Cyprian Ekwensi was a Nigerian author of novels, short stories, and children’s books.
He was born on September 26, 1921 in Minna, Niger State, and died on November 4, 2007 in Enugu, Enugu State.
He is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modern African literature, and his works have been translated into several languages.
Ekwensi’s literary career spanned over five decades, and he wrote hundreds of stories, scripts, and novels, covering various themes and genres.
His novels are known for their realistic depiction of the forces that have shaped the African city dweller, especially in Lagos and other urban centers.
He also wrote about the culture and history of his Igbo ethnic group, as well as the effects of colonialism and the Nigerian Civil War.
Some of his most notable novels are:
- People of the City (1954): This was his first novel to garner international attention. It tells the story of Amusa Sango, a young journalist who works for a Lagos newspaper and struggles to balance his professional and personal life in the city. The novel explores the themes of corruption, crime, politics, and social change in post-independence Nigeria.
- Jagua Nana (1961): This is his most successful novel, and it has been adapted into a film and a television series. It follows the life of Jagua Nana, a Pidgin-speaking Nigerian woman who leaves her husband to work as a prostitute in a city and falls in love with a teacher. The novel portrays the contrast between the traditional and the modern, the rural and the urban, and the moral and the immoral in Nigeria.
- Burning Grass (1962): This novel is set in the northern part of Nigeria, where Ekwensi worked as a forestry officer. It depicts the nomadic life of the Fulani herdsmen and their conflicts with the sedentary farmers. The novel focuses on the character of Mai Sunsaye, a Fulani leader who suffers from a curse that makes him wander aimlessly.
- Beautiful Feathers (1963): This novel is a political satire that criticizes the corruption and incompetence of the Nigerian government. It centers on the character of Wilson Iyari, a leader of a nationalist party who is admired by the masses but despised by his own family. The novel uses the metaphor of a peacock with beautiful feathers but no voice to describe the plight of the Nigerian people.
- The Passport of Mallam Ilia (1960): This is one of his most popular children’s books, and it has been adapted into a comic book and an animated film. It is a historical adventure story that takes place in the 19th century, during the time of the Sokoto Caliphate. It narrates the quest of Mallam Ilia, a young warrior who vows to avenge the death of his wife by killing the man who killed her. The novel blends elements of romance, mystery, and magic.
- The Drummer Boy (1960): This is another children’s book by Ekwensi, and it has been praised for its portrayal of the life of a blind musician. It tells the story of Akin, a talented drummer boy and singer who moves from place to place entertaining people with his performance. But deep down, there is an undisclosed unhappiness. Why is Akin unhappy? Who among his friends can he trust in his search for true happiness? The novel explores the themes of disability, friendship, and identity.
- Samankwe and the Highway Robbers (1975): This is a thriller novel that depicts the menace of armed robbery in Nigeria. It follows the exploits of Samankwe, a young man who joins a gang of highway robbers led by the notorious Black Diamond. Samankwe soon realizes that he is in over his head, and he tries to escape from the gang and the law. The novel is full of action, suspense, and humor8.
Cyprian Ekwensi was a prolific and versatile writer who contributed immensely to the development of African literature.
He received several awards and honors, including the Dag Hammarskjöld’s International Prize in Literature in 1968, the Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) in 2001, and the Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters in 2006.
He was also a pharmacist, a broadcaster, and a government official. He was married twice and had five children.
He would have been 102 years old on Saturday, September 26, 2023.