Analysis and Summary of the Play: "The Lion and the Jewel"

Updated on September 6, 2019

The Lion and the Jewel is a comedic-dramatic play that revolves around four major characters: Baroka (the elderly chief of Illunjire), Lankule (the young headmaster of a primary school), Sidi (the most beautiful girl in the village) and Sadiku (the eldest wife of Baroka).The playwright, Wole Soyinka depicts Baroka as a cunning fox, Lankule as an arrogant teacher, Sidi as an egotistical young village girl and Sadiku as a simple-minded elderly woman.

Significance of the Play

A lion is an animal which is revered because of its majestic movement and its title as the king of the jungle. It has a successful rate in hunting animals including the larger ones.

A jewel is a beautiful ornament worn on the neck. Women love wearing jewels on their necks because they complement their beauty.

In the play, Baroka commands an aura of authority thus fitting the title of a lion. Sidi is the jewel of Illunjire because of her unrivalled beauty.

When Sidi threatens Baroka’s influence in the village because of her beauty, Baroka devices a plan to silence her. It’s a story of an elderly man ‘hunting’ a beautiful girl to diminish her rising influence in the village.

Lion
Lion | Source

Character Analysis

Baroka

He is an elderly chief in his early sixties. He is the Bale of Illunjire, a village in Nigeria.

Baroka is a polygamist. When Sidi refuses Baroka’s offer to be his next wife, Sadiku tells her if she won’t accept to be his wife at least she should accept Baroka’s invitation for supper. Sidi responds to Sadiku, “...Do you think I was only born yesterday? The tales of Baroka’s little suppers, I know all...Can you deny that every woman who has sapped with him one night, becomes his wife or concubine the next.” This shows the polygamous nature of Baroka. Sidi joins the list of Baroka’s wives replacing the youngest, Ailatu as Baroka’s favourite wife. Sadiku leads the lot as the eldest wife of Baroka.

He is as cunning as a fox. Lankule wonders what women see in Baroka. His eyes are small and always red with wine (drunkard). He figures the chief possesses some secret. Sidi’s response to Sadiku that young women who attend Baroka’s supper invitation end up as wives or concubines is a testament of Baroka’s craftiness. In another embodiment Baroka deceives Sadiku he is impotent. He knows well his wife is a gossiper. He warns her not to tell anyone but Sadiku reveals the secret to Sidi. Sidi takes upon herself to mock Baroka’s impotence by paying him a visit in his palace but comes out of the place no longer the valued jewel of the village.

He is hungry for power. He resorts to bribing the white surveyor sent by the Ministry of Public Works. Baroka is afraid of what might ensue once the Ministry of Public Works builds a railroad along the village. He knows once the project begins (or is completed) his office will cease to exist.

Lankule

Lankule, an educated young African man who has embraced western values seeks to modernize his village of Illunjire. He wants his village to attain the same economic and technological status as the capital city of Nigeria, Lagos. He distastes the village’s traditional practices which he terms as a ‘savage custom, barbaric, out-dated, rejected, denounced, accursed, excommunicated, archaic, degrading, humiliating, unspeakable, redundant, retrogressive, remarkable and unpalatable.’

Lankule is puffed up in arrogance owing his educational status in the village and his knowledge pertaining to western culture.

His reasoning when arguing with Sidi about the analytical mind of women delineates his level of education and understanding. He tells Sidi “...as a woman, you have a smaller brain than mine.” Sidi asks him, “Just what gives you these thoughts of manly conceit.” Lankule replies in a patronising voice that she can’t draw him into arguments which go above her head

When Sidi demands Lankule to give him the pail of water, Lankule says, “Please, don’t be angry with me. I didn’t mean you in particular. And anyway, it isn’t what I say. The scientists have proved it. It’s in my books. Women have a smaller brain than men. That’s why they are called a weaker sex.” This depicts Lankule as lacking in education (understanding) positioning him as a semi-illiterate. His lack of critical analysis of the books he has read has blinded his interpretation forcing him to accept what is contrary to the authors’ intended meaning.

He enjoys the taste of gossip, something he must have noticed in Lagos. He tells Sadiku, “We’ll print newspapers every day with pictures of seductive girls. The world will judge our progress by the girls that win beauty contests. While Lagos builds new factories daily we only play ‘ayo’ and gossip.”

Lastly, he has a sense of humour. He dislikes the traditional customs of his village. He regards them as backward. This, he does by using words which have the same meaning to justify his disregard of the traditional practices of his village. He terms the customs as ‘savage, barbaric, out-dated, rejected, denounced, accursed, excommunicated, archaic, degrading, humiliating, unspeakable, redundant, retrogressive, remarkable and unpalatable.’ Sidi asks him whether his bag is empty the reason he has stopped using synonymous words to describe the customs of his village. Lankule responds, “I own only the Shorter Companion Dictionary, but I have ordered the Longer One - you wait!”

Jewelry
Jewelry | Source

Sidi

She is the most beautiful girl in the village.

Despite her beauty she is naive. She doesn’t realize Baroka has set a trap by deceiving Sadiku his manhood has failed. Her lack of analyzing Sadiku’s statement that Baroka can no longer impregnate a woman leads her to Baroka’s place intending to mock him. Sidi can’t match against Baroka who has seen a lot, learned a lot and knows many things.

Sidi is a traditionalist. She sticks to traditional practices unlike Lankule. She is adamant that Lankule should pay the bride price. Even after Baroka defiles her, she still refuses Lankule’s offer to marry her without the need of paying the bride price. In addition, Sidi isn’t interested in becoming the modern woman Lankule wants her to be. She loathes kissing which she terms as unclean.

She is egotistic. Her realization of the fact she’s exquisite leads her to believe beauty revolves around her. She is obsessed with her beauty to the point she considers herself more important than Baroka. Sidi becomes proud because of the positive review she gets from the villagers about her beauty as seen in the magazines distributed by the stranger in the village. She even enjoys taking pleasure in taunting Lankule by telling him she doesn’t think she would want to get married by someone like him. “... Known as I am to the whole wide world, I would demean my worth to wed a mere village school teacher.”

Top Tip For Analysing Drama

Sadiku

Sadiku is the eldest wife of Baroka. She has remained faithful to Baroka for forty years despite Baroka’s appetite for more wives and concubines.

Sadiku is simpleminded. Baroka takes advantage of her to find women to satisfy his appetite for young girls who are ‘fresh’ and their blood is ‘hot.’ Lankule rebukes Sadiku for accepting to be Baroka’s messenger. “... For though you’re nearly seventy, your mind is simple and unformed...You spend your days as a senior wife, collecting brides for Baroka...”

She is also uneducated. This is seen when Lankule rebukes her for allowing Sidi to head to Baroka’s home to mock him. Lankule admonishes her, “This is my plan, you withered face and I shall start by teaching you. From now you shall attend my school and take your place with twelve-year olds. For though you’re nearly seventy, your mind is simple and unformed. Have you no shame at your age, you neither read nor write nor think...”

Themes

1. Bride Price

Lankule, the young African man who has embraced western culture considers the traditional customs in his village as barbaric and savage.

Even though he loves Sidi, he doesn’t want to pay the bride price. He tells Sidi that paying the dowry is the same as buying a heifer off the market stall. It translates to owning Sidi for she’ll no longer be a life companion but a property to him.

However, Sidi is adamant that he has to pay the dowry. She insists she doesn’t want to become the talk in the village. “But I tell you Lankule, I must have the full bride-price. Will you make me a laughing-stock...But Sidi will not make herself a cheap bowl for the village spit...They will say I was no virgin that I was forced to sell my shame and marry you without a price.”

After Baroka succeeds in ‘sleeping’ with Sidi, Lankule jumps at the opportunity. She’s no longer a virgin therefore he doesn’t have to pay the bride price.

2. Polygamy

Baroka at sixty-two has many wives and countless concubines under his pocket. While we don’t know how many wives he has, it is clear he has many wives. When Sadiku convinces Sidi to be Baroka’s next wife, Sidi refuses. Subsequently, she asks Sidi to attend Baroka’s personal invitation to his supper meal. Sidi reminds Sadiku of a fact concerning Baroka: “Can you deny that every woman who has sapped with him one night, becomes his wife or concubine the next.” Lankule supports Sidi’s response by stating there is a reason Baroka is called a cunning fox.

The mere mention of Sadiku as the eldest wife of Baroka and Ailatu as the youngest wife because she’s called Favourite builds the evidence Baroka is a polygamist. Sidi becomes Baroka’s latest wife earning the title of ‘Favourite.’

African woman
African woman | Source

3. Modernity vs. Tradition

There is a conflict between the people of Illunjire village who have accepted western culture (modern life) versus those who want to stick with the village’s traditional practices.

Lankule symbolizes the villagers who have embraced modern life. He wants to modernize his village by introducing machines and the modern-way of life. The fact there is a school in the village is a testament of a village becoming modernized.

While Sidi has learnt some English vocabularies from Lankule such as barbaric and savage, she still prefers the traditional life she is used to. She loathes kissing which she terms as unclean. She tells Lankule that he should go to the places where women understand his modern plans and tell them of his plans, not her.

While Baroka knows of the benefits of embracing modernity in his village, he fights against it knowing the ramifications it will have on him. He fears his office might be replaced with a higher office. The fact he owns a stamping machine shows he values modernity to some extent.

While some people consider modernity as a blessing, there are people who don’t embrace it for various reasons. Some villagers like Lankule desire a modern way-of-life the reason he wants Illunjire to be a replica of Lagos, the capital city of Nigeria.

4. Bribery

When Baroka learns the Ministry of Public Works has sent a surveyor to investigate whether a railroad can pass through Illunjire, he bribes the surveyor. The surveyor invents a story which he delivers to his superiors that the land is not fit for a railway line to pass through. The project had begun but because of Baroka’s greed for power; the work came to a stall.

Classroom
Classroom | Source

5. Beauty

The playwright has drawn a picture of how beauty can threaten the status of an authoritative figure. Sidi’s beauty has spread beyond the village. The fact her image appears in the first page of the magazine is a testament of how gorgeous she is.

In another scenario, Lankule dashes out of the class when he notices Sidi carrying a bucket of water. Two of his pupils, aged eleven, make a buzzing noise at Sidi, clapping their hands across the mouth. Their gesture shows how beautiful Sidi is.

6. Irresponsibility

Lankule is an irresponsible teacher. He dashes out of the class to meet Sidi who is carrying a pail of water on her head. He leaves the pupils reciting the arithmetic times written on the blackboard. Instead of finding an opportune time to meet Sidi, he takes the advantage he has at the moment to meet her and strike a conversation.

7. Illiteracy

Sadiku represents the many villagers who are illiterate - they can’t read or write. Sadiku’s illiteracy is shown when Lankule rebukes her for agreeing to Sidi’s idea of going to Baroka’s palace to mock his impotence. He tells her, “This is my plan, you withered face and I shall start by teaching you. From now you shall attend my school and take your place with twelve-year olds. For though you’re nearly seventy, your mind is simple and informed. Have you no shame that at your age, you neither read nor write nor think?”

Source

Morning

Lankule is teaching arithmetic times when he notices Sidi through the classroom’s window carrying a pail of water on her head. He rushes out of the class and to the opposite side. He offers to help Sidi lower the bucket but Sidi refuses. He seizes it but some water spills on him.

Lankule tells Sidi that she must stop carrying heavy loads on her head. The effect is her neck will shrink which he likens to squashed drawings of his pupils. He also complains of Sidi’s traditional way of wearing that exposes her shoulders and outline of her breasts.

Sidi has had enough of Lankule that she asks if she can take the pail. However, Lankule refuses asking her to first marry her. Sidi replies she has no problem with that. She can marry him on any day as long as he pays the bride price. Lankule refuses but Sidi insists she won’t become the laughingstock in the village.

Lankule offers the reason he can’t pay the bride price which he likens to buying a heifer off the market stalls. He describes to Sidi the married life of civilized people. He kisses her but Sidi is repelled by that behaviour terming it as unclean.

As they are talking, they hear a crowd of youth and drummers. Sidi demands Lankule to giver her the bucket or else the people will jeer at her.

The girls feed Sidi with information about the lost traveller - A man from another world who talks in an accent they are not used to. Sidi enquires if the stranger returned with the magazine he had promised; a magazine that will announce Sidi’s beauty all over the world.

The girls tell her the Lagos man returned with the book and her images appear on the cover and middle leaves (pages) of the book. She learns the Bale of the village (Baroka) also appears somewhere in the book but shares his image with the village’s latrine.

They dance the dance of the Lost Traveller. Sidi assigns the young people a role to play in the dance that will retell how the Lagos man got lost and found himself in the village of Illunjire. Lankule acts as the Stranger while Sidi acts as the beautiful young woman.

The stranger was traveling somewhere when his car broke down. He restarted it but it failed. He climbed out of the car, checked the tyres and climbed in. He ignited the engine but the car didn’t give in. He picked up his camera and helmet and took a swig from his flask of whisky before putting it into his pocket. He began the trek to find a nearby village.

He heard a girl singing somewhere from the bush. He shook his head, drank his whisky again convinced he was suffering from sun-stroke. He threw the empty bottle. He heard a scream and torrents of abusive words. He tiptoed to where the female’s voice was coming from. What he saw made him unhitch his camera. Not focussing where he was stepping on as he tried to find a good position to take several pictures of the girl who was bathing in a pool of water; he plunged into the water. The young woman screamed and ran to the village with a part of her cloth covering her. The stranger followed a little later wringing out the water from his clothes. Sidi returned with the villagers who hauled the stranger off to the town centre.

Baroka, the chief of Illunjire sympathized with the stranger. He besieged the villagers not to kill him. He ordered dry clothes for him and a feast in his honour. The stranger took pictures of the party and Sidi who was dancing. The stranger drank the local brew he was offered. However, he rushed out with his hand held to his mouth.

Source

Noon

Sidi is engrossed in the pictures of herself in the magazine. Following behind is Lankule who’s carrying a bundle of firewood for Sidi. Sadiku meets them on the road leading to and from the town centre.

Sadiku convinces Sidi to accept to be Baroka’s wife when she refuses the request. Sidi asks Sadiku why Baroka is requesting her to be his wife after her images are published in the magazine. Sadiku tells her if she doesn’t want to be Baroka’s wife; she should accept Baroka’s personal invitation to supper at his palace. Sidi tells Sadiku that she wasn’t born the previous day. She knows Baroka’s tricks.

It is at this point Lankule reveals to Sidi the other side of Baroka. She narrates how Baroka foiled the Public Works attempt to build a railway line through Illunjire.

Baroka is lying in the bed while his life wife, Ailatu is pulling out the hairs from his armpit. She asks Baroka how she’s fairing on the task. Baroka tells her she’s being over-gentle with the pull. She tells him she will improve but Baroka tells her she need not bother because he intends to marry again. Ailatu becomes angry. She plucks the hairs violently. Baroka orders her out of the room when Sadiku enters.

Baroka asks if she’s brought a balm because of the pain he’s feeling under his armpit. Sadiku tells Baroka that Sidi has refused both of his proposals terming him old and that she can’t sap with married men. Baroka is astonished to be called old. He recounts to Sadiku his youth life and how brave and strong he was. Nevertheless, he reveals to Sadiku a secret he hopes she won’t disclose to anybody. He tells her his manhood is no longer functioning. Sadiku can’t believe it. Baroka warns her not to tell anybody and praises her that she surpasses all women as the queen.

Character Analysis

Night

Sidi is standing by the classroom window, admiring her images on the magazine. She watches Sadiku in astonishment who is oblivious of her presence. She places a curved figure of the Bale in front of the ‘Odun’ tree. She dances around the tree, chanting “Take warning, my masters we’ll scotch you in the end.”

Sidi enquires why she is behaving as an insane person. Sadiku reveals to Sidi the secret. Sidi leaps in the air, happy to hear the good news. She exclaims, “We won! We won! Hurray for womankind!” They don’t recognize Lankule who has joined their presence. They dance around the tree chanting “Take warning, my masters we’ll scotch you in the end.”

Sidi mentions to Sadiku that she wants to pretend to be repentant to Baroka but the intention is to poke fun at him. Lankule pleads with her not to go but Sidi tells her as long as she doesn’t reveal to Baroka of the secret, she can go and ridicule Baroka.

She finds Baroka wrestling with his left man (warrior/bodyguard). Baroka asks why she has arrived at his bedroom unannounced. She replies she has found nobody in the entrance to his bedroom. Baroka laments at this intrusion.

After the wrestling match, Sidi pretends she’s repentant for uttering words without thinking. She makes fun of Baroka indirectly. She tells him that maybe the man who wants to marry her can’t sire children. She tells him, “Maybe the children are plagued with shyness and refuse to come into the world.”

Baroka reveals to Sidi a stamping machine he owns. He tells Sidi the stamps will contain her images which will announce to the world her beauty. Baroka’s lament of how people talk ill of him, which isn’t true, and how his office task is tiresome leads Sidi to lean on Baroka’s shoulder.

Lankule wonders why Sidi is late. It’s evening and Sidi hasn’t returned. He thinks something bad must have happened to her.

Sidi who has been running throws herself to the ground against the tree and sobs violently. Sadiku kneels besides her and asks her what the problem is. She pushes her away. She also tells Lankule not to touch her. She tells Sadiku that Baroka had lied to her.

Suddenly, she leaves. Lankule requests Sadiku to find out where she has gone. She returns with the news Sidi is packing her things and oiling herself as a bride does before her wedding.

Sidi, accompanied by a crowd and musicians hands Baroka the magazine that contains her images. Sidi reveals to Lankule she is heading to Baroka’s place. Lankule’s thought is that Sidi wants to get married in the evening, wondering why she is in a hurry. Sidi requests Sadiku to bless her.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Benny Njuguna

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