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August Debut

Issue 2; October/November


Amanze Akpuda


Austine Amanze Akpuda

Akpuda is a lecturer in the Department of English, Abia State University, Nigeria. He is the author of Celebrating God's Robot: Nigerian Poets and the Gani Fawehinmi Phenomenon, and has edited Reconstructing the Canon: Festschrift in Honour of Professor Charles E. Nnolim(2001), Currents In Early American Literature(2000), and The Black Presence In Caribbean Literature(2005).

Cyprian Ekwensi: A Memorial Tribute



Cyprian Ekwensi, pharmacist, writer and cultural activist, had his first short stories broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation during the colonial era. The Second World War was in its third year, and owning radio sets was more difficult than procuring essential commodities in that unsettled moment of history. But there were still some radio sets then in the metropolitan areas of Nigeria and elsewhere broadcasting to a racially mixed audience in Nigeria, and the rest of the English speaking world, through which the British Broacsting Corporation offered Ekwensi’s short story, “The Half –Baked Doctor” in 1941. It was probably this earlier exposure to the delights of the magic talking box that would endear the young Ekwensi to the world of Broadcasting and later other modes of mass communication. Towards the end of the 1940s decade, Cyprian Ekwensi was encouraged to present his short stories on a weekly radio short stories series, a phenomenon that eventually led to his being invited by a publisher to gather his stories together for publication. and a development that eventually gave birth to Cyprian Ekwensi’s When Love Whispers collection of stories resulted from this weekly programme.

Of all his African contemporaries, Cyprian Ekwensi is probably the one writer whose multi-trajectory career, spanning more than half a century, has attracted the most contradictory critical reception. Quite early in that career, the South African novelist, Peter Abrahams, in an October 16, 1954 issue of West Africa, described Ekwensi as “A literary pioneer”. Peter Abrahams had published his own collection of short stories, Dark Testament (1942), before Ekwensi. Abrahams also had a 1945 novel, Song of the City. Even his novel, Mine Boy (1946) was already out before Ekwensi’s first book came out in 1947, and long before People of the City, Ekwensi's first major novel, so it is remarkable that Peter Abrahams should find it fitting to honour Ekwensi as a "literary pioneer."
Though the writer and critic, Kole Omotoso, in a dialogue with Bernth Lindfors, would seek to distance his own efforts at writing entertainments for the general reader from the work of Ekwensi, avowing a closer affinity to the work of Wole Soyinka, generations of African readers and writers have been inspired and entertained by Ekwensi's work. His 1948 juvenile novel, When Love Whispers is said to have formally inaugurated the phenomenon known as Onitsha Market Literature, influencing subsequent writers in that genre like Ogali A. Ogali, who was, however, ambivalent in his recall of Ekwensi's influence on the Ogali classic, Veronica My Daughter.

Jagua Nana made Ekwensi famous and it has been one of the most read African novels. No extensive discussion of the image of the urban woman in African Literature will be complete without a reference to Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana or any of his other 'people of the city' novels. In The Sociology of Urban Women’s Image in African Literature, Kenneth Little offers his verdict: “it goes without saying that in the literature, Jagua in Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana, is the courtesan par excellence.” The boldness with which Ekwensi handled his subject of the city-demonized urban woman, and the furore resulting from the botched filming of Jagua Nana may have accounted for the proliferation of this taboo subject in the later African novels of INC Aniebo (Madame Obbo in The Journey Within), Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Wanja in Petals of Blood) and Meja Mwangi (Wini in Going Down River Road).
In response to a Bernth Lindfors’ question “when did you become aware that Africans were writing?” (part of the Lindfors series, Africa Talks), Taban Lo Liyong responds: “even when I was younger, I think I had read Cyprian Ekwensi’s The Passport of Mallam llia.” Lo Liyong was probably twenty two years when Ekwensi’s children’s fiction was published. The ‘pan-African’ and seemingly trans-African setting of Ekwensi’s adventure story which even includes East and Central African segments may also have impressed itself on Taban Lo Liyong.

Ekwensi’s contributions to the growth of children’s Literature in Africa is one that can be better appreciated as an aspect of his perception of the literary artist as raconteur. His first published book, Ikolo the Wrestler and other Ibo Tales (1947) is a collection of folktales for children. Further publication of his folklores in the 1950s (in the West African Review and West African Annual) prepared him for the rich harvest of the 1960s during which he issued An African Night’s Entertainment (1962), The Great Elephant Bird (1965) and The Boa Suitor (1966). It was also concerning one of his works from this period, An African Night’s Entertainment, that he was accused of plagiarism. In a defence offered in interview with the folklorist Ernest Emenyonu, Ekwensi sounded very much like a very knowledgeable scholar of oral performances: "It is a folk tale. It is a story which if you live long enough in Northern Nigeria as I did you are bound to hear one day. Everybody who grows up hears it… like the Igbo stories of the tortoise…"

Although he comes close to accusing Ekwensi of plagiarism, Neil Skinner grudgingly accommodates the novelist's January 1950 defence. Skinner recognizes that there was in circulation a 1934 book, Jiki Magayi, authored by Rupert East and Mallam J. Tafida Zaria, which “On Ekwensi’s own admission is simply a record of a tale once told him by an Hausa man. However, Neil Skinner does not leave anyone in doubt about his admiration for Ekwensi’s own contribution to that tale, which resulted in the successful retelling of An African Night’s Entertainment.

As with his books, which promoted the Igbo and Hausa folklores of his experience, Cyprian Ekwensi considered himself as perhaps the most Pan Nigerian of the country’s writers. He would say: “I love Nigeria and I know it backwards having been born in the North raised in the West, and of Eastern origin, and every year I go round Nigeria two or three times by car, by road, so I know my country and I love it.” Ernest Emenyonu, one of the scholars to have unearthed much information on Ekwensi, remarks that the writer’s 1947 broadcasts on radio became so popular that he came to be nationally known every Saturday night as ‘’your favorite storyteller” The success of this radio programme awakened outside interest in Nigerian creative writing and helped to lay the foundation for Ekwensi’s own literary career. It led to the establishment of the Scribblers Club, with a membership including Cyprian Ekwensi, T. M. Aluko (author of One Man One Matchet) and two promising women writers, Mabel Dove-Danquah and Phebean Itayemi among others. Their first literary output, a collection of fourteen short stories, was published in England, 1947, by Lutterworth Press under the title of African New Writing: Scribblers’ Club.

At about the time Ulli Beier was initiating the association of artists of diverse persuasions under the umbrella body that became known as the Mbari Club in 1961, Cyprian Ekwensi was also concluding arrangements for the inauguration of an assembly of Nigerian writers in1962. As Ekwensi informed South African writer, Lewis Nkosi: “I don’t lead an isolated life. I have recently formed a Society of Nigerian Authors and had the honour to be made President.” Regarding the reason for establishing such an organization, he further said: “I felt that Nigeria, being an independent country, must have a contact body; sometimes writers come here and they want to know what the writers are doing here, they should go to a body like the Society of Nigerian Authors.” Ekwensi, an older man, also ensured there was contact with the Mbari Writers and Artists. In affirming the quality of this relationship with the artists’ assembly then based at Ibadan, Ekwensi reveals as follows: “Mbari is sponsored by the Congress for African freedom; I am in touch with them, I know the young writers. I have recently judged a short story competition in which most of the young writers participated and I receive, like every writer whose name has appeared before the world, I receive unsolicited manuscripts, authors coming to me for help. The other day someone wanted me to pay fare back home!“

This enabling contact Ekwensi had with younger writers, especially through their manuscripts, would continue in the 1970s, yielding a great literary harvest. This fraternal relationship with other much younger literary colleagues was also sustained more than three decades after. For instance, this writer recalls how Ekwensi mixed freely with writers who could be his grandchildren during the 1999 convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors. Uche Anyamele, Florenz Oghuma and Ifeoma Mordi have noted how reporters and photo journalists flocked to his Lagos residence vying for a photo or interview opportunity on his 80th birthday. Ekwensi was thus as popular as the genre in which he chose to engage Literature. This explains why, according to Anyamele et al, “Pius Adesanmi … proposed that the younger generation pay a well earned tribute to Ekwensi through a generational statement in the form of a critical book on his life and work.”

During the war years in the defunct Eastern Nigerian breakaway Republic of Biafra, Cyprian Ekwensi found time to rally fellow writers to the cause of writing. Chidi Amuta locates Ekwensi as one of the five “established” Nigerian writers, “drawn into one form of active involvement or the other” mostly in the civil leadership of Biafra. .Amuta believes that these involvements and the overall experience of war were to yield much literary harvest. In his biography of Chinua achebe, Ezenwa Ohaeto reports that between October and November, 1969, Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe and Gabriel Okara, were on a “speaking tour” of the United State of America as guests of ‘Committee for Biafran Writers and Artists,’ a US initiative intended to showcase literary talent in Biafra. Ezenwa Ohaeto records that the “tour was a 30-campus, two-week journey in North America during which the three writers lectured at various Universities and talked to many people officially and unofficially.” That Ekwensi is a very crucial part of the Africa literary heritage, especially in Nigeria, can be gleaned from Chinua Achebe’s “presidential Address 1985” given to the national writers’ body, Association of Nigerian Authors. In the address, Achebe notes as follows: “If we are to succeed in our plan to make next year’s convention an occasion for celebrating two hundred years of Nigerian Literature (if you like from Equiano to Ekwensi) then we must set things in motion now lest our grand theme should become what a British Prime Minister once described as a grandiloquent label on an empty luggage.”

Of course Chinua Achebe should know. With a close interaction that goes back to the beginning of the early 1960s, Achebe, who was also in Ekwensi’s Society of Nigerian Authors, would recognize the significance of a pioneer Nigerian entertainer whose short stories were broadcast on the British Broadcasting Corporation while Achebe was yet a pupil and whose first books preceded Achebe’s first by ten years. Apart from the privileged interactions he had with Ekwensi during the 1960s, Achebe who published Ekwensi short story “Minus Everything” in the first issue of Okike in April 1971 also had first hand acquaintance in his own travels with aspects of the early international recognition his colleague had everywhere he went. Concerning one of such instances during an interactive session at a forum co-ordinated by the University of Washington in the Spring of 1973, Achebe, according to Ezenwa Ohaeto, “learned that his novels and the novels of Cyprian Ekwensi were popular at one of the Seattle Public Libraries.”

One other way to gauge the character of Cyprian Ekwensi’s service to Nigerian Literature is by examining his legacy in the promotion of the short story genre. In 1947, he put together a collection of Igbo folk tales in the book entitled Ikolo the Wrestler and Other Ibo tales. Ekwensi was also a major contributor to what has turned out to be one of the earliest anthologies of modern short fiction in African literature. This anthology called African New Writing and edited by T. Cullen Young features five of Ekwensi’s short stories in a work with fourteen short stories. Subsequently, there were stories in the literary journals and magazines of the 1950s. Ekwensi’s short stories were also honoured in two other highly regarded anthologies - the Peggy Rutherford edited Darkness and Light: An Anthology of African Writing (London, 1958), and the Langston Hughes edited An African Treasury (New York, 1960). Cyprian Ekwensi was among the earliest Nigerian authors to collect their short stories into a book. Among these are Chinua Achebe whose The Sacrificial Egg and Other Short Stories came out in 1962 and E. E. C. Uzodinma, the novelist and author of The Dead Speak (1967) whose first collection was published in 1966 as Brink of Dawn: Stories of Nigeria. Cyprian Ekwensi two early coolections are The Rainmaker and Other Stories (1965) and Lokotown and Other Stories (1966). Francis Ademola was the pioneering Nigerian to anthologize short fiction in the post –independence period. His work, Reflections: Nigerian Prose and Verse, came out in 1962. Nigerian Prose and Verse came out in 1962.

Cyprian Ekwensi also assisted in promoting short stories by his younger colleagues. For instance, In an August, 1962 interview he told Lewis Nkosi: “I have recently judged a short story competition in which most of the young writers participated” I should like to offer aspects of “Africa and the Short Story Tradition” which contribution I made during a listserve debate in krazitivity between 2006 and January 2007 on the supposed non patronage of the short story form by established African writers. Concerning Cyprian Ekwensi’s significance in this regard as an institutional facilitator, I did submit as follows: “Cyprian Ekwensi enjoyed in the preceding two decades and a half that must have necessitated his resolve in the early 1970s to collaborate with a German outfit to present some Nigerian short stories in German. Thus, Ekwensi became a literary godfather to some Nigerian short story writers with the publication of Moderne Erzahler der Welt: Nigeria (1973) co-edited with Albert Von Haller. Among the Nigerian writers whose works are anthologized here are Ekwensi, Achebe, Aniebo, Tutuola, Bakare, Gbadamosi, Femi Euba, David Owoyele, Frank Aig Imoukhuede, M. J. C Echeruo and Gabriel Okara. Others are Yetunde Esan, Chukwuemeka Ike and Flora Nwapa. Ulli Beier also appears in this collection under the pen name, Obotunde Ijimere. Gabriel Okara’s short story included in this collection is entitled “The Laughing Ghost” while M. J. C. Echeruo’s is “Uchegwu’s Song.” In the same spirit of functioning as a dependable promoter of Nigerian short stories, Ekwensi edited the special Festac Anthology of Nigerian New Writing (1977). Ekwensi’s second anthology that showcases Nigerian short stories among other contributions is unique. Beyond presenting the works of such known writers as Onuora Nzekwu, Amos Tutuola and Rasheed Gbadamosi. “

Ekwensi’s anthology also introduced newer writers such as Fola Arilesero, Tayo Balogun, Sunday Nwakammu and Nnadozie Inyama. Furthermore, we are also introduced to another dimension of Ola Rotimi’s heritage as a creative writer, Ola Rotimi, the short story writer whose contribution has a title rendered in partial pidgin English, Di Man and Di Black Mosquito. Ekwensi’s second anthology boasts of projecting such other relatively newer Nigerian authors as Charles Okigbo, Terwase Avakaa, Jide Osikomaya, Tunji Fatilewa, C. Onwu-Otuyelu (Charry Ada Onwu), C. Wilson Amuta (Chidi Amuta), Harry Garuba and so on. It was also Ekwensi’s Festac anthology that gave further projection to Odia Ofeimun’s then growing reputation as an up coming new poet. By publishing six of Ofeimun’s poems, including his famous tribute poems to Christopher Okigbo, Miriam Makeba and Chinua Achebe, Ekwensi, like Wole Soyinka two years earlier, became another major established writer anthologist editor to contribute to the early canonization of Odia Ofeimun. It was within the same exciting 1970s when a number of Nigerian writers such as Obi Egbuna (1970), Flora Nwapa (1971), Chinua Achebe (1972 and 1973), and Kole Omotoso (1973 and 1978), published selections of their short stories that Ekwensi also brought out two of his books of short stories. These are Restless City and Christmas Gold (1975) and The Rainbow- Tinted Scarf and other stories (1979) Thus, by the end of the 1970s, Ekwensi became the first Nigerian writer to have published four collections of his short stories.

Cyprian Ekwensi’s profile as a cultural icon cannot be complete without a reference to his activities as book reviewer, essayist and literary critic. In addition to the book reviews published in the period between 1952 and 1960 in such journals as African Affairs, West Africans Review and West Africa among others, Cyprian Ekwensi also deliberated on different aspects of African Literature in such essays as “Outlook for African Writers” (1950), “The Dilemma of the African Writer” (1956), “Problems of Nigerian Writers” (1963) and “African Literature” (1964). In “Problems of Nigerian Writers,” where as was the tradition in the early 1960s when it was published, Ekwensi shows that he was apprised of current issues in the discourse of African writing when he attempts a definition of African writing as that “writing which reveals the psychology of the African.”

Cyprian Ekwensi’s time in the management of the Daily Star was a period of intellectual and journalistic excitement at the newspaper. Under his tenure, his paper could boast of such writers as Uche Offia Nwali, Xdryz Eyutchay, C. de Aguomba, John Anamaleze Jr, “Gonze” Godwin Nzegwu, “Sledgehammer” Thomas Chigbo and Linus Okechi, alias “Xray.” Ekwensi wrote a column in the paper humorously called ‘Cash on Delivery’, intended as a pun on his initials C. O. D. As indicated by Sam Anibeze, author of Daily Star: The First Ten Years, Ekwensi was appointed the first Managing Director of the Star Printing and Publishing Company, publishers of Daily Star, which he introduced to replace the ailing state owned Renaissance newspaper in the East of Nigeria.. The Daily Star became a commercial success within the first six months of Ekwensi’s assumption of office. Sam Anibeze notes as follows: “the initial circulation figure of the newspaper in 1975 was put at 60, 000. By the end of that year the figure was said to have risen to 80,000. By January 1976, the circulation was reported to have hit 90, 000 and 120, 000 in April of the same year” Linus Okechi joined the Daily Star from the old Renaissance newspaper. He fondly remembers Ekwensi as a Managing Director who diversified the business, establishing several other publications, including Ogene, Evening Star, Academic Star, and the SPPC News Letter. To give meaning to his dream, he. bought the biggest printing press of the time - the giant Harris 845 designed to produce 120,000 copies of a 32-page newspaper within an hour.

Allied to Ekwensi’s dream as the publisher of a successful state government owned newspaper was his desire to create a book publishing and marketing regime that would break the tyranny of “the legacy of publishing left to us by the colonial administration”. Arguing in a journal that “publishers for Africa must find their own style”, Ekwensi remarked that before Chinweizu’s idea of “the decolonization of African Literature…there should be a decolonization of African publishing.” Impressed by the remarkable sales achieved by the war memoirs of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, My Command, and Alexander Madiebo, The Biafran Revolution, Ekwensi suggested an alternative and radical approach to book distribution. He argued that “ Publishers for Africa must find their own style just as publishers for America have done. Our culture recognizes retailing by hawking. If that will be the final answer to making our people read more books, then books must be hawked. James Hadley Chase is available in every corner of every post office in this country. Recently the Kingsway stores in Lagos displayed forty-five of his titles throughout all its chain stores in the country. No book by any African writer has ever received that marketing treatment? Why?” In advocating his concept of “Mass Publishing,” Ekwensi argued for a speeding up of the book production process since “we live in a jet age and must therefore adapt.” Publishers should be encouraged “to woo … writers and enable them make writing a career without having to supplement their royalties with road-building contracts from the ministry of works.”

As with Nnamdi Azikiwe who apart from being a film addict was also a critic of the cinema, Cyprian Ekwensi’s involvement with the film world is one major enterprise that contests the unfounded and dismissive statements about the supposed anti-cinema culture of the Igbo. It is strange that despite Emmanuel Obiechina’s profound research into the relationship between the cinema and the fictional landscape of the Onitsha market pamphleteers, the fact that Sanders of the River was partly shot in Eastern Nigeria and that the 1949 film, Daybreak in Udi, made cinema history for even featuring dialogue in Igbo language and was shown round the old Eastern region, several uninformed commentators tend to reject the idea of the Igbo man being knowledgeable about film scripting, production and viewership before the emergence of the video film business. With Ekwensi we have a very good example of an Igbo man who was very much involved with the world of cinema from the earliest beginnings to the period preceding the advent of home video. For instance, in a British Broadcasting item captioned “West African writers 11” under the forum ‘calling West Africa’ on November 18, 1947, Leslie Murby recounting as follows about Ekwensi’s cinema heritage and especially the influence on his writing notes that his stories “betray his influences; the cinema with its Humphrey Bogart types and its flick change scenes, reading as a boy of the wild west type” (qtd in Dathorne 81).

Ekwensi’s interest in the movies would, as he revealed in interviews with Dennis Duerden and Bernth Lindfors, 1964 and 1974, respectively, accounts for some of his later involvement with film scripting. Indeed his writing of film scripts, which he talks about in an interview with Lindfors, was already an acknowledged fact by 1956, when it was reported in the June 1956 issue of West African Review. In his book, Cyprian Ekwensi, Ernest Emenyonu, apart from reflecting on Ekwensi’s career as one who “wrote and broadcast plays and stories for the B. B. C. overseas service,” also examines Ekwensi’s life as a cinema person. He addresses the different departments of the cinema world in which Ekwensi involved himself. Once in 1954 his voice was ‘dubbed’ on to the sound track of the film Man of Africa, which was shown at the Venice film festival that year. He took part in plays on the stage and radio and wrote film scripts. One of his film scripts was ‘Stretch a Little, Bend a Little.’ It was the story of a man with two wives, one very tall and the other very short, and the husband had to adjust himself to please both without losing his dignity. In 1956 when the film Nigeria Greets the Queen was produced (on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth 11’s visit to Nigeria), Ekwensi was one of the commentators. A year later he appeared as a film star in Ghana, when he performed the part of a university professor in a film marking Ghanaian independence

It is Ekwensi the film connoisseur that we encounter in interviews with Lewis Nkosi and later Dennis Duerden. When asked by Lewis Nkosi about the arrangement for the filming of Jagua Nana, Ekwensi answers as follows. “ The work is to be filmed in the dry season, that is end of October, beginning of November, or roundabout the middle of November. And the company is called Delphia. It’s a new company, but all the members are old and famous filmmakers. The producer is going to be Alberto Latunda who’s well known internationally. And ltaly, as you know is an up-and-coming centre for filmmaking, almost stealing the Oscar from Hollywood.” In this highly revealing presentation, Ekwensi shows how very knowledgeable he was by 1962 of developments in the world of cinema. Ekwensi’s talk about an important and internationally well known Italian film producer is highly significant especially within the context of demonstrating the rating of Italian cinema at the end of the 1950s). As with Wole Soyinka who in a 1963 essay also talks knowledgeably about Japanese cinema, Cyprian Ekwensi also showed a high level of acquaintance in an interview with Dennis Duerden’s, comparing what he tries to do in his novel, Jagua Nana to details from the Japanese feature film, Rashomon. His is the disposition of a man who has been to the movie world and invariably sought to domesticate perspectives drawn from such a world in some of his novels.

Having come this far, it should be natural to conclude this tribute by highlighting the character of the critical reception Cyprian Ekwensi has enjoyed and especially with his Jagua Nana which has been described as his most successful work. Concerning Ekwensi’s accomplishment in Jagua Nana ,Juliet Okonkwo, who has done no less than five essays on Ekwensi, notes that “Ekwensi delves into the complex nature of his heroine, so that the reader is finally made to contemplate her in her own right, as an individual. Jagua is presented in greater depth than Sango, as she is seen in her varying roles of prostitute, woman, lover, and mother” (“Popular Novelist” 24-25). Okonkwo believes that “Ekwensi’s greater success in Jagua Nana lies also in his control of language; particularly impressive is his ability to handle various levels of English expression, allotting the appropriate level to each character.”

The sociologist, Kenneth Little, seems to pay homage to Ekwensi by devoting a sizeable portion of his book, The Sociology of Urban Women’s Image in African Literature to five of his novels and his second short story collection. Considering that Ekwensi’s novels constitute about the greatest number of city-centred novels done by an African, Little’s presentation demonstrates to what extent Ekwensi’s portraits are socially realistic. For instance, outside Sembene Ousmane’s politically sensitive novel, God’s Bits of Wood, Kenneth Little believes that “Jagua’s apparently successful oratory” is a good demonstration of the supposed rarity in African fiction where a woman is given a significant position as a politician or effective associate of a politician

Although Chinweizu et al, the authors of Toward the Decolonization of African Literature, declare that “we are not evaluating Jagua Nana, but instead are analyzing and evaluating Palmer’s criticism of it”, they invariably end as the greatest defenders of Ekwensi’s novel, especially in relation to the charge of weakness in moral vision. As Chinweizu et al argue, “for Palmer, Jagua is an Immoral Woman; she especially irks him by showing no remorse for her ways. Ekwensi doesn’t criticize, ridicule or make excuses for her, but instead appears quite captivated with her. From Palmer’s standpoint, a book in which an author appears to be captivated with an immoral character cannot be a good book.” Chinweizu et al wonder if an author’s moral altitude is indeed central for the critic, what is Shakespeare’s attitude towards Cleopatra, or Richard 111, or Iago, or Macbeth? What is Achebe’s attitude towards Okonkwo, Obi Okonkwo, Ezeulu, or Chief Nanga? How does one know? Would Palmer claim to know? In particular, how does Palmer determine Ekwensi’s attitude towards Jagua? Still applying the Shakespeare analogy they proffer the following queries: What would Palmer’s attitude be towards Cleopatra who, though a queen, might accurately be described, like Jagua, as a whore and “a nymphomaniac with a crazy passion for sex”? Or towards Richard 111, that ugly hunchback and sweet-tongued murderer whose person was an aesthetic offence to regal splendour, and whose villainous deeds were a moral danger to “civilized standards”? Or to lago, that infamous troublemaker and bearer of false witness whose calculated villainy led to the slaughter of innocents? Or to Macbeth, that ambitious regicide, usurper and provoker of civil strife?

Critic Juliet Okonkwo, in an essay entitled “Ekwensi and The ‘Something New and Unstable’ In Modern Nigerian Culture,” believes that “It is impossible to ignore him in any assessment of Nigerian Literary effort”. According to Okonkwo, “if Ekwensi’s novels fail to achieve aesthetic beauty – and this is not absolute; his writing is very vigorous and his descriptions vivid and evocative – they nevertheless succeed in analyzing seriously the moral and social problems which confront the Nigerian nation and in its period of transition”. Even when she believes that “Ekwensi may not be as accomplished an artist as Achebe and Soyinka,” Juliet Okonkwo, nonetheless recognizes that “no other Nigerian writer till date has succeeded as much as Ekwensi in reflecting the contemporary scene with all its implications and contradictions.” In deliberating on Ekwensi’s essential distinction and by implication, his inimitable style, Okonkwo reveals that, unlike Soyinka and Achebe, Ekwensi traverses the country to reveal its multi-tribal nature, and demonstrates how these different peoples affect each other. Ekwensi has faced up to the problems of modern Nigeria-social, political and moral – with fidelity and with candour. It is very significant that Iska, which devotes a large section to the intricacies and agonies of tribal animosity in Nigeria appeared just before the conflicts that led to the civil war. Against the above background, it becomes easier to see that one reason Cyprian Ekwensi ventured into so many areas of modern arts and mass communications was to impact his society. Ekwensi, as Ernest Emenyonu points out, “in 1962 … published Burning Grass, the first major novel by a Nigerian to address the life of the cattle Fulani. It is significant that twenty-five years later the country was to get involved in nomadic education.”

In a memorial entitled “Hubert Ogunde: Death Shall Have no Dominion” and published seventeen years ago, Afam Akeh concludes as follows:

the doyen of Nigerian theatre has made the most dramatic of all his exits from the stage. The lights are out and the curtain is drawn, but he lives still as a metaphor of excellence and as the spirit of an epoch in the history of the black peoples. And death shall have no dominion over our memory of him."

Although one can say the same generally about virtually every major writer, the idea of death having “no dominion over our memory” of Cyprian Ekwensi is a very fitting metaphor in honour of a man whose imagination was so supremely productive in the period between 1941 and 2007. One cannot but agree with Ekwensi himself that

“the satisfaction I have gained from writing can never be quantified. Writing has opened doors for me, which would be otherwise closed. Writing has given me honours which no head of state can match because these honours come from the hearts of my millions of readers most of whom I have never met.”

Truly, nothing can be more consoling for a writer.

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