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About The Lion and the Jewel and Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka, the author of twenty plays, six novels and six collections of poems,
represents Yoruba tradition in his comic play The Lion and the Jewel. The conflict
between tradition and modernization covers a significant portion of Wole Soyinkas
work. He was the first African writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. To
put in the words of Ashish Beesoondial, the prize is an evident recognition of Wole
Soyinkas struggle and commitment to, on the one hand, creating a democratic
society in post-colonial Africa and, on the other, to harnessing a vision for a better

Soyinkas response to the present socio-political instability has earned him the status
of conscience of society. The despotic rulers of post-colonial era kept an eagle eye
on him, and Soyinka reacted strongly
...when power is placed in the service of vicious reaction, a language must be
called into being which does its best to appropriate such obscenity of power and
fling its excesses back in its face. (Soyinka, 1974)

In The Lion and the Jewel, Baroka fends off modernity to stay in power like some
rulers of the post-colonial era. The idea of the dramatist is quite similar if we draw a
sharp contrast between Baroka of The Lion and the Jewel (1963) and Bero in Madmen
and Specialists (1970). Wole Soyinkas intention lies in turning up the maggot-
infested underside of the compost heap (as) a pre-requisite of the lands
transformation (Soyinka, 1974) and castigate the power-seekers, which is why his
satire is mainly geared with politics.

Practice of Polygamy in African Society

In The Lion and the Jewel, Wole Soyinka portrayed the traditional practice of
polygamy in African societies. The practice is justified by law in Nigeria. It is a
prominent feature of African family life. Like some Arab countries, wealthy people
of rural areas take many wives and concubines as a sign of their prosperity. Toyin
Falola expresses his opinion regarding polygamy, ... the function of the family as an
economic unit of production. Especially for those in agrarian production, large family
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provides the labour necessary for the maintenance and growth of the business. And
he adds that the tradition allows widow inheritence, in which a man marries the
widow of deceased brother. This practice ensures that the woman and her children
remain under the economic and social care of the family. As we can deduce from the
comments of Sadiku, the successor of dead Bale or chief of Yoruba society marries
the last and favourite wife of the dead bale, as his first wife
Sidi, have you considered what a life of bliss awaits
you? Baroka swears to take no other wife after you.
Do you know what it is to be the Bale's last wife?
I'll tell you. When he dies - and that should not be long;
even the Lion has to die sometime - well, when he does,
it means that you will have the honour of being the senior
wife of the new Bale. And just think, until Baroka dies,
you shall be his favourite. No living in the outhouse for
you, my girls. Your place will always be in the palace;
first as the latest bride, and afterwards, as the head of the
new harem ... It is rich life, Sidi. I know. I have been
in that position for forty-one years. (20-21)

According to the tradition of that particular society, a Bale can have as much as wives
he can, but he has to follow some conditions like, treating all equally, distributing
resources to all wives and children, avoid discrimination among wives and children
(Falola, 59). In case The Lion and the Jewel, the Bale of the village, Baroka, has
many wives. His harem is already full with his number of wives from Sadiku to latest
favourite wife, Ailatu. He is still interested to in girls at the age of sixty two. At the
end of first scene he says
Yes, yes... it is five full months since last
I took a wife ... five full months...
The indication is clear from Barokas speech. He is used to take wives and concubines
at regular intervals. Another custom of Yoruba tradition is a significant one. Sadiku,
the veteran representative of the tradition, woos young girls to marry her husband and
it is her responsibility to persuade girls to marry Baroka. The Yoruba society
emphasizes that the wives have to obey and do furnish all sorts of his desire. It is
settled in the minds of the women in the society.
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Yoruba Traditional Clothing

Sidi enters the first scene wearing traditional Yoruba clothes
Around her is wrapped the familiar broad cloth which is folded just above
her breasts, leaving the shoulders bare. (P. 1)
The cloth worn by Sidi provokes a number of comments. It was the familiar broad
cloth which is embroidered with the distinctive patter of the village, Ilujinle. In her
writing of Yoruba womens dress, Eve de Negri says that today (presumably in the
early 1960s) country-women may still be seen wearing only the skirt-cloth, usually
pulled up high over the breasts. She observes that the womans buba, a cotton blouse,
was introduced by missionaries, presumably prompted by the same sense of modesty
that consumes Lakunle.

At the beginning, the details of Lakunles dress up amuses us

He is dressed in an old-style English suit, threadbare but not ragged, clean
but not ironed, obviously a size or two too small. His tie is done in a very
small knot, disappearing beneath a shiny black waistcoat. He wears twenty-
three-inch-bottom trousers, and blanco-white tennis shoes. (P. 1)

In 1963, Eve de Negri provided some information on the clothes worn by Yoruba men
which comes as a sharp contrast to the dress up of Lakunle
Sculpture and carving of early times depict figures in simple skirt-cloth, bared
torso and deep collar reaching to the chest and greatly ornamented. There are, too,
art works which show a type of horseman or hunter, in an outfit much like that
worn nowadays buba, a narrow tunic-like shirt, and sokoto, fairly narrow
trousers. Now, these two are covered by a third, sapara, a lightweight gown, or
agbada or gbariye, heavyweight gowns of one kind or another.
Although we can expect Baroka to wear these clothes, the attitude of so-called
modernization is apparent in Lakunles stupid attire.
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The Practice of Bride-price

According to Encyclopedia Britannica the practice of bride-price, is common in most
parts of the globe in one form or another, but it is perhaps most prevalent in Africa.
Bride-price is an established custom in many areas of Africa and Asia. The native
Africans and Muslims follow it grossly as a part of their own culture and religious
traditions. From the plot of The Lion and the Jewel, the importance of bride-price is
noticeable in that particular society. Sidis consciousness of future security regarding
the Yoruba tradition of bride-price is clearly visible in her conversation with Lakunle
in the first act, Morning
I have told you, and I say it again
I shall marry you today, next week
Or any day you name.
But my bride-price must first be paid.
Aha, now you turn away.
But I tell you, Lakunle, I must have
The full bride-price. Will you make me
A laughing-stock? Well, do as you please.
But Sidi will not make herself
A cheap bowl for the village spit. (P. 7)
Finally, Sidi accepts Barokas proposal since he was able to pay the bride-price.
Baroka, the village bale, was naturally an economically influential person, and he
took many wives and concubines using his power and money.

Notion Towards Chastity

In The Lion and the Jewel, Wole Soyinka until the end does not show that the bride-
price is paid to Sidi by Baroka, her spouse. After Sidis confrontation with the bale in
his house, Lakunle readily accepts to marry her, it is only fair/ That we forget the
bride-price totally/ Since you no longer can be called a maid (P. 53). As Sidi lost her
chastity to Baroka, she considers herself bound to him and prefers Baroka over
Lakunle. She actually brings out the culture of the tradition based rigid society. Her
lost virginity leads her to marry the old Baroka,
Marry who...? You thought...
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Did you really think that you, and I..

Why, did you think that after him,
I could endure the touch of another man? (P. 56)
Chastity could be considered one of the main reasons that prevent her to accept the
proposal of Lakunle. The mental settings of women in African society implore them
to live with only one man, and they tend to consider it a part of their age old
tradition. To R. Sethuraman, Sidi is a strong representative of the tradition in the
play as she is, fleetingly metamorphosed into the glittering girl of the magazine by
the Western photographer, although common sense prevails on her in the end.

Importance of Child Bearing

Marriage is a social custom that mostly revolves around the idea of child bearing in
most of the societies round the world. In case of Nigeria, it is not a different case.
Lakunle, an ardent follower of western values, somehow challenges the custom. He
says that he does no seek wife To fetch and carry, /To cook and scrub,/ To bring
forth children by the gross... (P. 7-8) But Sidi was not convinced by his adamant
ideas and utters fearfully, Heaven forgive you! to save him from the wrath of Gods.
The custom seals the bond between the married couple in a society like that of
Ilujinle. Lauretta Ngcobo wrote
As elsewhere, marriage amongst Africans is mainly an institution for the control
of procreation. Every woman is encouraged to marry and get children in order to
express her womanhood to the full. The basis of marriage among Africans implies
the transfer of a womans fertility to the husbands family group.

Strong Belief in Pantheon of Gods

Some religious tradition like making oaths on Yoruba pantheon of Gods like Ogun
and Sango are mentioned in the play. Ogun is the god of oaths and justice. In Yoruba
courts, people swear to tell the truth by kissing a machete sacred to Ogun. The Yoruba
consider Ogun fearsome and terrible in his revenge; they believe that if one breaks a
pact made in his name, swift retribution will follow (Horton). In the play, a girl
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swears by the God Ogun to confirm the news of Sidis published photograph in a
western magazine
Sidi: Is that the truth? Swear! Ask Ogun to
Strike you dead.
Girl: Ogun strike me dead if I lie. (The Lion and the Jewel, 11)
In another situation, when Sadiku tries to convince Sidi for the marriage proposal
from Baroka, Sidis acts lead her to pray to the God Sango to restore her sanity, May
Sango restore your wits. For most surely some angry god has taken possession of
you (The Lion and the Jewel, 21). Sango is the god of thunder and lightning. His
anger is abrupt and dreadful. He strikes his enemies down with lightning. And the
people of Ilujinle believe that only Sango can relive the people who behave abnormal
or become possessed by any angry god or evil spirit.

Role of Women Pictured in the Society

The role of women in the society portrayed in The Lion and the Jewel is close to the
tradition of our country in some ways. The society is still far away from modern
industrialization and women are engaged in traditional household activities. In the
words of Lakunle, Sidi pounds the yam or bends all the day to plant the millet ... to
fetch and carry, to cook and scrub, to bring forth children by the gross. (The Lion
and the Jewel, 7 and 9). The female characters like Sidi and Sadiku are the
representation of the doubly oppressed in the society where female members are
highly marginalized by the males. They are the symbol lf self-marginality,
particularly Sidi:
... she never allows any rational idea into her mind, which is advised by Lakunle.
... greatly supports and argues for her society and its tradition. She does not want
to come out of the conventional ideologies. She does not know that she is
marginalizing herself for the ideologies of the society. (Kumar, 46)

Lakunle appears to be a champion of feminism in course of the play. Although he is

portrayed as a foolish teacher who quotes from memory without much knowledge of
the actual facts. Sidis response his bombardment of words gives the impression
clearly, You and your ragged books dragging your feet to every threshold and
rushing them out aging as curses greet you instead of welcome ... The village says
youre man, and I begin to understand (The Lion and the Jewel, 5 and 10). C. N.
Ramachandran remarks on the character, Lakunle represents not western culture but
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only hallow Westernization, not real but only the image. The play abundantly
establishes that Lakunle is a modern version of Don Quixote, a book nourished
shrimp (201). A person like Lakunle lacks the ability of changing the society for the
better. Although he visions the change, his activity does not establish his ideas.

Baroka, the antithesis of Lakunle, is a very impressive character in many ways. His
conduct towards Sadiku, Sidi, Ailatu and the other women bears a resemblance to that
of Okonkwos attitude in Things Fall Apart. The age-old custom hardly get affected
as people like Baroka or Okonknow enjoys the privileges and power with zest, with
care and caution. Baroka successfully utilizes the ideology of modernism and
tradition for his personal gains.
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The conflict between tradition and modernism has always been the major point of
argument. Anthony Graham White remarks that Soyinka approved neither headmans
(Baroka) tradition nor the schoolteachers modernism (130). The argument is based
on the fact that Wole Soyinka did not satirize both the ideologies at any point of the
play. K. Naveen Kumars opinion justifies it
By all the description of traditions and hindrances to modernism, and the portrayal
of Lakunle as hallow-modernist, the playwright leads the reader to the assumption
that he does not support the tradition or modernity. Instead, he merely records and
pictures the tradition and peoples life in the African society.
From the reading and performance of the play, Wole Soyinkas deep connection to
indigenous tradition is clearly visible. Sidi rejects modernism through her activities
in the last scene by rejecting Lakunle. McDougall Russell thinks, The verbal
elements of the scene behind Sidis invocation of the gods of fertility is to ensure
cultural continuity (McDougall, 116). The triumph of tradition is emphasized through
the concluding dances and prayers.
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1. Soyinka, Wole. (1963) The Lion and the Jewel, Oxford University Press.
2. Falola, Toyin. (2001), Culture and Customs in Nigeria, Greenwood Press,
3. Beesoondial, Ashish. Re-presenting Society: Wole Soyinkas Social Vision.
4. Gibbs, James. (1982), Notes on The Lion and the Jewel, Longman York
Press, Essex.
5. Kumar, K. Naveen, Yoruba Tradition and Culture in Wole Soyinkas The
Lion and the Jewel, International Refereed Research Journal, Vol. II, Issue
3, July 2011.
6. Eve de Negri. Yoruba Womens Costumes, Nigeria Magazine, Lagos (March
7. Eve de Negri. Yoruba Mens Costumes, Nigeria Magazine, Lagos (June
8. Bridewealth. (2009), Encyclopedia Britannica 2009 Ready Reference,
Encyclopedia Britannica, Chicago.
9. McDougall, Russell. (1990). The Snapshot Image and the Body of Tradition:
Stage Imager in the Lion and the Jewel, The Commonwealth Review, Vol. 8,
pp. 104-116.
10. Kumar, K. Naveen. (2010), Marginalization in the Selected Plays of Wole
Soyinka. Critical Responses to Commonwealth Literature, Authors Press,
New Delhi.
11. Ngcobo, Lauretta. (1988), African Motherhood Myth and Reality, Criticism
and Ideology, Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Uppsala.
12. Sethuraman, R. (1985), The Role of Women in the Plays of Wole Soyinka,
World Literature Written in English, Vol. 25.
13. White, Anthony Graham. (1974), The Drama of Black Africa, Samuel French
INC, London.