Overview of “the Lion and the Jewel” by Wole Soyinka

Adekunle Adebajo, University of Ibadan

This literature is a work of drama i.e. the conversations are presented in a dialogical form. The title is full of symbolism as the phrases; ‘the lion’ and ‘the jewel’ are representative of two of the major characters in the play. It is arguably a quintessence of comical drama. The play, ‘The Lion and the Jewel’ was first published by Mosuro publishers in the year 2001, and is authored by Professor Wole Soyinka.

The first setting to be introduced to the reader is the village centre where a school is located. Sidi, a village-girl, enters the scene carrying a pail of water on her head, but she is accosted by Lakunle, the schoolmaster (and a near 23-year-old), as soon as she neared the classroom window. He offers to assist her in carrying the pail of water, some of the content spills on him, Sidi mocks him and they strike up a conversation. From the conversation, we learn that Lakunle is in love with Sidi and he hopes to marry her. The girl, on the other hand, does not seem to be too fond of Lakunle. However, she does not mind marrying him as long as he is ready to pay her bride price, a tradition Lakunle is averse to, ‘a savage … ignoble custom’ he calls it. While Sidi fears that not paying a bride price would connote that she is not a virgin [‘they will say I was no virgin, that I was forced to sell my shame’], Lakunle is of the view that the act is a way of objectifying the female gender.

From there dialogue, it is apparent that Lakunle is a respecter of Western ideals [e.g. eating with cutleries, kissing, foxtrot dance, clubbing – modernism in short]; but Sidi is not on the same page with him. She is conservative as she does not even understand, let alone like, the Western customs cherished by her educated suitor. Some girls, about four, presumably age-mates of Sidi, come on stage bringing news of the return of ‘the stranger, the man from the outside world.’ They say he brought with him his one-eyed box [a camera], bipedal horse [bicycle] and a magazine containing charming pictures of Sidi. Sidi is overjoyed and proud of the fact that her beauty is acknowledged and broadcast across borders. She even arrives at the conclusion that she is greater than Bale Baroka, ‘the Lion of Ilujinle … living god among men’. She teases Lakunle too saying to wed him, ‘a mere village school teacher’, would be to demean her worth.

In this scene, we have a play-within-a-play, a mime with which the story of the first visit of the travelling stranger and his encounter with Sidi and the villagers is re-enacted. At the end of the scene, Bale Baroka is shown, with his wrestler not too far away. He brings out a copy of the magazine, ‘admires the heroine of the publication’, ‘nods slowly to himself’ and acknowledges, with concern, that it has been up to 5 months since he last took a wife.

In another scene, we find Sidi, still enthralled with her pictures, being followed by Lakunle who is carrying a bundle of firewood for her. They are approached by Sadiku, Baroka’s first wife and former Bale’s last wife. She reportedly brings a message from the Bale, which is that he wishes to wed her as his last, most junior, wife. Sidi replies harshly to this offer, demanding to know why he had not requested her hand before ‘before the stranger brought his book of images’. She seems to think that the request is precipitated by the Bale’s realisation of her superiority and the need to supress her authority, to ‘to raise his manhood above my beauty’. Sadiku accuses Lakunle of perverting her thoughts and attempted to beat him, but Sidi is not ready to change her stance. ‘Tell your Lord that … I will [have] none of him’, she tells Sadiku. Sadiku thereafter invites Sidi, on behalf of Baroka, to supper, ‘a small feast in your honour.’ This offer too, she rejects. And of course, she is firmly backed by Lakunle who finds all means of maligning Baroka.

Away from this scene, the reader is transported to the Bale’s palace, specifically his ‘rich bedroom’. He is being tended by Favourite, his favourite and latest wife. She is engaged in plucking the hairs from his armpit. He accuses her of being too gentle, and she promises to improve. But then, he stills makes sure to intimidate her with the possibility of taking a new wife. Sadiku enters bringing news of Sidi’s rejection of his offer. She explains that this rejection is as a result of Sidi’s misperception of Baroka as being ols and frail. He then confesses, seemingly thoughtlessly, that, in actuality; he is ‘withered and unsapped’. He warns Sadiku to keep this a secret. She, however, did not keep to the request.

Sadiku goes near the school and starts a wild celebration. Sidi sees her and is curious to know the reason for this, and after much persuasion, she diulges what is meant to be a secret to her. They both rejoice at what they see as the downfall of the Lion. Sidi plans to visit Baroka in his abode with the intention to mock him, in contrast with Lakunle’s plea.

At the palace, she watches Baroka and his wrestler engage in a tug of muscle. She kicks off a witty and disputatious dialogue between the two of them. Baroka notices the unusual maturity with which she converses. Sidi decides to obscurely refer to his alleged virility, and Baroka accuses Sadiku of betrayal.

Baroka successfully appeals to Sidi’s mundane desires and promises her fame and fortune. He also pretentiously praises Lakunle’s erudition. Sidi lets off her guard and falls for him. This is symbolised by her resting her head on his shoulder. Inevitably or consequently, she loses her virginity to the great Baroka.

Sadiku and Lakunle are shown, still at the village market, waiting for Sidi to return. A troupe of drummers and dancers approach, which Sadiku claims are celebrating the Bale’s status as Eunuch. She participates stunningly in the ‘dance of virility’ done to mock Baroka.

Sidi appears at the scene sobbing heavily. She declares that she has lost her virginity. A declaration to which Lakunle replies that he is still ready to marry her, although disregarding the payment of bride price. Sidi leaves abruptly. Lakunle sends Sadiku after her to know what she is up to. She comes back to inform him that she is preparing to go to her husband’s house. Lakunle assumes himself to be the intending husband, and becomes anxious at the thought of an impromptu marriage.

Sidi arrives with a set of drummers, musicians and well-wishers. She offers  the magazine containing her photos to Lakunle, who still thinks he is being dragged to the altar, he says ‘the very spirits of the partial air have all conspired to blow me, willy-nilly, down the slippery slope of grim matrimony.’ He is however greatly let down when Sidi tells him frankly that she cannot possibly marry him, ‘a beardless version of unripened man’, after she has ‘felt the… youthful zest of the panther of the trees.’ Lakunle does not want to give up, he attempts to stop her, to ‘protect’ her from herself. Sidi sends him off, telling him to come for the wedding if he wishes. She thereafter asks Sadiku for her motherly blessing.

The air becomes festive, and Lakunle is erotically teased by a young lady. He chases her successfully [suggesting that the end is not that bad for him either].

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