Character of Baroka in The Lion and the Jewel
Nigerian literature can be literally said to have received world attention first with Wole Soyinka’s receipt of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1986 as the first African. The Lion and the Jewel (1959) belongs to the early phase of his literary career, but his craftsmanship as a dramatist and excellence as a thinker are well exhibited in it. The creating characterisation here is highly effective in engendering a conflict between tradition and modernity against the African society resisting the cultural invasion of European modernism. The character of Baroka remains important as a bearer of traditions in African society.
That Baroka is a die-hard defender of tradition and vehement protester against modernism is highlighted from the very beginning. He is first introduced through the description of Sidi, the village belle who calls Baroka as “The Lion of Ilujinle”, “The Fox of the Undergrowth” and “The living god among men”. Such terms clearly perch Baroka’s name at an undisputed height of authority. But Lakunle, the schoolmaster, scornfully retorts to such praises with “devil among women” and “…a mere woman/Should outstrip him in the end” that alludes to Baroka’s lecherous character.
Our physical encounter with Baroka occurs during the first pantomime. Just when the performance of Sidi, Lakunle, and the village youths are accelerating, Baroka the Bale comes in and the performance stops. This man is introduced as “wiry, goateed, tougher than his sixty-two years”. He is the village chief before whom all but Lakunle either prostrate or kneel saying ‘Kabiyesi’, ‘Baba’ etc., traditional African greetings for a ruler. The Western-educated Lakunle, however, has in his stock only bow and simple ‘good morning’ for this old fellow. This visibly annoys the self-appointed guardian of African tradition, and he mocks Lakunle’s greeting with “Guru morin guru moring, ngh-hn! That is/All we get from ‘alakowe’.” But in his enjoying the pantomime, he displays youthful joviality.
The most important aspect of Baroka’s character is his adherence to native culture and tradition and his resolution to defend it at any cost. He is the man responsible for foiling the government attempt to lay railway tracks through Ilujinle as that would endanger his position by bringing the villagers into contact with the larger world. Tradition has enabled him for practising polygamy and he utilizes the opportunity to its fullest. Thus even at the age of sixty-two, his passions are aroused by the pictures of Sidi published in the Lagos magazine, and he is heard sighing. “…it is full five-month since last / I took a wife…” He sends a proposal to her for marriage or at least to sup with him.
For Baroka’s skill in trapping young women he rightly deserves the title “The Lion”. Just as a lion is surrounded by lionesses, Baroka maintains a harem with Sadiku at the foremost as his head wife. When Sidi rejects of his proposal of marriage by calling him too old for marriage, he is considerably enraged and is ready to show his virility. But knowing that mere proclamation of his manhood would not bring Sidi to his bed, he plays a trick. Before Sadiku he mourns that his masculinity is gone knowing well that she will pass the information on to Sidi. When the news reaches Sidi, she accepts his invitation for supper fearlessly. He ignites Sidi’s egotistical desire of being famous by offering to print her face on postage stamps. Once Sidi starts believing him, he seduces her, knowing well that she will not marry anyone else once her virginity is gone. But in Baroka Sidi has gratification as she
“…felt the strength,
The perpetual youthful zest
Of the panther of the trees…”
and now wants to have in her womb “seeds/Of children, sired of the lion stock.” Thus he defeats the schoolmaster in conquering the “jewel of llujinle”.