The Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka


Wole Soyinka, the author of twenty plays, six novels and six collections of poems, represents Yoruba tradition in his comic play. In the play, The Lion and the Jewel, the conflict between tradition and modernization covers a significant portion of Wole Soyinka’s work.  He was the first African writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.


The play is set in the village of Ilujinle. Note Lakunle’s age. Despite his behavior on occasion, he is essentially a lively young man. He tries to emulate European notions of courtesy by relieving Sidi of her burden, though carrying water is traditionally a women’s task. His flirtatious opening speech may seem rather crude, but is typical of the kind of jesting that goes on in courtship. Sidi is not so much shocked as bored by Lakunle.

How does Sidi cleverly answer his insistence that she should abandon the traditional way of carrying loads on her head? Note the contrast between the ideas that Lakunle has derived from books about women’s weakness and Sidi’s answers based on experience. Baroka, the Bale (chief) of the village is a major character later in the play, here introduced as standing for tradition.

“A prophet has honour except/in his own home:” Jesus says this when his family and acquaintances in his home town of Nazareth reject his teachings (Mark 6:4). When Lakunle proposes to Sidi he is quoting words he has read in popular English books about marriage. Note that his pretentious metaphors are answered by her pithy proverb. “Bush” means “uncivilized,” typical of people who live in the bush.

Their relationship is clarified when Sidi says she wants a bride-price. It is not that she lacks affection for Lakunle–what has passed before has been essentially good-natured sparring on her part. But she insists on the tradition which will prove her value in the eyes of the village. Lakunle, in his “Pulpit-declamatory” style, quotes to her lines from the wedding service which are in turn quoted from Genesis 2:24. Why does Lakunle mention “breakable” plates? “Stretched” hair is a form of straightening of naturally kinky African hair. What is Sidi’s reaction to kissing?

Why is Sidi eager to see the stranger’s book? Notice how the conflict in the play which has been between Lakunle and Sidi is now complicated by the tension between Sidi and Baroka. How do you react to Sidi’s celebration of her own beauty?

The dance of the lost Traveler draws on Yoruba tradition and that of many other African peoples. Current events are often depicted and commented upon in dances involving costumes and pantomime. It is this sort of “street theater” which Soyinka sees as providing fertile ground for the development of drama in Africa. One of the problems with reading a play rather than seeing it performed, is that one skims quickly over what would be a very impressive high point in the production, with dancing and drumming building to a climax. Imagine this “dance” taking quite a long time and having much more dramatic impact than anything that has gone before. Note that Lakunle finally enters into the dance with enthusiasm. Despite his modern pretensions, he is underneath not so alien to Sidi and her comrades as one might at first suppose. The stranger had been photographing Sidi while she was bathing, and she quickly grabbed up her clothes to cover herself when she saw him.

Baroka gives Lakunle the traditional greeting and is displeased to get a European one in return. Far from being displeased by the dance, he insists on it being continued, playing the role he played in the original incident. When he tells Lakunle “You tried to steal our village maidenhead” he is speaking to the character Lakunle is playing, not the villager himself. He is telling him to go on acting. Why is it significant that Lakunle has been given the part of the stranger?

Yoruba Traditional Clothing

Sidi enters the first scene wearing traditional Yoruba clothes — Around her is wrapped the familiar broad cloth which is folded just above her breasts, leaving the shoulders bare. (P. 1) The cloth worn by Sidi provokes a number of comments. It was the ‘familiar broadcloth’ which is embroidered with the distinctive patter of the village, Ilujinle. In her writing of Yoruba women’s dress, Eve de Negri says that ‘today’ (presumably in the early 1960s) ‘country-women may still be seen wearing only the skirt-cloth, usually pulled up high over the breasts.’ She observes that the woman’s buba, a cotton blouse, was introduced by missionaries, presumably prompted by the same sense of modesty that consumes Lakunle. At the beginning, the details of Lakunle’s dress up amuses us — He is dressed in an old-style English suit, threadbare but not ragged, clean but not ironed, obviously a size or two too small. His tie is done in a very small knot, disappearing beneath a shiny black waistcoat. He wears twenty-three-inch-bottom trousers, and blanco-white tennis shoes.

In 1963, Eve de Negri provided some information on the clothes worn by Yoruba men which comes as a sharp contrast to the dress up of Lakunle— Sculpture and carving of early times depict figures in simple skirt-cloth, bared torso and deep collar reaching to the chest and greatly ornamented. There are, too, art works which show a type of horseman or hunter, in an outfit much like that worn nowadays— buba, a narrow tunic-like shirt, and sokoto, fairly narrow trousers. Now, these two are covered by a third, sapara, a lightweight gown, or agbada or gbariye, heavyweight gowns of one kind or another. Although we can expect Baroka to wear these clothes, the attitude of so-called modernization is apparent in Lakunle’s stupid   attire.

The Practice of Bride-price

According to Encyclopedia Britannica the practice of bride-price, ‘is common in most parts of the globe in one form or another, but it is perhaps most prevalent in Africa.’ Bride-price is an established custom in many areas of Africa and Asia. The native Africans and Muslims follow it grossly as a part of their own culture and religious traditions. From the plot of The Lion and the Jewel, the importance of bride-price is noticeable in that particular society. Sidi’s consciousness of future security regarding the Yoruba tradition of bride-price is clearly visible in her conversation with Lakunle in the first act, Morning — “I have told you, and I say it again I shall marry you today, next week Or any day you name. But my bride-price must first be paid. Aha, now you turn away. But I tell you, Lakunle, I must have The full bride-price. Will you make me A laughing-stock? Well, do as you please. But Sidi will not make herself A cheap bowl for the village spit.” (P. 7)

Finally, Sidi accepts Baroka’s proposal since he was able to pay the bride-price. Baroka, the village bale, was naturally an economically influential person, and he took many wives and concubines using his power and money.

Notion towards Chastity in The Lion and the Jewel 

Wole Soyinka until the end does not show that the bride- price is paid to Sidi by Baroka, her spouse. After Sidi’s confrontation with the bale in his house, Lakunle readily accepts to marry her, “it is only fair/ That we forget the bride-price totally/ Since you no longer can be called a maid” (P. 53).

As Sidi lost her chastity to Baroka, she considers herself bound to him and prefers Baroka over Lakunle. She actually ‘brings out the culture of the tradition based rigid society.’ Her lost virginity leads her to marry the old Baroka,

Marry who…? You thought..

Did you really think that you, and I..

Why, did you think that after him,

I could endure the touch of another man?                 (P. 56)

Chastity could be considered one of the main reasons that prevent her to accept the proposal of Lakunle. The mental settings of women in African society implore them to live with only one man, and they tend to consider it a part of their ‘age old tradition’. To R. Sethuraman, Sidi is a strong representative of the tradition in the play as she is, “fleetingly metamorphosed into the glittering girl of the magazine bythe Western photographer, although common sense prevails on her in the end.”

Importance of Child Bearing

Marriage is a social custom that mostly revolves around the idea of child bearing in most of the societies round the world. In case of Nigeria, it is not a different case. Lakunle, an ardent follower of western values, somehow challenges the custom. He says that he does no seek wife “To fetch and carry, /To cook and scrub,/ To bring forth children by the gross…” (P. 7-8) But Sidi was not convinced by his adamant ideas and utters fearfully, “Heaven forgive you!” to save him from the wrath of Gods. The custom seals the bond between the married couple in a society like that of Ilujinle. Lauretta Ngcobo wrote — As elsewhere, marriage amongst Africans is mainly an institution for the control of procreation. Every woman is encouraged to marry and get children in order to express her womanhood to the full. The basis of marriage among Africans implies the transfer of a woman’s fertility to the husband’s family group.

Strong Belief in Pantheon of Gods

Some religious tradition like making oaths on Yoruba pantheon of Gods like Ogun and Sango are mentioned in the play. Ogun is the god of oaths and justice. In Yoruba courts, people swear to tell the truth by kissing a machete sacred to Ogun. The Yoruba consider Ogun fearsome and terrible in his revenge; they believe that if one breaks a pact made in his name, swift retribution will follow (Horton). In the play, a girl swears by the God Ogun to confirm the news of Sidi’s published photograph in a western magazine— Sidi: Is that the truth? Swear! Ask Ogun to Strike you dead.Girl: Ogun strike me dead if I lie. 

The Lion and the Jewel 

In another situation, when Sadiku tries to convince Sidi for the marriage proposal from Baroka, Sidi’s acts lead her to pray to the God Sango to restore her sanity, “May Sango restore your wits. For most surely some angry god has taken possession of you” (The Lion and the Jewel, 21). Sango is the god of thunder and lightning. His anger is abrupt and dreadful. He strikes his enemies down with lightning. And the people of Ilujinle believe that only Sango can relive the people ‘who behave abnormal or become possessed by any angry god or evil spirit’.

Role of Women Pictured in the Society

The role of women in the society portrayed in The Lion and the Jewel is close to the tradition of our country in some ways. The society is still far away from modern industrialization and women are engaged in traditional household activities. In the words of Lakunle, Sidi “pounds the yam or bends all the day to plant the millet … to fetch and carry, to cook and scrub, to bring forth children by the gross”. (The Lion and the Jewel, 7 and 9).  The female characters like Sidi and Sadiku are there presentation of the doubly oppressed in the society where female members are ‘highly marginalized by the males’. They are the symbol lf self-marginality, particularly Sidi:… she never allows any rational idea into her mind, which is advised by Lakunle. … greatly supports and argues for her society and its tradition. She does not want to come out of the conventional ideologies.

She does not know that she is marginalizing herself for the ideologies of the society. (Kumar, 46) Lakunle appears to be ‘a champion of feminism’ in course of the play. Although he is portrayed as a foolish teacher who quotes from memory without much knowledge of the actual facts. Sidi’s response his bombardment of words gives the impression clearly, “You and your ragged books dragging your feet to every threshold and rushing them out aging as curses greet you instead of welcome … The village says you’re man, and I begin to understand” (The Lion and the Jewel, 5 and 10).

C. N. Ramach and ran remarks on the character, “Lakunle represents not western culture but only hallow Westernization, not real but only the image. The play abundantly establishes that Lakunle is a modern version of Don Quixote, a book nourished shrimp” (201). A person like Lakunle lacks the ability of changing the society for the better. Although he visions the change, his activity does not establish his ideas. Baroka, the antithesis of Lakunle, is a very impressive character in many ways. His conduct towards Sadiku, Sidi, Ailatu and the other women bears a resemblance to that of Okonkwo’s attitude in Things Fall Apart. The age-old custom hardly get affected as people like Baroka or Okonkwo enjoys the privileges and power with zest, with  are and caution.’ Baroka successfully utilizes the ideology of modernism andtradition for his personal gains.

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