The Lion and The Jewel main character Sidi sitting in the middle of the picture wearing a striped dress with the outlines of two male faces on other side of her

The Lion and the Jewel

by Wole Soyinka

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The moon is not yet full as Sidi stands near the schoolhouse, still admiring her photographs in the magazine. Sadiku appears with a carved statue of Baroka. Sadiku does not realize Sidi is watching her, and she delivers a speech addressed to Baroka, mocking his impotence and celebrating the power of women over men. Sadiku places the naked figurine of Baroka in front of a tree in the village center and dances around the tree, chanting, “Take warning, my masters / We’ll scotch you in the end.” Sidi interrupts her, and Sadiku tells her that she, and all women, have won a battle; when Sidi becomes confused, Sadiku makes her promise to keep a secret and whispers Baroka’s secret in her ear. After learning of Baroka’s impotence, Sidi joins Sadiku in celebrating their victory over Baroka.

Lakunle appears and observes the women dancing under the moon. When he comments on their activity, the women stop their ritual dancing, and Sadiku threatens Lakunle, revealing that Baroka “is no longer a man” and that no men are permitted to watch their ceremony. Sidi interrupts Sadiku, telling her that she has an idea: she will go to Baroka’s feast and request a month’s time to make up her mind regarding his marriage proposal. During this visit to the Bale’s home, Sidi will “mock the devil.” Sadiku worries that Baroka will discover that she has betrayed his secret shame, but Sidi persuades her to agree. Sadiku advises Sidi to feign humility in order to “torment him until he weeps for shame.” Lakunle warns Sidi against testing Baroka, telling her that Baroka will beat her when he discovers the truth, but Sidi refuses to listen and runs away from him.

Lakunle scolds Sadiku for telling Sidi the Bale’s secret, and they argue. Sadiku mocks Lakunle for his attachment to Sidi, deriding his affection and scorning his refusal to pay the bride price. Lakunle delivers a speech predicting all the ways in which Ilunjile will modernize and terrifying Sadiku with his images of progress and “tea, with milk and sugar.” He threatens Sadiku as she flees the stage by suggesting that she will become one of his students and learn to read, write, and think for herself.

The scene shifts to Baroka’s house, where, in his bedroom, he spars with a wrestler he has hired to maintain his physical fitness. Sidi greets them, but no one answers her, and Baroka carries on wrestling. Sidi enters Baroka’s bedroom, surprised to see the two men engaged in a wrestling match. Baroka reveals that his servants are off for the day, in accordance with progressive union regulations, and Sidi asks if his wives are also off for the day. Baroka, still wrestling, asks if Ailatu has left her shawl on the stool outside his door; Sidi confirms that she has, and Baroka laments that she will likely “be back tonight.” Baroka and Sidi discuss Ailatu’s behavior, and Baroka asserts to Sidi that he has dominion over his wives, which reminds Sidi to kneel before him and feign repentance for refusing his invitation to dinner. Baroka teases Sidi, suggesting that she is unwelcome, and when Baroka reveals that he does not mean his words, “the mischief returns to her face.”

As the two men continue to wrestle, Sidi speaks mockingly to Baroka, and Baroka tells her that he hires a new wrestler whenever he beats one at the game; similarly, he takes a new wife once he tires of his existing ones. Sidi tells Baroka that she has received a message from a woman which suggests that a man is ready to pay her bride price; she goes on to describe the man in terms that offend Baroka while also suggesting that Baroka’s concern for Sidi is primarily paternal in nature. In a fit of anger, Baroka throws his sparring partner and wins the wrestling match, only to begin arm-wrestling and defending his own manliness as Sidi pays less and less attention to him. Sidi resumes her banter with Baroka and accidentally reveals her knowledge of Baroka’s impotence; Baroka claims that Sidi’s words reveal her as a “most diligent pupil of Sadiku.” Sidi tries to recant her admission, but Baroka reassures her, saying that Sidi’s daring talk gives him strength and enables him to win wrestling matches. Baroka talks with Sidi about Sadiku’s matchmaking, claiming he is impatient “with / The new immodesty with women.” He then shows Sidi a machine that makes stamps. Baroka promises Sidi that she, “the village goddess,” will become the image on future stamps. Baroka dismisses the wrestler from the bedroom and entices Sidi to sit next to him on his bed, talking of the risks of progress. Sidi does not understand him, and Baroka tells her that she will grow up to understand that “old wine thrives best / Within a new bottle.” Sidi’s head drops to rest on the Bale’s shoulder as dancers enter the stage and the sound of drumming begins.

Back in the village, the evening market opens for business, and Lakunle and Sadiku wait for Sidi. Lakunle worries out loud for Sidi’s safety as the wrestler walks by. Sadiku is confused by the presence of the wrestler, but she is distracted by the sound of approaching mummers. Female dancers follow a single male dancer as Sadiku pickpockets Lakunle and pays each of the mummers for their performance. The “dance of virility” continues, and the mummer representing Baroka is “finally scotched,” pleasing both Sadiku and Lakunle.

Sidi runs up to Lakunle and Sadiku, sobbing, and when Lakunle tries to comfort her, she rejects his supportive gestures. Lakunle assumes that Baroka has beaten Sidi, and his confusion leads Sidi to explain that Baroka had lied to Sadiku about his impotence in order to trick them. Lakunle understands why Sidi is upset, and when Sidi confirms that she is no longer “a maid,” Lakunle grows despondent; his tone changes, however, when he tells Sidi that they will marry anyway and that Sidi will surely agree that they will forego the bride price now that she is no longer a virgin. Sidi leaves Lakunle and Sadiku, going home to pack her belongings. Lakunle is confused by her impatience to marry so quickly. Sidi returns, dressed beautifully and holding her magazine, which she gives to Lakunle as she invites him to her wedding to Baroka. She explains to Lakunle that she cannot possibly marry him now that she has experienced Baroka’s “perpetual youthful zest.” Sadiku wishes Sidi abundant fertility as music and dancing commence. Lakunle turns his gaze upon a young dancing girl.

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