Cyprian Ekwensi, dies at 86
Veteran novelist, pharmacist and public commentator, Cyprian Ekwensi passed on yesterday.
Cyprian Odiatu Duaka Ekwensi was born at Minna in Northern Nigeria on September 26, 1921. He later lived in Onitsha in the Eastern area. He was educated at Achimota College in the Gold Coast, and at the Chelsea School of Pharmacy of London University. He lectured in pharmacy at Lagos and was employed as a pharmacist by the Nigerian Medical Corporation.
He married Eunice Anyiwo, and they had five children.
After favorable reception of his early writing, he joined the Nigerian Ministry for Information and had risen to be the director of that agency by the time of the first military coup in 1966. After the continuing disturbances in the Western and Northern regions in the summer of 1966, Ekwensi gave up his position and relocated his family to Enugu. He became chair of the Bureau for External Publicity in Biafra and an adviser to the head of state, Lt.-Col. Chukwemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
Ekwensi began his writing career as a pamphleteer, and this perhaps explains the episodic nature of his novels. This tendency is well illustrated by People of the City (1954), in which Ekwensi gave a vibrant portrait of life in a West African city. It was the first major novel to be published by a Nigerian. Two novellas for children appeared in 1960; both The Drummer Boy and The Passport of Mallam Ilia were exercises in blending traditional themes with undisguised romanticism.
His most widely read novel, Jagua Nana, appeared in 1961. It was a return to the locale of People of the City but boasted a much more cohesive plot centered on the character of Jagua, a courtesan who had a love for the expensive. Even her name was a corruption of the expensive English auto. Her life personalised the conflict between the old traditional and modern urban Africa. Ekwensi published a sequel in 1987 titled Jagua Nana's Daughter.
Burning Grass (1961) is basically a collection of vignettes concerning a Fulani family. Its major contribution is the insight it presents into the life of this pastoral people. Ekwensi based the novel and the characters on a real family with whom he had previously lived. Between 1961 and 1966 Ekwensi published at least one major work every year. The most important of these were the novels, Beautiful Feathers (1963) and Iska (1966), and two collections of short stories, Rainmaker (1965) and Lokotown (1966). He continued to publish beyond the 1960s, and among his later works are the novel Divided We Stand (1980), the novella- Motherless Baby (1980), and The Restless City and Christmas Gold (1975), Behind the Convent Wall (1987), and Gone to Mecca (1991).
Ekwensi also published a number of works for children. Under the name C. O. D. Ekwensi, he released Ikolo the Wrestler and Other Ibo Tales (1947) and The Leopard's Claw (1950). In the 1960s, he wrote An African Night's Entertainment (1962), The Great Elephant-Bird (1965), and Trouble in Form Six (1966).
Ekwensi's later works for children include Coal Camp Boy (1971), Samankwe in the Strange Forest (1973), Samankwe and the Highway Robbers (1975), Masquerade Time! (1992), and King Forever! (1992).
In recognition of his skills as a writer, Ekwensi was awarded the Dag Hammarskjold International Prize for Literary Merit in 1969.
Ekwensi, a one-time Commissioner for Information in the old Anambra State, is survived by children and grand children.
(Culled from The Guardian Newspapers)