The Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka

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What happens in The Lion and the Jewel?

The Lion and the Jewel dramatizes a day in the life of three Yoruba villagers in Nigeria. Lakunle, a young, arrogant schoolteacher, and Baroka, the elderly chief, both vie for the hand of Sidi, the "jewel" of the village. Sidi ends up choosing Baroka.

  • The audience learns that Sidi won't marry Lakunle because he refuses to pay her bride price. He thinks of himself as a modern, forward-thinking man and disapproves of the outdated custom of paying a bride price.

  • Baroka's wife Sadiku, the chieftess of the village, tries to convince Sidi to marry Baroka and join his harem. Sidi refuses on the basis that Baroka is too old for her.

  • When Lakunle learns that Sidi isn't a virgin, he grows angry with her, but quickly calms down and offers to marry her again. She turns him down, choosing to marry the wiser and more experienced Baroka.

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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,...

(The entire section is 486 words.)