1959 play by Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka. Set in the Nigerian village of
Ilujinle, it takes place over the course of a day and is divided in Morning, Noon,
and Night. Its main theme is the conflict between traditional Nigerian Yoruba values
and the Western influence of Nigeria's colonizers.
Lakunle is the schoolteacher of the village. He deeply admires Western culture and seeks
to emulate, often to comically inadequate effect. He is portrayed by Soyinka as clumsy in both
actions and words, throwing together phrases from the Bible and other Western works in hope
of sounding intelligent. He is "in love" with Sidi, but has not married her because she
demands that he pay the traditional bride price, something he refuses to do. Initially
we chalk up this refusal to his Western beliefs, and the belief that women shouldn't
be bought and sold, but later in the play he reveals his true self - when Sidi's virginity
is taken away, he leaps at the chance to bypass the bride price by saying that she can't
really expect him to pay the bride price now that she's no longer "pure". He represents
one extreme of the play's central pendulum - the Western values.
Baroka, the Bale
Baroka is the leader of the village. He holds to his Yoruba traditional beliefs, but his power
is coming under threat from the Western influence. The issue that troubles him throughout the
beginning of the play, we learn, is his apparent impotence, a secret he reveals to his head wife.
We later learn, however, that this feigned impotence was only a clever ruse in order to lure
Sidi into coming to his palace. On the other hand, however, it is possible that he really was
having a sexual "crisis" but this was resolved by Sidi's visit; however the former option
seems likelier. Baroka represents the other extreme of the pendulum - traditional values.
Sidi is a young girl in the village who has just had her ego boosted by a visit from a big-city
photographer, who took her pictures and published them in a magazine. From them on, she is extremely
conceited, thinking herself even higher than the Bale. She refuses to marry Lakunle until he pays
the bride price, and eventually goes to visit Baroka because she believes that she will humiliate
him by exposing his impotence. However, Baroka proves to be a cunning man and she falls right into
his trap. She is the needle of the pendulum; she wavers from end to end, confused, before finally
settling on the traditional side.
The text indicates a very sparse set, including only the large tree in the town square and some
method of showing Lakunle's schoolhouse, the Bale's palace, etc. Dancing is an important part of this
play, with the dancing scenes that show up throughout the play (woven in seamlessly by Soyinka)
highlighting a theme (Baroka's impotence, Sidi's seduction) while providing diversion. The overall
tone is one of comedy. The only scenes which require more than a couple of actors are the town square
scene, which require the women of the village and occasionally children, and the Traveller's Mime,
which requires some actors to mime snakes, the wheels of a car, etc.
An interesting play to study if one wishes to learn more about Soyinka, Nigeria, the effect of Western influence on its colonies, or African theatre, and a good one to perform if one has a relatively small theatre group with an emphasis on group movement, Peter Brook style, for the mime and the dance scenes.