The Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka

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Wole Soyinka's The Lion and the Jewel dramatizes the conflict between tradition and modernization in a small Nigerian village as two men compete for the love of a beautiful woman.

  • Sidi, the titular "jewel," is courted by two different men: Lakunle, a young schoolteacher who embraces western ideals, and elderly Baroka, the old-fashioned village chief.

  • Sidi at first rejects both men: Lakunle for refusing to pay her bride-price, and Baroka because of his advanced age.

  • Baroka ultimately wins Sidi's hand in marriage. Sidi rejects Lakunle's empty westernized rhetoric in favor of Baroka's liveliness, wit, and experience as a lover.

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Lion and the Jewel, written in London, was one of the first of Soyinka’s plays to be performed in Africa. It was performed at the Ibadan Arts Theatre in 1959, where it was well received. The Lion and the Jewel was the first major play to draw on traditional Yoruba poetry, music, and dance to tell a Nigerian story in English. The play enabled Nigerian drama to become part of world theater.

The Lion and the Jewel is a comedy set in the small remote village of Ilujinle. There are three central characters: Lakunle, an eager but naïve schoolteacher who accepts Western ideas and modernity without really understanding them; Baroka, the village chief, who sees modern ideas as a threat to his power; and Sidi, the jewel of the village, a beautiful woman who will choose one of the men for a husband. The characters are exaggerated: Lakunle is arrogant and talks too much, and Baroka is cunning, but they are ultimately likable. Unlike many of Soyinka’s later plays, there is no evil in this play, and the author pokes only gentle fun at his characters. In the end, the men will have to deal with each other. As Baroka says, “the old must flow into the new.”

The play focuses on several conflicts that Soyinka presents but does not attempt to resolve. Lakunle and Baroka embody the contrary urges toward modernity and tradition. They personify the two sides of the major social and political issue in Africa during the last half of the twentieth century. They are not so far apart as they may think. Both look to the same Yoruban god, Sango. Both are skilled performers. Both are attracted to the same woman. Their...

(The entire section is 486 words.)