
Although, this theme is not so pronounced in the play, nonetheless, Soyinka consciously creates two female characters that are sassy, opinionated, manipulative, and independent. but both of them are ultimately puppets in the games of men. Sidi does not want to marry either Lakunle or Baroka, but Baroka tricks her, rapes her, and then gets to marry her. She becomes an object and nothing more. Sadiku is also tricked and sees her elation over the Bale’s impotence and the power of women vanish as his plot is made clear. Women may seem like they have power in mid-20th century Nigeria, but they ultimately do not.
Pride, Vanity, versus Shrewdness
As the village belle, Sidi becomes exceptionally vain. She knows her worth is tied to her beauty, and she wastes no time reminding Lakunle and the other villagers that she’s beautiful especially, when the stranger who captures Sidi’s beauty on film returns to llujinle with photographs, Sidi’s vanity grows exponentially. When she was invited to supper by Sadiku on behalf of Baroka, she declines and says she does not sup with a married man. When she learns of Baroka’s sexual weakness, she does not hesitate to
mock him by placing her personality above his.
Baroka on the other hand had deliberately floated the disinformation, conscious that the wrong information will get to the target, Sidi. Truly, Sidi who had turned down the invitation to sup with the bale is now ready to accept the invite. it is at this point that Baroka’s Shrewdness is evident. He knows that a woman who places her beauty and newfound popularity important than any other things would easily be worked on if her tendencies are fed. In the end, Shrewdness and craftiness win over arrogance and unbridled love for materials and glossy things.
The power of Image
Images have a great deal of power in this play. First, photographic images are emblems of the modern. They are incredible to behold, easy to disseminate, and provocative of importance and prestige. No wonder Sidi is obsessed with her visage as found in the magazine. Secondly, images convey social influence in the play, Sidi’s reputation grows because she has a large picture in the magazine, and Bale feels embarrassed because he only has a small picture next to an image of the latrines: whether people do it on purpose or not, they will associate him with such disreputable things. The Image largely contributed to Sidi’s arrogance in the play.
MAJOR CHARACTERS IN
Sidi is the village belle and the jewel of llujinle. She’s very beautiful and intelligent, Like Baroka, she possesses local intelligence and sensitivity with which to live as a human with dignity. She is an advocate of tradition, for instance, she would not agree to marry Lakunle without her full bride price paid because she does not want to make herself “a cheap bowl for the village pit”. Through this stance, she promotes the culture and customs of llujinle.
She became so conscious of her beauty when the stranger returns to the village with a magazine of photographs that show Sidi in all her glory and seeing the photographs makes her obsessed with her image and gives her an exaggerated sense of her power over men. She became too conscious of her beauty and boast about it. She loves progress and accepts Baroka’s idea of progress because it reinforces her vanity and advertises her beauty, even outside llujinle. but Lakunle’s idea of progress is the type she feels will ” turn the world upside down”.
Lakunle is a young schoolteacher and a known figure in llujinle. He was educated in Lagos, presumably in a British school, which results in Lakunle’s overblown sense of his grasp of English. He is about twenty-three years old and wishes to modernize the llujinle to be like Lagos or lbadan. He wants Sidi to marry him and be a “modern wife.”
Without paying her bride price, a tradition that he perceived to be ‘savage’, ‘barbaric’ and ‘outdated. Lakunle speaks about village life and customs as though he finds them abhorrent, though he does seem to enjoy the village’s dance performances. He proposes to Sidi after she had been raped by Baroka, thinking the development would solve the problem of her bride price. This simply portrays him as a principled man who had said that he would not pay a bride price on whom he wants to marry. Even he realizes how much of a fool he is, he leaves the blame at the door of ” but 1 money my books”.
Baroka, the Bale of Ilujinle, is a 62-year-old known as the “Lion” for his strength and the “Fox” for his cunning. Despite his age, he displays remarkable strength. With numerous wives, he marries a new one every few months. While Lakunle sees him as a preserver of tradition, Baroka believes in progress on his terms, opposing forced change. He diverted a railway track through bribery, showcasing his cunning. Baroka exploits Sidi’s vanity, using charm to marry her and achieve his goals.