Resisting Patriarchy and Reformulating Matriarchy: An Analysis of Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel

Article Posted in: Research Articles

by – Surbhi Malhotra,
Published in Vol. III, Issue. XXXV, December 2017



Matriarchy gives the essential role of political headship and ethical power to women. It is the world where the woman is given a responsibility which is much beyond her role as a mother figure in the community. Traditionally the term patriarchy was used to refer to the tyrannical statute by the male head of the family on the other hand in modern times it more usually refers to a social system in which supremacy is chiefly held by an adult man. The present paper aims to give a concise sight of different societies of the world and additional gives us an enhanced understanding of the conflict that has ever been prevalent in different cultures of the world. The present paper puts into the picture of diverse matriarchies that still exist at present which proves the fact that patriarchy has neither at all times nor ever been the only form of society. At the same time, the survival of matriarchal societies in our time or survival within the patriarchies point towards the danger of continuous patriarchalization of still accessible or newly formed matriarchal social relations. The paper presents the path of struggle adopted by the women in so-called patriarchal setup, where she instead of compliant the things, questions, demands and fights for her own self rather than facing numerous oppressions.

Keywords: Matriarchy, Patriarchy, Community, Oppressed, Conflict



Patriarchy is characterized by contemporary and historical uneven power relations between Women and men where women are steadily disadvantaged and oppressed and the minority Groups face numerous oppressions. The whole loom of the patriarchal society has been highly prejudiced against the weaker sex. In most of the mainstream patriarchal societies, the role of females and their actions are considered less important as compared to males. Thus, there is a clear segregation of male superiority over females. The patriarchal order has always imposed hush on women as it was measured the most enviable virtue for the womenfolk. H. Rajkumar observes that women are uniformly important as men are and that women’s rebellion against the menfolk helped them to set up for themselves a space in the men world.

A fairly prevalent perception of the woman across cultures has framed them as matter and as such subordinate. Their physical beauty, role in the procreative process and use as objects of pleasure and sexual satisfaction have thrown their other faculties into the background. Culture role models, as they have percolated down the ages, have emphasized this, thus depriving the women of agency. But as have seen in the creation myth, one without the other is incomplete. If the male is the vital breath and the female is the speech, apparently each is essential to the existence of the other. (24)

There is a large segment of the intellectuals which give notice to the whole notion of Matriarchy and redefined it. They claim that matriarchy never existed in history. This sort of sweeping judgment and widespread rejection of the real possibility of the existence of an ancient matriarchal sort shows the typical male inclination or Eurocentric partial society which exists for thousands of years. This is an idiosyncratic linear thinking which only accepts a patriarchal society. This view chains the claim that males are bound to rule in any type of social set up and that male supremacy is but ordinary.

The divergence between matriarchy and patriarchy has existed since ancient times since once has always taken superiority over the other. There are numerous myths which clarify the divergence between matriarchy and patriarchy. Patriarchy must be tacit as a process which continually extends its borders and which at the same time, goes deeper and deeper. This process clearly tends towards becoming a system but as essentially never-ending. Matriarchy is taken as a ‘second culture’ within patriarchy. Patriarchy is not just a system of dominion, especially of that of men over women but has an aim which goes far beyond that of domination. Patriarchal set up has always been predominant imposing challenges on matriarchal set up. In the early period of history, Indian women enjoyed much liberty. She participated in religious rites, acknowledged education, and was an progressive member of society. But mostly, women remained confined to homes-though they enjoyed the right to choose their life partners. If we go back to the ancient times the Aryans who represent the patriarchy have always suppressed the women, may it be a goddess or women. There exist numerous accounts where feminine of the original Sanskrit has been translated to masculine. There are various temples where the goddess have been mutilated and either replaced by or turned into masculine god. One of the attempts to rewrite goddess mythology concerns goddess Kali. There is many of artwork showing the fierce Kali standing on the corpse of Shiva with her tongue hanging out of mouth. In the Shaivite and shakti traditions, the exposed tongue represents her fierce, defiant aspect and the iconography is about her dominance of Shiva. But in the Aryan retelling, the tongue is said to symbolize shame Kali is showing remorse for accidentally stepping on her ‘husband’ Shiva. In the Aryan philosophy a woman is made to realize that her husband is in all ways her master and guru. The condition of women under the Aryan was atrocious and dehumanizing. Aryan ideology holds that a woman is worth half a man. This further depicts that how women even in India were not allowed to live a life of privilege. However, in Africa, matriarchy has been dominant in some parts. For West Africa, one aspect remains constant, the African people have a very diverse approach to power among women than the traditional western conception implies. In conventional West African culture, power essentially lies in the dynamic differences between the roles of men and women. This analysis of the power of women, concentrates primarily on the culture of Benin and the widespread Yoruba people. They are the women who have reached one of the highest positions

of power. One of the primary examples of the female power is the ‘Queen Mother’. Queen Mother has sovereign power over their own courts, and helps the King’s in making decisions regarding the ruling of the kingdom. The queen mother is like a high ranking chief. However in other parts of the country, matriarchy has been at the lowest ebb. African women have been struggling to attain recognition as prophets, decisions makers, heroines, martyrs and challengers of the status quo. They stand on their own, rather than in the shadows of men with whom they share the literary stage. These women shake off their emotional and economic dependence on men to become self-aware, confident and politically conscious: be it because of hunger, war, destitution, physical exploitation or mental and economic oppression. African writers have created role models who are genuine throwbacks on their foremothers. The colonized woman, did not accept her situation without devising strategies to combat and subvert her loss of status, as housewives, combatants, traders, prostitutes, ordinary women, their everyday lives offering no great opportunities for heroism, discover that the seeds of rebellion which have been lying dormant in them, are activated under conditions of political and economic stress. They then react by actively dismantling the structure of their oppression. Hunger and thirst forces women to change their roles with men to earn their living so that they can survive. They control their roles to become breadwinners, their closed domestic space expanding to encompass other activities outside the house.

The pressures are remarkable but these women find themselves equal to the task because they have inherited a tradition of womanhood that is strong and supportive. Many of these power mechanisms surface in times of crisis, flaking the behaviour of meekness and extricating other modes by which African women have an access to power. Failure in one aspect of their lives does not disempower them or render them dysfunctional in the society. It is this ability to quickly take in hand one’s own life and live it in the way one wants. Wole Soyinka’s women are not the one who can be exploited or who needs to be rescued rather looks like a Jaguar. Soyinka writes about women in his plays, “She holds her victims in her clutches; none can resist her, in the art of seduction she is incomparable.” (24) Among the galaxy of African writers, Wole Soyinka holds an important place and has portrayed women in more authoritative and poignant way. The most important concern of Soyinka has been to fight for dignity, his fight for justice meted out to the common man; this makes him one of the most powerful writers of the twenty-first century. Soyinka portrays a woman who has the aptitude and capacity to win over men, women who are enjoying varying degrees of economic independence, despite social and cultural norms that put them under the patriarchal authority. Wole Soyinka, an eminent African writer has shown the failure of imperialist efforts to uproot the natives from an environment which lies in their custom and which is barbaric and uncivilized. My paper attempts to analyze the matriarchal versus patriarchal set up of African societies as depicted in Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel in which woman stands out as a bold voice despite in a patriarchal setup. The paper aims to put into a picture the women characters that can be regarded as the champion of feminism in view of his protrusion of independent as well as feminine women. Soyinka does not depict his women characters inbound stereotypic images of the queen’s looking glass but they are in fact projected as powerful voices. One of the most significant themes in the plays of Wole Soyinka is resisting for supremacy between men and women and conventionality versus modernity. His plays, on one hand, depict the conflict between the traditional and the modern and on the other powerfully project women as embodiments of great strength to shape the destiny of Nigerian nation which had to undergo the pangs of colonialism, which shook the very basis of Nigerian society. Soyinka portrays women as a vibrant blend of modern versus traditional values. Women in his plays possess the capacity and aptitude to outwit men, thereby showing their potential not only to win over the hearts but also the state of affairs. In one of his early plays The Lion and the Jewel which was written during his stay at the University of Leeds in 1958 when the Nigerian nation was simmering. He has portrayed his heroine as the one who rejoices at her womanhood and plays a noteworthy role in the development of the plot by conveying the vision of the dramatist by choosing the firmly grounded Baroka than the half-ripened school-teacher, Lakunle. The plot centres around a beautiful young girl named Sidi and her experiences. Sidi believes that her self-worth is above and beyond others, including Baroka, the most powerful man in the village. She says: “If that is true, then I am more esteemed than Baroka, the lion of Ilujinle, this means I’m greater that the fox of the undergrowth, the living God among men” (25) Sidi, the African protagonist holds her African traditions despite being barraged by the western ideals suggested by Lakunle, the school teacher. Although Sidi was featured in a western magazine, she still held true to her culture and society. The divergence between Sidi and Baroka depicts that the strong and young Sidi was threat to Baroka’s conventional, male dominant society. Soyinka portrays Sidi as independent, feminine, quick witted and decisive. Sidi is the jewel, the village belle whose beauty has been captured by a photographer and published in a magazine. As a result, she sees herself as above anyone in the village. Sidi’s refusal to marry Lakunle until he pays the bride price and ultimately marrying Baroka, not only depicts the victory of traditional values over western ones but describes the ability of women to take decisions concerning her life. Sidi is shown as the one who rejoices her womanhood. Sidi is quite happy when she is informed by Sadiku that Baroka is no longer a, man, since he has lost his manhood. Hearing this, Sidi longs to go to Baroka’s palace to see him thwarted. Moreover, Sidi refuses to attend a small feast in her honour at Baroka’s palace since she gets suspicious of Baroka’s intentions. She knows that a woman who has supped with him one night becomes his wife or concubine the next.

The most relevant theme in the play is the marginalization of women as property in Nigerian society. Traditionally, women were seen as property that could be bought, sold or accumulated. Even the modern Lakunle falls sufferer to this, by looking down on Sidi for having a smaller brain and later by wanting to marry her after she has lost her virginity since, no dowry was required in such a situation, but to his surprise he is rejected and eventually she goes for Baroka, the village chief. This further depicts her ability to make decisions and her adherence to the traditional values, which she regards as far better than the modern values. Sidi after defeating the lion with her strength feels immensely happy. Soyinka describes a woman who reduces men to nothing. “Oh! High and mighty lion, we really scotched you, we women undid you in the end. I killed him with my strength” (42)

The wrestling match in Baroka’s bedroom is, of course, a metaphor for the power struggle which is about to take place between himself and Sidi. Sidi’s zest for life makes her not only an individual but an individualist. Soyinka has advanced the process of individual

assertiveness one step further, to Sidi her own personal values are what matters, “she never compromises”. Sadiku, another woman character, is Baroksa’s main wife and his betrayer. She betrays him and is utterly satisfied when she hears that the most powerful man has become impotent and tries to gain something out of the situation. She asks Sidi to go to his place, make use of her bashful looks to win him first and then destroy him and torment him until he weeps, “you’ll have to match fox’s cunning…torment him until he weeps” (53). She even sets out to celebrate though she had promised not to say a word to anyone. In her celebrations,  through songs, she tells Sidi about what happened and how great women are. She represents a part of a human who finds pleasure in betraying others in some way or the other. Sadiku’s glee Baroka’s impotence may be partly based on resentment at having long been abandoned by him as a lover. As a woman in polygamous society, Sadiku has been trained to put with many things which may hurt her self-respect as an individual. She has not merely to put up with the favorites which his husband has been choosing from time to time, but also invite the woman on whom his fancy falls to marry. On the surface, she is loyal to her husband, as Baroka calls her ‘faithful lizard’. But Soyinka portrays her individuality in revealing to us her long-standing resentment at sharing her husband with many women. Her stifled self- respect asserts itself in her dance of triumphs at the supposed loss of manhood by Baroka. Baroka and Sadiku both lay a trap in which village belle Sidi is caught. Sadiku lies to Sidi about Baroka’s impotence; that Baroka is no longer a man, as he has lost his manhood. Sidi fells to Sadiku’s lies. She asks Sidi to go to Baroka’s palace and goad him, taunt him, torment him and enjoy seeing him thwarted as it was a good opportunity to mock at the devil, but unknown to Sidi that she was caught in a trap laid by both of them she falls into it. Further Sidi’s desire to go to the palace to see Baroka’s wretched condition describes her curiousness to see a man thwarted and defeated and her wish to enjoy his state of discomfort and distress. This depicts the cunning and clever attitude of women. Soyinka depicts his woman characters as the one who has the ability to destroy men with their strength and who at the same time feel proud of being a woman with all their feminine qualities which makes them supreme. Sadiku’s boldness as a woman is depicted in the very lines when she tells Baroka that it was she who killed great Okiki with her strength and warns Baroka that it is the women only who has always consumed men, destroyed them and she will destroy him too.


In order to conclude it can be said that Soyinka portrays both Sidi and Sadiku as women who enjoy their womanhood. The idea that women were simply beings to be kept and used was not acceptable. The women had particular sensibilities and needed to be wooed not just claimed. Women are described as important as men and Soyinka equates his women characters with men, in fact, elevates them above men. They make men work at their whims, being powerful and bold. Soyinka depicts his women characters not only as beings but as the ones who hold a special position in the society. The same has been depicted through his women characters that have the capability and control to rule over men. At our whims we make you dance; like the foolish top you think the world revolves around you…fools! Fools! … It is you who run giddily while we stand still and watch and draw your frail thread from you, slowly turning till nothing is left but a rusty old stick. Take warnings, my master, we’ll scotch you in the end. (56)


Works Cited and Consulted:


  1. Cheikh, Anta Diop. The Cultural Unity of Black Africa. Paris: Presence Africainne, 1963.Print.
  1. —. The Domains of Patriarchy and Matriarchy in Classical Antiquity. Karnak House, 1989.Print.
  2. Hurman, Christ. “Review” The Lion and the Jewel. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1969. Print.
  3. Rajkumar, H. Wole Soyinka as a Play writer. New Delhi; creative books, 2007. Print.
  4. Shukla, B.A. The French Feminist and the Second Sex. Jaipur: Book Enclave, 2008. Print
  5. Soyinka, Wole. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1980. Print.
  6. —. The Lion and The Jewel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963. Print.
  7. Steve, Goldberg. The inevitability of Patriarchy. William Morrow and Company, 1973. Print.
  8. Thiong’o, Wa Ngugi. Literary and Society in Modern Africa, Essays on literature. Nairobi. East African Literature Bureau, 1972. Print.
Explore More in: Academic Research Paper

Read More Articles: