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In Wole Soyinka’s 1959 play The Lion and the Jewel, the chieftain of the village, Baroka, has a conflict with Lakunle, the area schoolteacher.
On one level, both are fighting for the affection of Sidi, an exceptionally beautiful village woman known as “the jewel.” Even in a time and culture when men often took more than one wife, Sidi is someone worth fighting for--apart from her beauty, the fact that the village reveres her (she’s almost like a celebrity) appeals to both men because having her as a wife would boost their prestige among their neighbors.
This is particularly important to Baroka because, at age 63, he is suddenly insecure; his village is rapidly changing and its new modern culture holds no respect for his authority and knowledge. Lakunle, an individual excited about modernizing the town at whatever cost, exemplifies this new threat. If Lakunle beats Baroka in the fight for Sidi’s love, it will be yet another slap in the face for a man who is slowly losing everything.
Through the conflict, Soyinka illustrates the forces shaping Nigeria in the mid 20th century. Baroka represents Nigeria’s traditional values, which were often brutally suppressed by European colonists. During centuries of unjust treatment, Nigerians held strong to their traditional values, despite fear of persecution and death. However, at the time of The Lion and the Jewel, many native Nigerians considered the value of adopting some Western and European traditions, and the country rapidly modernized. The city, instead of the small village, became the norm. Baroka represents these traditional values, and Sidi represents the surge of modernity. On a small scale, they’re fighting over Sidi, but on a much larger scale, Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel illustrates the struggle for the future of the African continent--will tradition or modernization win?
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