For my final paper I decided to choose a play I was unfamiliar with, I choose Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka, where he showcases a theme of modernity versus tradition. Throughout this play there is a constant battle between tradition and modernity as well as a post-colonial struggle seen both in a exhibited in the play’s village of Ilujinle. Soyinka published this play at the time Nigeria was battling for independence. Due to this, Nigeria was struggling with whether or not it was prepared for independence and able of conducting a modern western civilization. A few Nigerians perceive that it was the ideal opportunity for change while others questioned whether they should move past their present culture. I portrayed modernity because of the domination of British culture during 1940’s and 1950’s on Nigeria’s lifestyle and I portrayed traditional because of Nigeria’s traditional Yoruban culture.
The leading characters correlate dramatically in the conflict of modernity versus tradition, this will showcase through the main characters, Sadiku, Sidi, Baroka, and Lankunle. The battle between traditional vs modern is noticeable throughout the structure, characters, and plot of the play. The main characters of this play are placed into two groups; Sadiku, Sidi and Baroka value the traditional Yoruban culture and Lankunle, the village teacher values the more British modern lifestyle. Baroka (Bale) is the village chief, he is 62 years old and has multiple wives. The character Sadiku is Baroka’s main wife who’s constantly on the lookout to find new young wives for Baroka. The play’s most westernized and modern character, is Lakunle, a teacher who wants to live a modern lifestyle. Sidi is a beautiful girl, 18-year-old girl who is in the search for a husband, due to her beauty she is wanted by many men.
As a woman born and raised in an African village, Sidi remains with her traditional Yoruban culture in the search of a dowry man. The main conflict between the traditional and modern lifestyles is the confusing love between Lankunle and Sidi. Sidi will only marry Lankule if he switches over to a more traditional lifestyle, but Lankule wants Sidi to convert into a more “modern wife.” Both of these characters believe so strongly in their values, that their stubbornness and lack of compromise is what causes the conflict In the beginning scene of the play, Lakunle’s neediness for modernity is clear when he first approaches Sidi. Lakunle tells her, “Let me take it,” he says while grabbing the pail of water Sidi was holding on her head (Wole), but she denies his request. This shows us Lakunle’s effort in being the “modern gentleman” and helping Sidi carry the heavy pail of water, as most gentlemen in the modern age, this also shows Lakunle trying to dismiss the tradition of a woman’s task.
Lakunle then request Sidi’s hand in marriage as a modern man would, but he informs her that he refuses to pay the bride-price of offering her a dowry. His rejection of the traditional bride price is another part of his modern ways. Sidi exhibits her traditional views when she rejects Lakunles’ offer to hold the heavy pail of water. She knows Lakunle is willing to do anything to marry her in a modern fashion, but she’s not willing to set aside her traditional values to allow him to do so. Sidi is determined for Lakunle to pay her bride-price in order for him to marry her. She makes it very known to him that she rejected his marriage proposal because he couldn’t respect her wishes to pay the price, she said: “cheap bowl for the village to spit” (Wole).
Despite the fact Sidi is originally characterized as traditional, her character is to be reevaluated when she becomes aware of her own beauty. The village has been expanding European technology and a photo of Sidi has been published on the front page of a magazine. Sidi’s photo being published on the front page of a magazine, causes her to have a bigger ego, which ruins our perception of her as traditional. After Sidi’s photo is published, Baroka, the village chief, asks Sidi to become his youngest wife, Sidi declines because of his looks and age. Sidi rejects him and the more traditional choice of being his last wife, this showcases her modern thoughts by saying that Baroka is too elderly and unattractive. When Sidi imagines herself marrying Baraka she sees it more as a convenience, but in the long run, her being happier without him. Baroka portrays himself as a traditional Yoruban ruler that is determined to keep his village traditional, but down the line, we will see his transition into modernity.
We first see his resentment for modernity in his first appearance in the play. Baroka enters the scene in a pantomime gesture, everyone present traditionally kneels, but Lakunle and all in attendance except Lakunle give a traditional kneel. In the Yoruban culture that is the traditional way of greetings a ruler, Baroka is furious when he receives a simple “good morning” from Lakunle. Through his anger, Baroka begins to question why Lakunle is not giving him the respect the expects and deserves. Another way Baroka’s need to keep tradition in his village is also displayed when he eliminates western civilization from expanding in his village.
The public works is attempting to build a railway in the village of Ilujinle, they sent workers to tear down the jungle in order to start production, but Baroka is against this. Baraka paid off the worked to get them stop stop, he paid with with a goat and a coop of hens, the workers agreed and left. We see here hat Baroka’s motive for refusing to expand and to preserve his village is because of his traditional nature. The battle for Sidi’s love between Baroka and Lakunle is another example of traditional versus modernity. Sidi has to choose between them, one offering her a modern marriage or the other offering her traditional marriage. Sidi responds to one of Lakunle’s many proposals by stating, “… I shall marry you today, next week or any day you name. But my bride price must first be paid” (Wole). This show a clear sign that if Lakunle would just accept the bride’s price of a traditional marriage, “the modern man” could have had his bride.
Lakunle’s obsession for modernity gives Baroka the opportunity to win over Sidi. Since Baroka is a traditional man he will use the traditional rules and Sidi’s ego against her. Baroka knows that if he can seduce Sidi, shell have no choice but to marry him because she wont settle for modernity. It is clear that this love battle causes tradition to triumph over modernity, but there’s an internal conflict with all three of the characters as well.
Each of these characters uses both tradition and modernity to their advantage and convenience. In mid play, Sidi’s internal conflict is shown when she was offered to be Baroka’s youngest wife. This is showcased when she listeners to Lakunle’s modern ideas her being Baroka’s property by stating, “He seeks to have me as his property where I must fade beneath his jealous hold” (Wole). We see that Sidi is a traditional girl, but she has consumed the modern idea of not becoming Baroka’s property. Baroka’s internal conflict is exposed when he uses the stamp machine, a western modernization.
Baroka uses this technology to influence Sidi to be with him, he does this by promising Sidi that he will put her face on the village stamp, he knows this will appeal to her new egoistical character. The structure of this play is to be seen between the conflict of tradition versus modernity. Baroka’s wife, Sadikua, also incorporates her Yoruban traditions throughout the play, this creates a minor conflict with Baroka. A group women wearing masks and drums begin a traditional dance around a sculpture of Baroka, Sadiku finds this to be humorous and starts a chant. The dancers start to chant and dance around Baroks’s statue. This dance is a dramatization of women mocking and celebrating the fact that Baroka is helpless. Baroka’s head wife, Sadiku, join and starts to taunting Baraka as well. This shows us how Sadiku was not the real “traditional wide” she claimed to be to her husband because she does not faithful or respects him.
In conclusion, the display of modernity versus tradition is incorporated through many components of Soyinka’s play. Firstly by Baraka and Lankule’s demonstration of external conflicts in their fight or Sidi’s love. A second display of internal conflicts is when the characters both use tradition and modernity to their own advantage. Furthermore, the overall structure and plot of this play are implications of Soyinka’s constant conflict.
Even though this conflict isn’t the only theme showcased in this play, Soyinka focuses very well on tradition versus modernity. Touching on common post-colonial struggle, it is also revealed in Soyinka’s play, between modernity and tradition, both seen in a transparent manner. Its is more focused between the two main characters; Lakunle portraying modernity, while Baroka represents tradition. Although, the struggle between the two is brought to an end, it’s rather obvious which lifestyle Soyinka advocates.
Soynika makes it obvious by the way he depicts both Baraka and Lankunle. For example Lakunle displays foolishness in the play is what caused his downfall, whereas Bakora’s power and stength as the Bale of Ilunjile wins Sidi’s hand in marriage. This shows us that tradition was his ultimate weapon for the fight of Sidi’s love.