Today is the 80th birthday of Wole Soyinka. I may not be a fan of his but his work and achievements have their own stories.
Written in 1962, the play The Lion and The Jewel is probably Soyinka’s simplest and least-known work but it will perhaps turn out to be his most enduring due to its evolving contemporary relevance. It is also one of the outstanding works from post-colonial literature to come out of Nigeria, if not the entire Commonwealth.
It is a play about two men, Lakunle and Baroka, both vying for the hand in marriage of a village belle, Sidi. Lakunle a school teacher represents what Peter Palmer Ekeh calls a ‘good citizen’ i.e. one who rejects the traditional ways and embraces civic responsibility by way of adherence to modern colonial sensibilities and morality. Baroka the village Bale (leader) represents the ‘lucky citizen’ one who eschews colonial modernity and personifies the primordial character of Nigerian society i.e. the “Nigerian Way”. Sidi is a young virgin who is virtually unaware of the deeper tensions of the traditional primordial and modern colonial forces contending over her; her destiny is to either become a good or lucky citizen depending on who marries her. The good citizen conscientiously by moral constraints puts more into society than he or she receives from it, while the lucky citizen is a spontaneous maximiser who exploits society for what its worth. In the end, Baroka wins Sidi to his side. He deflowers her by deception, claiming he is impotent making Sidi drop her guard then demonstrates his full potency by taking her unawares. The man who takes her virginity becomes her husband. Continue reading