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Video: The Lion and The Jewel — Full Summary, Themes, Characters
The lion and the jewel
Full Summary of the Lion and The Jewel
The play is set in the village of Ilunjinle, Nigeria. Sidi, a beautiful young woman also known as “The Jewel,” carries her pail of water past the school where Lakunle, the schoolteacher and a village outsider with modern ideas, works. He approaches her and chastises her for carrying her water on her head and stunting her shoulders; she is unfazed. Lakunle loves Sidi and wants to marry her, but he refuses to pay her bride-price because he considers it an archaic tradition. Sidi does not love Lakunle; she finds him and his ideas about making her a modern, Western bride obnoxious. However, she plans to marry him if he can pay the price as the village traditions necessitate.
While Sidi and Lakunle are talking, several young women run up to Sidi and tell her that the stranger—a photographer who visited the village some time ago—is back, and that he brought with him the magazine that contained within it pictures of the village and villagers. Sidi occupies a central space and is stunningly beautiful. Lakunle is dismayed to hear this, but Sidi glows with pride.
Sidi suggests the villagers act out and dance to the story of the stranger. She pushes Lakunle to participate and act as the stranger, and the performance commences. The drummers and singers and actors play out the arrival of the stranger and his camera. Lakunle gets into the spirit of the performance. As it goes on, the Bale (i.e. head) of the village, Baroka—a.k.a. “the Lion”—arrives. He plays the role of the chief. Later that day he stares at the pictures of Sidi and muses that he has not taken a wife for some time.
Sadiku, Baroka’s senior wife and head of the harem, finds Sidi and tells her that Baroka wants to take her for a wife. She paints this as an incredible honor, but Sidi laughs that Baroka is old. She glories in her photographs and says Baroka only wants her because she is so famous and has brought so much honor to the village. Lakunle, who is jealously listening, excoriates Baroka as being against progress and modernity.
Sadiku returns to Baroka and gives him Sidi’s reply. He is calm at first but becomes distressed when she tells him Sidi said he is old. He bemoans the fact that he is no longer virile, and tries to take comfort in the elderly Sadiku’s gentle touch.
Sidi is standing and admiring her photos near the schoolhouse when Sadiku, cackling to herself and carrying a bundle, arrives. Inside the bundle is a carved figure of the Bale. Sadiku looks at it and bursts into laughter, exulting in how she and the women have undone him. Sidi is confused, and Sadiku whispers to her about the Bale’s impotence.
Lakunle sees them talking and tries to learn what they are saying, but both women tell him to leave them alone. Sidi announces she has a plan, and tells Sadiku that it would be wonderful if she could go to dinner with the Bale and see him thwarted. Sadiku gleefully agrees, and Sidi bounds off. After she leaves, Sadiku and Lakunle argue, with Lakunle telling Sadiku that his plans of modernity are what is best for the village.
The scene shifts to the Bale’s bedroom, where he is engaged in wrestling with a man hired for the purpose of making him stronger. Sidi enters confidently, but the Bale’s dismissive attitude confuses her. She pretends to ask his counsel on a man who wanted to marry her, describing the Bale instead.
As the Bale continues to wrestle, he criticizes Sidi for listening to Sadiku and being one of the vexing young women of the village. He asks her if Sadiku invented any stories, and she says no. He pretends to complain about Sadiku’s constant matchmaking. He does admire Sidi, though, for seeming much deeper and more mature than how he once saw her.
Baroka confides in her his plan for a stamp machine that will have images of Ilunjinle on it, as well as of Sidi herself. He ruminates more to himself that he does not hate progress but only bland similarity. He admits he and the schoolteacher are not so different, and that they must work together.
The drums begin, and female dancers pursue a male. Sadiku and Lakunle wait for Sidi to return. Lakunle is very nervous, and claims he will go rescue Sidi.
The mummers play in the distance, and Sadiku joyfully assumes the Bale has been brought down. She also tells Lakunle he must pay the mummers for a performance or it would be rude. She grabs money from his pocket and pays them; they dance out the story of Baroka and his downfall. Sadiku herself is invited to help “kill” the Bale.
Suddenly Sidi runs in, sobbing. She throws herself to the ground. Lakunle is horrified and asks if she was beaten. Sidi sobs that Sadiku was fooled: the Lion tricked her and was not impotent at all, so he raped Sidi and took her virginity.
Lakunle announces he will still marry Sidi. She is perplexed and asks if this is true. He assents. However, almost immediately when marriage preparations start, Lakunle becomes visibly distressed. He claims to need more time.
Sidi laughs and says she is actually getting ready to marry Baroka, because it is the only thing she can do. Sadiku blesses her and asks the gods for fertility.
The festivities begin, and even Lakunle seems to be getting into the spirit of things when he chases a young woman who shakes her butt at him.
- Sidi (The Jewel): A superficial but beautiful young woman in the village of Ilujinle, she is coveted by both Lakunle and Baroka. She initially agrees to wed Lakunle even though she does not care for him, but she is frustrated that he will not pay her bride-price and that he has so many modern ideas. She is extremely proud of her photos in a magazine and becomes increasingly absorbed in them. Along with Sadiku she hopes to trick Baroka, whom she also dislikes and does not want to marry, but he triumphs in the end by raping her, taking her virginity, and having her agree to marry him.
- Lakunle: A smart but arrogant twenty-three-year-old schoolteacher who lambasts Ilujinle for its backwards views. He wants the village to be modern, and he wants to wed Sidi and make her a modern wife (though he believes women are naturally inferior to men). He is reluctant to participate in the ways of the village but is usually drawn into them regardless. He despises Baroka and is jealous of him.
- Baroka (The Lion): The wily and powerful Bale (i.e. leader) of the village, Baroka is always on the quest for more wives. He laments getting older and covets the young Sidi. He tricks Sidi and Sadiku, though, and ends up winning Sidi and avenging his shame after she initially refused to marry him.
- Sadiku: The chief wife of the Bale, Sadiku is elderly but a great source of comfort to Baroka. She eventually decides to plot against him, though, and tries to get Sidi to destroy him. Her plan is found out, however, and she is shamed.
- The Stranger: A photographer who came to Ilunjinle and took many photos of the village and its inhabitants. He was captivated by Sidi and published images of her that are stunningly beautiful.
- The Wrestler: Baroka’s wrestling companion who wrestles with him to make him stronger; once Baroka can best him, he will be replaced by another fighter.
- The Favorite: The Bale’s current favorite wife, who is tasked with plucking out his armpit hairs.
- The Surveyor: The white man who is heading the building of a railway through the village; Baroka bribes him to abandon the project.
- Tradition vs. Modernity: This is perhaps the most conspicuous theme in the play. It initially seems like Soyinka is setting a clear dichotomy between these two things, tradition embodied by Baroka and modernity embodied by Lakunle. However, as the play progresses Soyinka defies the audience’s assumptions. Lakunle espouses a variety of backwards views and seems to abandon his progressive principles when it is convenient to do so. Similarly, Baroka says he does not hate progress but merely finds its sameness and stagnation boring. He is preparing to use a stamp machine to make the village make money as they do in Lagos. Soyinka thus suggests that progress is not bad, but that it must be done on African terms.
- Gender: It does not seem that Soyinka consciously tries to make a statement about gender, but he does so nonetheless. On the one hand, he creates two female characters that are sassy, opinionated, manipulative, and independent. On the other hand, both of them are ultimately pawns in the games of men. Sidi does not want to marry either Lakunle or Baroka, but Baroka tricks her, rapes her, and then gets to marry her. She is an object and nothing more. Sadiku is also tricked, and sees her elation over the Bale’s impotence and the power of women vanish as his plot is made clear. Women may seem like they have power in mid-20th century Nigeria, but they ultimately do not.
- Trickery and Manipulation: Some of the characters in this play decide to trick and manipulate others in order to achieve their ends. This is perceived to be a much more effective method than being forthright, as the things characters want come at the expense of others’ feelings and wishes. Sidi and Sadiku try to fool the Bale so they can feel a sense of triumph at his humbling, and the Bale fools Sadiku and Sidi so he can subdue Sidi and acquire her as one of his wives. Even though Soyinka carries this out with a light touch and a great deal of witty repartee, the fact remains that there is a lot of lying and manipulation in the play.
- Legacies of Colonialism: Even though Soyinka does not deal with this as explicitly as he does in some of his other works, colonialism and imperialism in Nigeria exist below the play’s surface. Lakunle represents the West: his clothing, his words, his learning, and his callous foolishness are all indicative of Britain’s impact on Nigeria. The Bale is a traditional African figure who knows he cannot bury his head in the sand. The mid-20th-century Nigerian village he rules has been affected by British rule, and even though the country is on the road to independence (1960), it will never be able to go back in time. It is part of a modern world and must start to change, whether it wants to or not.
Language and Style
- Performance: There are several instances of performance in the text; they include singing, dancing, and acting. All characters, including the Bale, participate in them. Performances are a crucial part of Nigerian culture and serve to define, celebrate, and emphasize the things that matter to the people. The story of the stranger was already known, but the performance cemented it as a crucial moment in the collective history of the village. The mummers’ performance of the Bale’s downfall and Sadiku’s participation in it were a way to express discontent with the leader. The performance gives the powerless Sadiku a sense of power, though it is ultimately a dream and nothing else.
- Words:… in this text are often associated with foolishness, pride, and tendentiousness. Lakunle is the wielder of words, but even though he spews them out, they rarely accomplish their aim. His words do not win Sidi, nor do they dissuade her and Sadiku from tricking the Bale. They do not inure the village to Lakunle but rather make him look like a proud fool. The Bale is much more sparing with words, although he does use them to his advantage when he manipulates and woos Sidi.
- Images: Images have a great deal of power in this play. First, photographic images are emblems of the modern. They are incredible to behold, easy to disseminate, and evocative of status and stature. It is no wonder that Sidi is obsessed with her own visage as found in the magazine. Second images carry social influence. Sidi’s reputation grows because she has a large picture in the magazine, and the Bale feels embarrassed because he only has a small picture next to an image of the latrines: whether people do it on purpose or not, they will associate him with such disreputable things. Soyinka emphasizes his belief in the power of images when he has Sidi give the magazine to Lakunle and tell him she tried to destroy it at the end of the play when she is going to marry the Bale. She no longer has power, and the image likewise no longer has power.
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