The lion, the jewel and the political undertones

Sunday August 14 2011

From left: Simon Lutaaya acting as Lakunle, Esther Apolot as Sidi and Alice Lwanga as Sadiku. Pictures: Moses Serugo

From left: Simon Lutaaya acting as Lakunle, Esther Apolot as Sidi and Alice Lwanga as Sadiku. Pictures: Moses Serugo 


Wole Soyinka’s timeless classic play, The Lion and the Jewel, showed mostly to high school literature students when it was staged at the National Theatre in Kampala on July 11-12.

Much of the witty dialogue was lost on the youngsters, as the play was meant to help them visualise the characters and storyline as they prepare to sit for their O-level examination.

The play’s dialogue is clearly meant for a more discerning audience, one that can read the subtext and appreciate metaphoric lines like, “But the monkey sweats my child, it is only the hair upon his back which deceives the world,” moments before Sidi (the jewel) surrenders her maidenhead to Bale Baroka (the lion).

That scene alone provided a timely metaphor for Ugandan contemporary politics over and above the play’s principal plot of a love triangle between a schoolteacher hung up on colonialism, a naïve village belle and a randy chief out to expand his harem.

Fast-forward from 1963 when the play was first staged to 2011 in post-election Uganda, Lakunle cuts the wobbly figure of the opposition, which is big on rhetoric but low on strategy. That will not stand you in good stead when dealing with an electorate that is as naïve as Sidi and not sophisticated enough to sift through the issues and “wolokoso.” The suitor who is willing to pay the bride price is the one who will win her maidenhead or vote in this context and not the one who spews what they perceive as political gobbledygook.

So you have your incumbent who like Baroka laments that “It has been five months since last I took a wife,” or fifth, sixth, seventh term of political office if you like. That scene in which Baroka crashes the childlike re-enactment of the “dance of the lost traveller” (the white man who splashed Sidi’s photos in a glossy magazine) is pregnant with the disdain incumbents show the opposition that is out to halt their gravy train. And in saying, “You tried to steal our village maidenhead, have you forgotten? If he has, serve him a slap to wake his brain,” Baroka is much like an incumbent sizing up the opposition. One could easily interpret the fact that Sidi has three magazine photo pages while Baroka is sulking in a corner of a page with a latrine for a backdrop — thus, the well-intentioned but futile attempts by foreigners, electoral observers and civic education bodies to empower voters so that they make rational electoral choices at the ballot box.


In Sadiku, Baroka’s head wife, who is charged with getting him new wives, we see the sycophants who do the incumbent’s bidding. They are the ones that praise-sing the incumbent’s virility, claiming that even at the age of 62, he has the stamina of a stud and the “swagg” of a youthful rapper ready to give us another “rap.” You have to hand it to them in terms of strategy. If Sidi is hesitant about supping with Baroka, use the tall story about Baroka’s feigned impotence.

Alice Lwanga acting as Sadiku was quite the comic executing a dance around an effigy of Baroka complete with a hanging phallus while chanting; “Take warning my masters, we’ll scorch you in the end.”

In the end, there is no guarantee that after surrendering her maidenhead, Sidi will retain her privileged position as the last of Baroka’s wives and by the same token the first wife of the new Bale. At least not when you can fiddle with the Constitution to waive term limits and open the purse strings that will retain a bevy of Sadiku-like sycophants ready to do the Bale’s bidding.

Lakunle or the opposition for that matter have little choice but to sulk at the prospect of perpetual loss of more maidenheads at the ballot box.

In the meantime, the National Theatre ought to look beyond drawing an audience of bored high schoolers trying to get their heads around Soyinka’s cryptic yet ribald dialogue and bait patrons who can actually understand his hidden message.