Read Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka’s Classic Play “The Lion and the Jewel”
As a playwright I have immense appreciation for many Western classics, ranging from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams, but I always felt a lack of diversity when it came to the playwrights’ nationalities. That’s why I did some research and found many worthwhile works of theater that came from non-European sources. One of them is Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel, a 1959 stage play that, even though written in English, is intrinsically African.
Soyinka at the time was not yet a Nobel Laureate like he is today (he received the honor in 1986), but works like this one were certainly contributors to his eventual nomination. The Lion and the Jewel tells the story of a very important clash of ideologies that has been of special interest in the whole African continent during the 20th century: the idea of tradition vs. modernization. These two concepts take the form of village chief Baroka, the titular ‘lion’, and civilized teacher Lakunle, respectively, as they both woo the beautiful ‘jewel’ Sidi.
Taking place in Ilujinle, a Yoruba village in Nigeria, the play is interwoven, now more than ever, with the essence of Nigerian culture and their struggles with finding a balance between adopting certain Western attitudes and maintaining cultural traditions intact. Soyinka’s play is not only a great example of storytelling, but also the epitome of Africa’s collective progression towards the future, and one which is worth the read.